Thursday 12 January 2012

It must be 'commercial' and the self fulfilling prophecy

There is a word that has been haunting me for the past couple of days. That word is 'commerical.' Those of you who are based in the UK or have seen the furore on FB may have seem that our 'esteemed' Prime Minister has suggested that the film industry should support "commercially successful films.' I then read Philippa Francis' blog post on Beverley Birch's visit to the Hampshire Writing Society, at Winchester University, entitled 'It's not about good books anymore...'. Beverley Birch commissions fiction for Hodder Children's Books and is also an author. She presented an illuminating talk entitled 'Between a rock and a hard place: keeping faith with your writing self in today's stormy commercial seas.' During this talk she mentioned how, in the current market, aspiring writers need to understand that the chances of being taken on have nothing to do with the readership. It is all to do with whether the likes of big buyers (supermarkets, book chains etc) will be interested in purchasing it. Apparently, and to quote Philippa: 'It is not enough to have a coherent plot, engaging characterisation and a well-conveyed setting. There must be pace and sense, of course. The voice of the piece must also must be distinctive and vigorous - and it must be commercial.'

There it is, that word again. 'COMMERCIAL!' Now is there anyone out there who could define this for me so that writers, film makers etc can ensure that they only produce 'commercial' work? The point is no one does know what might be commercial. For example, and I apologise that this is an obvious one but everyone will be able to empathise with it, J K Rowling and Harry Potter, back in the 1990s magic, boarding schools and wizards were not commercial. Anything but. Without the likes of Christopher Little and Barry Cunningham (then of Bloomsbury and now of Chicken House fame) following their gut instincts that told them there was 'something' about that first story we would be without one of the most successful series written for children in the past few decades.

My concern is that if all these people keep talking about how everything has got to be 'commercially successful' it will become a self fulfilling prophecy where publishers, film markers, and, in fact, anyone in the arts stops taking risks. Stops listening to that gut feeling. Don't get me wrong I fully understand that not every film can be made or every book can be published and I am also aware that these are businesses so have to make money but I am begging agents, publishers, film makers and, even buyers, to continue to be brave and trust their instincts whilst not being blinded by that word 'commercial.' And, because I am writer, I would ask writers to continue to believe in what you are producing otherwise we risk having a bookshelf full of generic books.

I will now step off my soap box and ask you to listen to this, it is 'Somebody that I used to know' by Goyte


  1. The commercial debate has been going on for a while now and the truth is ... when publishers and film producers let go of their preconceptions about what's commercial, they often discover that what they think makes big bucks isn't necessarily so. At the moment there is so much dross that surely, it's got to swing back to quality. Look at computers - mass market Windows PCs led to a disenchantment that made the high qualities of Apples successful ... it must come round. Unfortunately we are in the trough of that coming round.

  2. Oh Candy that makes so much sense. I do think it has got to do an about turn soon enough. There are still publishers out there who push the boundaries and like to take risks so let's hope they continue and others realise the benefits. As writers I think we have to remain faithful to our writing.