Reality check

<p>Among the rumblings about the compromise of the Google Book Settlement (or not), the death of the misery memoir (possibly much exaggerated), the eventual coming of age of e-books (still early to throw a party?), has been a number of pieces about the poor performance&mdash;in relative terms&mdash;of celebrity non-fiction at Christmas. </p>
<p>What's been most striking about the wistful tone of the pieces, though, is the shimmering regret that seems to lie behind them&mdash;yes, the huge financial investments do not appear, with one or two notable exceptions, to have paid off for 2009, but yet we have no choice but to continue paying these huge sums and publishing the ghosted words of celebrities, present and past.&nbsp; </p>
<p>There's no doubt that autobiographies of enduring stars&mdash;especially those actually written by the person whose name is on the cover&mdash;will and should continue to sell. But, although it's not good for publishing bottom lines when a book fails to earn back its advance, might it be a good thing if there were a little less ghosted, padded-out third, fourth, fifth autobiographies? And is it possible that this might leave room on non-fiction publishing schedules for a wider variety of books, of voices?</p>
<p>Last year, the &quot;Alan Titchmarsh Show&quot; ran a writing competition called The People's Author, looking for real-life heroes and heroines, not celebrities, undiscovered writers with a story to tell. This year the BBC is involved in a substantial non-fiction competition called My Story, which will be screened this summer. What makes My Story so interesting&mdash;apart from the sheer scale of the undertaking (five people will have their books published by HarperCollins)&mdash;is that the BBC is looking for experiences and stories, not writers per se. The intention is to help and support real&mdash;again, that word&mdash;people to get their stories into print. After all, why should it be only celebrities who get to work with ghostwriters?</p>
<p>Of course, time will tell if Christmas 2009 heralded a shift in non-fiction buying patterns, or whether it was just the specific titles on offer, coupled with harder times. It's too soon to say if readers are looking for something that resonates more with their lives&mdash;our lives. But as the range and variety of voices in fiction has widened over recent years, leading to an impressive growth in fiction sales, I hope that competitions such as The People's Author and My Story might help broaden the non-fiction charts too.<br />
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