Margaret Drabble, one of Britain's leading novelists and biographers, believes her publishers are pushing her to "dumb down" her work to appeal to a larger readership.
At a meeting of alumni in her old Cambridge University college, Newnham, Dame Margaret suggested that she felt pressure from Penguin, to "rebrand" her fiction, The Independent has been told. At the discussion, alongside the novelist Sarah Dunant, she said: "I have had a weird feeling that I'm being dumbed down by my publishers and it's interesting there's an agenda of how it should be in the marketplace."
Dame Margaret, 69, who takes over as chair of The Society of Authors, added: "I'm amazed they are even trying it on."
Few would doubt Dame Margaret's position in today's literary firmament. In a career spanning more than 40 years, she has written 17 novels and seven works of non-fiction as well as earning a CBE. Dame Margaret, who turned up to discuss the state of literary culture with Ms Dunant, revealed to Ms Dunant she had had a tense conversation with her publishers: "She [Dame Margaret] ... expressed the view that her publishers wanted to remarket her in some way, that there was some need not to let the work just stand on its own.
"My impression... was that there was a certain amount of trepidation in putting this to her (from her publishers). She had given them short shrift. She felt that at this moment in [one's] career, who could need to be remarketed or repackaged?" Ms Dunant said. Ms Dunant said Ms Drabble was annoyed that publishing houses to market authors as "semi-celebrities."
It's an interesting question. When does marketing stop helping a book and begin to alter the perception of what the book is? I'm not sure. I think it's case-by-case. Obviously, if an author, like Drabble, has a long and storied career and is doing just fine with a solid base of readers, over-marketing won't do much. It'd be like expecting the new Stephen King or John Grisham book to sell like crazy because of a different way of pitching the authors. These guys are known commodities.
Now, when it comes to a new author, I think the initial marketing plan is key. How do you position this writer? Do you expect them to be the kind of author that will need two or three books before they really cement themselves and build a readership? Or is the first book such a homerun that you should go all out the moment you step out of the gate? Again, it depends a lot on the author and, more importantly, the material. I'm not 100 percent sold that this article is on the money, since there are so many variables. What do you think? How does marketing affect what you buy at the bookstore?