Thursday, May 26, 2016

Simon Cowell can write a better kids book than you (or so he thinks). Time for a wake-up call - A ReadItDaddy Editorial

When I'd stopped laughing, and wiped the tears from my eyes after reading Simon Cowell's opinion on children's books (see the Bookseller article) I tried to put myself in the shoes of someone with that big an ego. Someone who has such an unshakeable sense of their own worth that they think they can turn their hand to anything, and be a roaring success at it.

Obviously, Mr Cowell's success in the music industry is undeniable. From humble beginnings as a sort of weird synth-playing dog act, he's moved up in the world and now holds the music industry in an iron grip.

I can safely say that I've never actually contributed to Cowell's net worth myself, but zillions have, and each time a new series of X-Factor or Britain's Got Talent starts up, or whatever the US equivalents are, there's a huge amount of press and it feels like the whole country gets wrapped up in it.

Can he really muscle into the children's book market?

Of course he flipping can't. Because Simon Cowell has made the mistake so many other celebrity authors (or would-be authors) have made.

He's started out with the assumption that writing for children is easy. The poor, deluded fool.

What's worse, he's made the sweeping generalisation about children's books that will prove to be his undoing. He describes them as "Boring" which is his first mistake. That smacks of a person who obviously has not read nearly enough children's books.

At last count, Charlotte and I have read (at least) 2500 books that we've written up for review. We've read countless more that haven't found their way onto the blog. We've seen books of every shape and size, books that are beautifully subtle in the delivery of their stories and their messages. Books that are darkly tinged and live on in the memory. rightfully becoming classics. Books that cause such an outpouring of love and affection that collectively, booky folk are in total synchronisation with their opinions on them and when they meet in person, they almost hug each other with glee at the mere mention of them.

Can you honestly tell me, with a straight face, that Mr Cowell could write an animal book that impressive straight out of the gate?

I couldn't. Nor could I write a book that instantly impressive either, because I'm under no illusions about what it takes to create something that kids will take to their heart, read with relish, and perhaps even obsess over a bit.

Merely being famous does not guarantee that the balance of sale will be met purely by association. I get the feeling that Cowell has set himself up for a fall before he's even put pen to paper. Savaging a genre that people openly love and write enthusiastically about has to be one of the stupidest moves you could make if you want people to approach your work without an initial bias against it.

When it arrives, when it finally makes it through a sympathetic editor, when an illustrator takes on the job of trying to imagine Simon's book world and visualise it (assuming - hah - that the idiot really doesn't think he can do the illustrations himself because kids have such a low expectation when it comes to the pictures in their books), when it's finally published I'd really love to read it and try to write about it without wanting to completely tear it apart. It might miraculously be good (I remember the low expectations I had about Russell Brand's first children's book, which actually wasn't atrocious and Brand was VERY lucky to land the awesome Chris Riddell as illustrator).

If it is good, I'll probably be strangely upset because it will just prove something I already believe. People like Simon Cowell just seem to get away with being that monstrously egotistical AND successful whereas folk who quietly beaver away writing, drawing, trying their very best to get a book out there and read, and published, often fall at the first hurdle. There really is no justice is there.


Anonymous said...

I agree, I think that Cowell underestimates how difficult it is to make a good children's book. He is a business man, he has never struck me as being creative, and maybe he does make-up or tell stories to his boy, if he does, then good for him. But I don't think all the money in the world can make a good book if the story isn't original and exciting for children (not for the adults, the books are for the kids, that's the point) It has certainly irked writers who have worked for years. I am not so annoyed, I just thing a lot of people assume kidslit is an easy write, when it isn't.

Olivia Hope (@ansiogglas)

Fiona Barker said...

I have no idea whether Mr Cowell will be able to write a good book or not. What is depressing is that he almost certainly will find a publisher who will be willing to publish whatever it is he comes up with just because he is already famous and not because the book is any good. That is absolutely soul destroying for the thousands of writers and illustrators out there who really know books, study books and love books but who get lost in the luck-driven bun fight to get noticed.

ReadItDaddy said...

Both good points. I wanted to push that more than anything with this article - that it is NOT easy to write a children's book, and though some kids will avidly take to a book whether it's written by a celebrity or not, that doesn't necessarily mean they're good books - just that the kids probably haven't seen anything better (yet!)

Both of you made the other point I really wanted to get across. Cowell will (undoubtedly) have publishers champing at the bit to publish his book, because Simon Cowell. Not because it's a good book, even a great book. But because he's famous, and by proxy there will be sales to be made purely off the back of the curiosity factor or the novelty value I guess.

I guarantee that the thing will need an editor with superpowers to not only cut through Cowell's ego, but to try and massage the book into some form of readability. It'll also take a talented illustrator and set of designers to pull the thing out of mediocrity. Probably just as well the fellah has a few bob then.

June said...

I have a sad feeling that already, a publisher will have seen the opportunity and a ghost writer will be lined up ready to create something that will be published with the Cowell name on it. The illustrator will probably have their name in very small font somewhere inside... It really is easy if your name brings the attention that makes sales!