In keeping with the spirit of my anti-bullying stance, I’m making a very serious attempt to not just come right out and call Terry Deary a douchebag. Part of my struggle stems from the fact that as a kid, I absolutely lost my shit over his Horrible Histories series. I was never one for Sweet Valley High or any of the super-fluffy books for kids out there. I think the most vapid I ever got with my reading choices was the Nancy Drew series — the originals, not the cheesy ones from the 80s — and even then, I firmly believe that Ms. Drew, along with Encyclopedia Brown and Sherlock Holmes, helped me develop the critical thinking skills and attention to detail that I possess today.
But Horrible Histories, man… those were better than any fiction, detective or otherwise. They were true stories. They were often gory, a little creepy, and helped to cement my interest in the lives of those who lived so long ago. Terry Deary’s dry wit and highbrow sarcasm so typical of British humor was an entirely new experience for me back then, something I much preferred over the fart jokes so prevalent in kids’ cartoons (I refuse to lower myself past dick jokes, thank you very much). He taught me that it was possible to be funny and still intellectual, that it was better to have the audience pause for a split second to process how thoroughly you quipped the wit out of them before laughing than to have them giggling every time you say “poop.” I actually still have these books sitting on my shelf and read them from time to time, even as an adult. I plan to introduce my children to the series and buy the books I don’t have myself for them.
And then this shit happened.
“Because it’s been 150 years, we’ve got this idea that we’ve got an entitlement to read books for free, at the expense of authors, publishers and council tax payers. This is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature. We pay for compulsory schooling to do that.
“Books aren’t public property, and writers aren’t Enid Blyton, middle-class women indulging in a pleasant little hobby. They’ve got to make a living. Authors, booksellers and publishers need to eat. We don’t expect to go to a food library to be fed.”
In a stunning display of flawed logic that will leave you wondering whether or not this man could really have ever written a book, Terry Deary announced to the world that he believes libraries to be “irrelevant,” all because one night at dinner he had to settle for the sirloin instead of the filet mignon.
But first, let’s clear one thing up: if you want to be rich, being an author is probably about the worst way to accomplish that. Talent has nothing to do with your success. It’s all a matter of marketing, of convincing people that they should go shell out $10 for a copy of your latest book. You could be the best writer in the whole wide world, but if you don’t have an effective promotional strategy, you’re screwed. Similarly, you can be the worst writer in the whole wide world, but if you have an effective promotional strategy, you’ll get a five-movie deal and dine on salads made of hundred-dollar bills, leaving the actually talented authors to stare in through your misty windows like the Victorian street urchins that Terry Deary apparently thinks they are. Unless you’re selling millions of books and have a bitchin’ contract, you’re going to be making mere pennies. Using the figures listed in the article from which I pulled that quote:
30p recieved per £6.99 average book = 46 cents per $10.85 average book = approximately 4.24% of the price of every book sold goes back to the author.
Those are some pretty miserable returns.
The UK, however, offers a Public Lending Right program for published authors, meaning that every time one of their books is checked out, they get a small amount of money in borrowing “royalties” up to a certain cap ($10,250 according to the article). Granted, it’s still not going to pay for your solid gold toilet seat or blingy necklace with “SHAKEDATSPEARE” spelled out in conflict diamonds, but it’s something, at least. This is, however, not enough for Terry Deary, whose histrionic tantrum continues:
“If I sold the book I’d get 30p per book. I get six [thousand], and I should be getting £180,000… Why are all the authors coming out in support of libraries when libraries are cutting their throats and slashing their purses?”
To summarize, I think what he’s trying to say is “WAH WAH WAH, WAAAAAH. WAH WAH. WAAAAAAAAAAAH.”
What he fails to realize is how important libraries are for bringing in new readers, and thus new patrons of an author’s books. Let’s face it, books are expensive these days (and they pretty much have to be if the authors want to see any payment at all), and while we’re not at “Victorian” levels of poverty, I don’t think most of us can afford to rush out and buy every single new book we find that looks interesting. I don’t have a spare $20 lying around to take a chance on a title or an author I’ve never heard of, even if the reviews are good. The first place I go is the library to give it a test run. If I like the book, there’s an extremely high probability that I’m going to run out to a bookstore and buy my own copy, and Hell, possibly even pick up a few more of that author’s works if my budget allows. If it doesn’t, I can guarantee you that I’ll at least be following their releases, adding their names to my birthday and Hanukkah lists and crossing my fingers that the gift-giving Gods are good to me.
Until, of course, they do or say something so remarkably despicable and irredeemable like Mr. Deary, in which case I will take a solemn vow to only buy their books secondhand so that they don’t see a single penny of my money. As an author, myself, I would expect the five people who actually read my novel to call me on my bullshit in a similar manner if I were the one spouting off ill-conceived arguments against intellectual advancement.
Libraries are instrumental in convincing the younger generation to read. When you take a 10-year-old kid from this current generation and tell them they can either spend 20 bucks on a new videogame or on a book, chances are they’re going to pick the option that requires a controller. Tell them that they can buy their game but can also go down to their local library and read anything they want for free, without cutting into their precious XBox fund, and you’ve just opened up a whole world to them that they might have otherwise ignored.
Yes, I believe that videogames are the next evolution of storytelling, but that doesn’t mean that I think books are an obsolete medium. Say that the kid in question grows up to be a game designer. If he’s never had easy access to books, where is he going to pull his inspiration from? From the real world, sure, but that makes a pretty boring game, unless you’re talking about The Sims, which even then is only entertaining due to the myriad ways in which you can murder your avatar. From TV and movies? Okay, but where are they getting their inspirations and plot devices from? What if he pulls it from other games? Fine, I guess, if we want the 3287649035th Dynasty Warriors clone (of which 98% of them are themselves Dynasty Warriors sequels). But it still all goes back to books, to the Greek mythology so prevalent in God of War, and to the almost Shakespearean tragedy that permeates the Final Fantasy series. If that kid has spent their childhood spending equal time playing games and reading books, thus not only understanding game mechanics but also how to weave together an engaging story that will completely immerse the player in the game’s world, you’re going to end up with a masterpiece.
Admittedly, the vast majority of libraries could do with stepping into the digital world a bit more, adding the ability to “borrow” e-books for the Kindle and Nook — set it up right, and patrons would no longer even have to drive to the physical location to check out a new volume, but could log in to their local library’s catalog with their library card number and download it straight to their e-reader, where the file will delete or lock itself after a certain number of days. Some locations have already begun offering similar programs, but with the drastic cuts in funding, few can afford to give it a go themselves.
Terry Deary’s arguments against libraries are founded in one thing: greed. He isn’t selling as many books as he used to, so he’s looking for a scapegoat to blame it on, similar to the anti-download arguments found in the music industry. His Wikipedia page states that he retired from writing in 2011, meaning that no new Horrible Histories books will be coming out, so his income is now solely from pre-existing material that has already been purchased by a good chunk of the reading population. Sounds like a great time to put the old books in libraries and try to initiate more generations to the series, doesn’t it? I believe his complete disconnect from logic and reality comes from his retirement. He is now obsolete himself, probably feeling a bit emotional over giving up something he was so good at and thoroughly loved for, and likely realizes that this now presents a lower stream of income for him.
At least, I hope that’s the reason, because the only other option is that one of my favorite authors is a complete dick, and I don’t think any of us would be able to accept that without our hearts breaking in the process.