02 June 2007

Predictions--who to collect right now...

I was asked by top bloggerati - "Mr. Millions"/ C.Max Magee - to offer my 2 cents worth on the subject of which authors are worth investing in now for the future--i.e. who will be the collected writers in 10 to 15 years time. My response is posted over at his excellent and much visited blog  The Millions.

There are many pitfalls in this type of exercise. In the past books such as 'The White Hotel' by D.M. Thomas were tipped as invesments but the book is worth less now than it was 25 years ago. It is hard now to imagine the intense buzz about that book in the early 1980s--there were rumours that when a movie came out it would go ballistic. It never happened. * A decade before there had been similar collecting fever around the John Fowles book 'The Collector' - worth a whole lot more then than it is now. likewise Ondaatje's 'English Patient' (big when the film won Oscars) has fallen steeply in value.

In the distant past great things were expected of Donn Byrne, H.M. Tomlinson, Robert Nichols, Philip Gibbs and C.E. Montague. Do not phone a bookseller with a collection of books by this lot. In the overheated children's fiction market Eoin Colfer was tipped as the next big thing but isn't really happening. Generally it is best to avoid writers trumpeted as the next big thing. Patrick O'Brian, Ellis Peters and Robert Graves are, for the moment,  in a gentle decline. Authors can, of course, suddenly come back, some authors are in one moment and out the next and a little later everyone wants them again. The market is continually in flux and timing is crucial --my advice is to get your author before he starts to rise, dump him at the height of the market and chuckle as he then plummets like Icarus.

I should have put in Cormac McCarthy who, although high, could rise a bit more or even double. Being chosen by Oprah was unexpected but bloody helpful. Changes in taste, however, are unknowable and could later consign him into the 'soft price' category. The old cliche about buy what you love still holds... The full text went like this:
'Predicting which authors will be collected in the future is a good game but slightly risky.

In the past people have tried to suggest authors worthy of financial investment and often got it sadly wrong. E.g. a few years ago Louis de Bernieres was being tipped as a highly collectable author. His prices did indeed shoot up in value so that at one point fine firsts of Captain Corelli were worth as much as $2000, but it is now readily buyable at less than half that. It could be because there has been a move against authors associated with Magic Realism, but also because the book is readily available and copies just keep turning up. The lesson is that however good a writer is - if there are too many copies of his or her works (and not enough collectors) the book will not prove a good bet. Supply and demand. That being said let me try and suggest a few writers.

Of the serious American novelists you should be OK with Don DeLillo, Brett Easton Ellis (especially the UK hardback first of American Psycho), Michael Chabon, Jeffrey Eugenides, William Gibson, Toni Morrison, limited editions of Vollmann, signed stuff by Hunter Thompson. Of the mass market authors, I cannot see Stephen King falling into desuetude but you need to stick to the early stuff, thriller writers like Michael Connelly, Pelecanos, Lee Child, Laurie King, Ian Rankin are happening and may continue to resonate. The big money is now in photobooks, children's literature (Rowling, Pullman, Dahl) and artist's books (Koons, Hirst, Warhol, Emin, Prince). Photographer Robert Frank's The Americans has more than trebled in value this century now selling for $10000+ in great condition, same goes for some of the young Japanese photographers. Condition is, as always, paramount.

The Irish poets like Heaney, Muldoon, Mahon and Michael Longley are a goodish bet. I like Harold Pinter and think he will rise in value - other Nobel Prize Winners might do well like Gao Xingjian and Jose Saramago. South American writers are a little played out with the brilliant exception of Roberto Bolano (who, perversely, said that most writers who won Nobel prizes were "jerks"). Another great collectible iconoclast is the French enfant terrible Michel Houellebecq. US poet Philip Levine will hopefully be seriously collected, possibly Patti Smith and amongst the Brit poets I would back James Fenton.
A litany of Brit writers like Ian Mcewan, Hanif Kureishi, Julian Barnes and Irvine Welsh are unlikely to flatline and in the "world music" category dig Haruki Murakami, Aime Cesaire, Khaled Hosseini, and Naguib Mahfouz. Of older writers I think Flann O'Brien might well increase in value - his work is said to give clues to the real meaning of [the TV show] 'Lost'...

*A day of Biblical rain in New York... a winey dinner... On parting, Potter's face streamed with tears as his crippled, arthritic hands grasped  Lynch's lapels. If they didn't screw it up, he said, if they saw it through to the end, this would be the work they would both be remembered by. "This movie will be the Madame Bovary of our time."

D.M. Thomas in 'The Guardian'  2004 on the attempt to make the film of 'The White Hotel'. Dennis Potter had been hired as the script writer, David Lynch was to direct. Our pic shows the Penguin, so far has the book fallen I couldn't find a shot of the original jacket-- white, as I recall...


Anonymous said...

You mention Toni Morrison. How can you collect her? It seems that all her work is published as paperbacks and sell for $10.00 at most? I really enjoy her novels (some more than others), but can't find any hardbacks to build collection around.

Bookride said...

Check out a site such as abebooks.com and you will find 40 copies of hardback jacketed books of TM's at over $1000, several over $5000. Most novels of major authors come out in hardback and the early novels befor people cotton on to them can be worth good money. Try ebay too for bargains..N