What every budding author should know: crap books make lots of money

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The Independent Culture

The trend began with Crap Towns, which spawned Crap Jobs and Crap Cars before a spate of titles, often spoofs, incorporating shit or shite. An online sales surge this week sent Is It Just Me or Is Everything Shit?: The Encyclopaedia of Modern Life, by Alan McArthur and Steve Lowe, to the top of the Amazon charts.

The witty rant against contemporary culture has seen sales double in the past couple of weeks. It has already sold 16,000 copies since publication in October. Only Jeremy Clarkson is selling more in the humour section at Waterstone's.

But an entire canon of shit, shite and crap titles is proving a goldmine. Michael O'Mara, chairman of Michael O'Mara Books, began the trend with Shite's Miscellany, modelled on Ben Schott's hugely successful miscellany. It has so far sold about 150,000 hardback copies and prompted follow-ups including Eats, Shites & Leaves by Antal Parody, a spoof of Lynne Truss'sEats, Shoots & Leaves. Mr O'Mara said thaT the series began as a joke. "I thought the idea of doing a parody could be a lot of fun, though it never occurred to me as a hit book," he said. "It was written in-house and we just had a great laugh doing it. We were absolutely astonished when it became a bestseller. We had to do a follow-up and Eats, Shites & Leaves seemed utterly perfect. All of a sudden we were looking at one absolutely ludicrous brand that we'd invented based on a vulgar word."

This summer, Shitedoku was published, followed by A Shite History of Nearly Everything, whichBookseller magazine said was "possibly more funny than the original". Mr O'Mara had no qualms about using "shite" so liberally. "It's a word I quite often use. And in the beginning, I thought [Shite's Miscellany] would be a minor book so it didn't matter a lot if the chains didn't want to take it, but they all loved it. Parody is a lost art, but I think people like it."

A spokeswoman for Macmillan, publishers of Crap Towns, which began as an article in The Idler magazine, said they ran the title past retailers to see their reaction. "I can't imagine we would have been able to get away with it 10 years ago, but a bit of swearing doesn't seem to be such a problem any more," she said. "It just seemed to sum up something you couldn't achieve with any other term. Crap is a good word - it suggests a bit rubbish but not the end of the world, which is exactly the tone of the book."

There had been no complaints about the use of "crap", although the Macmillan computer system initially tried to block all uses of the word. "I told the IT guy he'd have to take 'crap' off the firewall because I couldn't do my job otherwise," she said.

Curiously, Rude Britain had been much more problematic, even though its subject matter was simply real but rude-sounding place names such as Minge Lane and Brown Willy.

Scott Pack, head buyer for Waterstone's, said the titles seemed to appeal to a broad section of the public. "This is the third year of them. They have almost become a Christmas tradition, which is a bit of an odd tradition, I grant you. Every Christmas you look for what the next one is going to be and there is usually a spoof of a trend," he said.

As for their popularity: "With gift purchases in humour, it's very much on impulse. If someone picks a book up and it makes them laugh it gets bought," he said.