There's only so much misery the book buyers of Britain can take

Once we couldn't get enough of it. But human suffering isn't selling so well these days

Paul Bignell
Sunday 01 June 2008 00:00 BST

Depravity, drink, drug addiction and abuse are hardly the most uplifting subjects for a leisurely read. But for years, misery memoirs have been the toast of the book world, with stories of human suffering generating huge sales. But new figures suggest readers have reached their pain threshold and the mis lit boom may be over.

At its height, profits topped £24m a year and authors could be sure that the more they plumbed the depths of despair and depravity, the deeper publishers would reach into their pockets. But industry research firm Nielsen now estimates that sales for the top 10 best-selling misery memoirs will be down from £3.87m last year to £2.59m this year.

Joel Rickett, deputy editor of The Bookseller, said: "There's almost been a limit of horror reached. Some titles have become so powerfully depraved, the very bottom of the extreme has been reached. It's harder to make that big splash with a new book, too, especially when there are so many out there. "

Publisher John Blake said: "A number of the big publishers are now doing a book a month. Even the most miserable person in the world is being oversupplied by that volume."

It wasn't until Dave Pelzer's A Child Called It, an account of growing up with an alcoholic and abusing mother, appeared in 1995, that the phenomenon went global. Its success prompted a flood of similar books. Some, such as Stuart Howarth's Please, Daddy, No, which recalled how the author's father repeatedly raped him and forced him to eat pigswill, were instant hits.

But a series of well-publicised exposures of some of the memoirs as either completely false or exaggerated helped to depress sales, Mr Rickett said. Controversy surrounding the authenticity of a variety of books, including Misha Defonseca's Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, James Frey's A Million Little Pieces and Margaret Seltzer's Love and Consequences.

"There have been sustained attacks on some of the books," said Mr Rickett, "which may have had an impact. There has been some questioning of their reliability."

To have your say on this or any other issue visit

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in