If you type the word Everest into the books category on Amazon.com, here’s what you get:
- 4 teen novels about a group of backstabbing teenagers competing to become the youngest person to climb Everest
- 1 worst-case scenario teen adventure book
- 1 map
- 4 mountaineering disaster books (two about the 1996 season and two about the 2006 season)
- 1 original expedition account of a first ascent
- 1 history of Everest
Of these, the first six won’t tell you anything at all about what it’s like to climb Everest, and four of the rest provide a very biased picture. If anything the results at Amazon.co.uk are even worse:
- 7 mountaineering disaster books (a scarcely credible six about the boring old 1996 season and one about the 2006 season)
- 1 trekking guide
- 1 original expedition account of an ordinary commercial ascent
- 2 histories of Everest
- 1 light-hearted travel book
You may be thinking these results tell us something about the tastes of the great reading public (that Brits like reading about disasters, while Americans like teen adventure and a little bit of disaster), but do they? The “Books” category, after all, mainly contains print books, most of which have had to pass through the gatekeepers at giant publishing companies. Now that e-readers, print-to-order, and in particular the Amazon Kindle Store, has opened up the world of publishing to new authors, we’re getting a much better idea of what readers really want to buy.
Two weeks ago the British climber and writer Andy Kirkpatrick announced very publicly on his blog that he was giving up writing and looking for a proper job because there isn’t enough money in climbing literature to make a career out of it. This was in spite of his first book Psychovertical winning the Boardman Tasker Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in mountaineering literature, in 2008. The following day his second book, Cold Wars, won the Boardman Tasker Prize again.
For an avid reader of mountaineering literature I’ve actually read very few books which have won the Boardman Tasker Prize, and it’s something I’ve been meaning to correct for a while now, but a few days ago another blogger wrote a post which shed some light on why I haven’t, by pointing out that nearly all Boardman Tasker winners fall into one of two categories:
- Ripping yarns (ie. hardcore climbers doing extreme stuff which sometimes goes wrong)
- Worthy if slightly turgid biographies
The implication of the post, though it’s not explicitly stated, is that the Boardman Tasker Prize is largely irrelevant to many readers of mountain literature, which might explain why Andy Kirkpatrick isn’t raking it in, despite winning twice.
In fact, I have some rather surprising evidence from Amazon UK which suggests what readers really like are not ripping yarns, but light-hearted travel books, as evidenced by the prominent screenshot on the left (you can click on it to see it full size), showing the best-selling Kindle downloads for the Mountaineering category on Amazon.co.uk. As you can see it seems to be dominated by titles from some obscure mountaineering blogger who’s about as likely to win an award as Reinhold Messner is to advertise Poisk oxygen cylinders, who can’t climb to save his life but has good fun trying (sadly, however, he’s still not selling enough to knock bloody Jon Krakauer off the No.1 spot!).
All of which rather long-winded introduction brings me on to the whole point of this post: to announce that the self-same obscure mountaineering blogger has just made his Everest travel diaries, the imaginatively titled, The Chomolungma Diaries, available on Kindle.
But before you stop reading and pull up Facebook or go back to working on that boring document your boss wants you to do for him, here are some reasons why you might want to fork out the princely sum of $0.99 for it (yes, I know, I tricked you into reading this far – sorry! – but you’re nearly there now, so you may as well read the rest of it).
- It’s not a ripping yarn, a turgid history book, a teen adventure novel or a mountaineering disaster book;
- It’s a light-hearted travel book you can read in a single sitting and end the day with a smile on your face;
- It does actually address a niche in the market, by presenting an honest account of what it’s like to join a commercial expedition to climb Everest, without focusing on death and disaster;
- It’s not full of macho posturing about how dangerous Everest is, like the only other original account of a commercial expedition in the Amazon top ten (I’ve not actually read Bear Grylls’s book, but I bet it’s just like that!);
- Whenever possible I’ve tried to highlight all the hard work our amazing Sherpa team put in to help us to achieve our dream (while making it perfectly clear they didn’t “drag” us up the mountain, as many of the journalists who write mountaineering disaster books would like you to believe. I’ve only once seen somebody getting short-roped up a mountain, and it looked pretty exhausting – I’d rather go at my own pace, thank you);
- While comparing my climbing skills to Andy Kirkpatrick would be like comparing my footballing skills (and dashing good looks) to David Beckham, I do have one thing in common with him (two things actually, we’re both from Hull as well). Neither of us make a living out of our books. I’m sure I make a good deal less than he does, but luckily I have the career of a roaming digi comms professional to fall back on. Those 99 cents do provide a modest supplement to my travel piggy bank, though, which ultimately means interesting material for this blog;
- If you get a few of your friends to buy it too, then I’ll definitely buy you a drink if we ever bump into each other;
- Seriously, if you enjoy reading this blog then it’s 99 cents well spent!
And it’s not just available on Kindle. You can download it from Smashwords for a number of other e-reading devices; just click on this link to choose your online bookstore. There’s even a web version you can read for free.
Anyway that’s enough hard sales, next week I’ll be back with a proper blog post, I promise.