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April 2017

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Why celebrity books don't make me cranky

Celebrity books often make writers cranky. It’s easy to see why. If you’ve spent twenty years mastering your craft, struggling to write the perfect sentence, scraping through layers of your own self-protectiveness and naivete and unoriginal ideas, learning the difference between active and passive, pruning useless modifiers and cliches out of your work, honing your powers of observation—if you’ve done this while making no money, or making money at something else and stealing bits of hours here and there in which to write—then it can be annoying to see someone who hasn’t traveled the same path pick up a book advance that is a hundred times what you will ever be offered. It can be heart-breaking to see that person showing up on national TV to plug a book he or she may not have even written, when you had to struggle to get your local paper to mention your book and when they did, they misspelled the title. That is the soil in which the sour grapes grow.


The truth is that when people shop for books, they are drawn to familiar names. As readers, we all do this. And a celebrity begins with a huge advantage in this department: name recognition. An unknown writer must pull in readers with a catchy title, an awesome cover, or a fascinating synopsis (better yet, all three)—and that writer must deliver an amazing story.

Publishers invest in celebrity books because they get a return on that investment. Not every book every time (but that’s also true, and some say even truer, of non-celebrity books). Sometimes people say that the celebrity books bring in the money that allows publishers to sign the rest of their writers--the writers who will have to build their audience from zero, the writers who will have to earn that precious name recognition book by book.

I actually think it’s a good thing that so many celebrities still want to write books. Every night, talk shows feature politicians, actresses, or athletes who are plugging books. It can’t be just for the money. Although celebrities may pull in big advances, they make bigger money in other areas of their lives.

I think we’ll only be in trouble if the day comes when celebrities don’t want book contracts. Think about it: In this world where there are so many entertainment alternatives, having your name on a book cover still carries enough cachet that people who have made millions on other endeavors want that for themselves.


Nice - I like the way you look at it! : )
I can see both sides. It is frustrating to see someone get a contract so easily, on the other hand, the money they bring in helps the industry as a whole.
Yes, it can be disconcerting to see something we work for and concentrate on so whole-heartedly be a side project for someone else. Then again, I'm sure they had to work just as hard for their success in acting or politics or music or whatever as we do in our field!
I never understand why some folks allow themselves to get upset about this kind of thing. I mean, of course I can see why it can be upsetting, but what's the point in fretting about stuff you've no control over?
There you go, being sensible again. ;-)
Excellent points. Also, I hate to assume that just because someone is a celebrity in another area, that this means they can't write as well. No, that may not be why they got the contract, but I don't want to leap to the conclusion that they've created a lousy book. Years ago, I read Jamie Lee Curtis' book IT'S HARD TO BE FIVE, and I liked it a lot. So... :)
There's that, of course. And for books that are ghost-written--there is a writer making money there, whether they get a cover credit or not!


If they actually wrote the books themselves, it wouldn't bother me so much. But most of them are just cashing a check for someone else's long hours at a computer. And how does Miley Cyrus write an autobiography at 15, when her life isn't even half lived? Although at the rate she's going, she might be taking some years off. Granted, some celebrities have stories worth hearing, but it burns me to know a talented writer may be passed over in favor of publishing someone's 15 minutes of Hollywood drama.
I wonder if they really are competing, though? My perception is that the advance that goes to a celebrity who's expected to rake in big sales would not go instead to an unknown, no matter how talented. The reason they're able to pull together that money for the celebrity book in the first place is because they expect the big return. But that's just my understanding, pieced together indirectly, and I would love to hear publishing insiders weigh in on exactly how that works.
I'm mostly on the fence about celebrity books. I think you've got the right attitude though. But then it seems like you often have the right and calm attitude about life. :) Please tell me there's some area where you just totally lose control?
I am not always calm, but I try not to bring my worst moods to the internet. ;-)
I can see the parallels! :-)
Wow, thanks for this perspective! I'm one of those writers that gets VERY cranky, but now I will think twice before I roll my eyes at another celebrity book in the bargain bin :P
And I have to admit, I have my eye on the Keith Richards and Andre Agassi books. I sometimes read celebrity books myself! (What can I say; I like the Rolling Stones and tennis.)
I actually LOVE memoirs. I'm just not too crazy about celebrities writing novels, especially people like Lauren Conrad and Hilary Duff and SNOOKI, of all people, all of whom probably have very little writing experience.


"Publishing Industry Gives Birth To New Talent: It's A Souja Boy!"

Nah, I disagree with you & actually wonder how much a publisher is paying YOU to make them sound Robin Hood-esque (getting $ from the rich celeb books to turn around and invest in the no-name writing talent). But nah, what did the publishing industry turn around and invest the Paris/Perez/Snooki book revenues into: Stephenie Meyer & The Twilight "saga". That's the 'talent' they came back with- a version of Lil Wayne for literature- a Souja Boy, a new 50 Cent. Nope, no new JD Salinger (author of Catcher In The Rye), no SE Hinton (teen author of The Outsiders). There's talent out but they're only looking for the Next Big Buck now so they'll never find it. Great ideas & writing are not always that commercially viable. But Souja Boy, so that's who they praise as the Next JK Rowling, when in fact there 'could' actually be a writer out there is IS fit to be the Next Rowling. We'll never know since the publishing industry was so quick to bestow that title upon Souja Boy (Meyer). (Disclaimer: I know Snooki didn't get her book deal until 2010, I think. I just used those celeb names as random examples).

Re: "Publishing Industry Gives Birth To New Talent: It's A Souja Boy!"

Literary magazines are in fact publishing material of outstanding quality without regard to profit. The problem is that the audience is small, and nobody can make a living at it--many of those markets can't afford to pay their writers at all.

As long as mainstream publishing is expected to turn a profit, it will publish what sells, and what it believes it can sell. So far, publishers have also continued to buy projects they love, that they knew would not sell as well, that they knew might not even earn out their advances. This is the tension between business and art.

But self-publishing is becoming viable enough that those who no longer want to buy into the traditional model can strike out on their own, and take their work directly to readers if they want.