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Saturday, November 28, 2009

How do Celebrity Books hurts real authors.

How do Celebrity Junk Books hurt real authors.

I took part in a radio broadcast in October of this year where one caller asked me why is it that some of the most hated celebrities get book deals through the back door whereas real writers constantly get overlooked. I told her that although thousands of people may not like a particular person that may have gotten a book deal, publishers would take an interest in that person simply because the individual has a platform. In other words, the individual has a large enough fan base. And regardless of the person’s talent and credibility—or lack of in most cases—publishers stand to profit more on their investment than if they were to publish a novel from a lesser-known but more deserving author. Is this fair? No it isn’t. However in this day in age it has become a necessary evil in the publishing world to put money before talent. Bestselling author, John Irving (pictured on the right), said in an interview that he worries for new writers and admitted that his first novel would never have been published had it been written today. Why has this trend evolved? Is it because of the economy? Is it because of the rising popularity of digital over print media? Those may be the answers. However one fact that is overlooked is that readers also control the publishing industry. That’s right. It all comes down to the ones that choose to buy Celebrity Books. And I specify Celebrity Books and not books written by celebrities because almost all of them are ghostwritten. The only way that this unfortunate trend will change is if book lovers boycotted Celebrity Books just because they are celebrities and focus on writers with credibility.

A very good online acquaintance of mine and fellow author, Donna Carrick, said that when she approached agents with her book, she was turned down by all of them. Many of them gave her the same excuse: that Americans would not be interested in a story that takes place in China. I laughed when I read this, considering that The Bourne Supremacy (the novel, not the movie) took place in China and is a bestseller. The truth is that agents are gatekeepers for publishers and have established relationships with acquisition editors. Agents know what publishers are looking for, and it’s what’s hot at the moment. Take for instance, Sarah Palin. She’s had so much bad press in the past several months—mainly due to the fact that she could never back up her quotes (Remember the Katie Couric interview? ‘Nuff said). Yet, her book outsold Dan Brown’s latest thriller. Rupert Murdoch biographer, Michael Wolff, wrote in his column that Palin’s publisher, HarperCollins, “Does not really believe Sarah Palin has written a valuable book—or even that it is really a book, not in the way that HarperCollins has historically understood books, or in the way that people have counted on HarperCollins to have understood a book.” Add insult to injury, Palin did not even write her own book. This illustrates how publishers are so desperate that they will peddle celebrity junk to bookstores before effectively marketing quality books that are written by real authors.

The literary world is continuously going through major changes. Publishers are desperate to recover the millions that they’ve lost in books that either broke even on their initial investment or haven't sold well. Remember Joe The Plumber’s book? Yeah, he had a book too. At a book signing at Borders in Washington, DC in February, 2009, only eleven people attended, fewer remained behind to buy his book. Oh yeah. It crashed and burned, which serves his publisher right. This is the type of message that readers need to send to publishers more often. If more people exercised proper judgement, publishers would have no choice but to drop the fake Celebrity Books and invest more in quality fiction and non-fiction that are written by real authors. As for Palin’s book, all I’ll say is this. I already watched her numerous times on television make an ass of herself—for free. I won’t spend money reading about her doing it.

Russell Brooks is the author of the upcoming action/thriller, Pandora's Succession. Visit here to join the mailinglist to hear excerpts and receive updates.

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  1. Interesting topic!
    Isn't there a social phenomena that has something to do with familiarity? Not certain, but we all have a need to feel as if we know someone, and are fascinated by that. This leads into the celebrity blitz because our exposure to them makes us feel as if we know them.

    I believe the same applies strongly to books.

  2. Ironically I had begun working on a blog-post discussing this very topic and it shared the same sentiments that you have discussed.
    Unfortunately our society seems to assume that because someone has achieved "celebrity" status it must follow that whatever this "celebrity" has to say is worth listening to - or in this case worth reading. The sad truth of the matter is that this is not always (read "hardly ever") the case.
    As you stated about the Joe the Plumber debacle...the power to change it is in the hands of the readers - let's hope they get the memo.
    Thanks for reading
    Tim Baker

  3. I don't believe celebrity books hurt real authors. For starters they're not competing on the same playing field. Sure it seems unfair that celebs get book deals with large advances and when real authors struggle to get published. It's apples and oranges as far as I'm concerned.
    (Buying Palin's book doesn't stop the same person buying my thrillers - I can think of a few things that would stop them but in the interest of not attacking prospective readers I'll keep that to myself! )
    Celebrity books are just that, celebrity books... a flash in the pan. They're not in it for the long haul. (Remember that saying - "Here for a good time, not a long time", I think it applies to celeb's and their books.

    Meanwhile the rest of us authors, write books and keep writing books, and learning!

    Cat x