Gold-Plated Nothings: Celebrity Books in the Literary World

After a dose of political intrigue, international news and the unsolicited opinions of numerous journalists, my surreptitious lurking in the entertainment section revealed an interesting piece of news. Comedian Amy Shumer has landed a book deal, with an advance suspected to be around $8 million dollars. I almost fell off my chair. As a young editor working for a small press, that kind of money around an advance is still awe-inspiring. But as I thought about it more, it increasingly began to disturb me.

Before we go any further though, I want to make it clear that this is not a rant about Amy. I’m a huge fan of her work, and she can make me laugh harder than I thought possible. But her work is as a comedian, in stand-up, television, and film. What she isn’t, is an author.

We can be pedantic all we want about what the term author means. If whether all you have to do to be an author is write something, or if all it takes to be considered one is to be published. But the increasing rise of celebrity ‘authors’ bodes ill for the rest of the literary industry, as they take away from those who wish to write more than just a recap of their lives and their endearing, charming, hilarious or heartbreaking thoughts.

Books published by celebrities usually constitute autobiography, memoir, or collection of thoughts and essays. There’s the occasional cookbook of lifestyle guide, and British celebrity Katie Price, also known as Jordan, has written a novel. For the most part, these books fail to add much to the literary landscape, and rely on our cultural fascination with the lives of celebrities. The quality of the writing varies greatly, the story is often much the same – young aspiring star walks the hard road to achieve their dreams, and examines the struggle with being rich, famous and adored.

By all means, worship a star if you want to. Go see their movies, hang off their television interviews, and buy the products they endorse with that winning smile. But what do their books really add to that? More of the same things you see in their films, their stand-up, their interviews. They may be entertaining reads for those obsessed with their favourite celebrity, but as books, they often fail the test of time, and become one time reads to collect dust on your bookshelves.

And these books are doing a significant amount of dust collecting. In The New York Times bestseller list from this week alone, almost half of the top twenty are written by some celebrity, whether they be from the comedic, film or political persuasion.

With such solid represent in the bestseller lists, we can see why publishers are so keen to embrace these books, and why Amy has been given such a huge advance. No doubt her book will make it a number of times over. But it displays a worrying trend of pursuing financial gain to the detriment of literary quality.

In an increasingly risk-averse market, the booming celebrity book industry produces numerous carbon copy memoirs that make bank for their publishers, and their authors. But this takes the time and energy away from less well known authors, as they work to produce original and painstakingly crafted works, only to have them rejected because they won’t sell the same way the glittering, celebrity endorsed hardbacks will.

When the bestseller lists indicate a particular trend, naturally publishers are going to jump on as quickly as possible, ever thinking about that bottom line. The only solution for those who wish to patron higher quality literature is to of course, stop buying celebrity books. But in a society obsessed with the minute movements of celebrities, I don’t see that happening any time soon. The cost is, and will always be, the smaller authors, those who haven’t yet got the money, the influence or the fame behind them to push a book like a celebrity can.

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3 thoughts on “Gold-Plated Nothings: Celebrity Books in the Literary World

  1. Halle.freakin.lujah! Someone in the industry who gets exactly what I’ve said for years, and you work for the company who does my book covers and interiors!

    My three points

    1 – Katy Price has admitted on live tv she does not write her books, the woman who did died a year or so ago so unless she’s got herself a knew ghost writer, I have no idea if she’s “releasing” any more novels.

    2 – most celebs DO NOT write their books, and if they do write parts, it’s viciously burnt and slashed by the editor to turn it into crap they can actually make money out of.

    3 – Publishers only want people they can make money out of. Celebs are cash cows to them, same as their current fascination with bloggers, who they hand book deals on platters to and it pi$$e$ me off.

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    1. Hi Lady Jewels, glad to hear you liked the piece! It’s definitely something I feel limits the discovery of new talent within the industry. Love that your points 1 and 2 mention ghost writers, which is an idea I find very interesting. I think that if celebrities do get book deals, they should be writing their own work. Their particular target is about revealing parts of their lives to their fans, if it’s not even written by them, it almost feels like deceit. That is, if they are professing that they’ve written it themselves. I wrote this article because the celebrity cash cow in publishing has really started to get on my nerves, I’m much more interested in promoting new talent than offering celebrities who aren’t writers more money. Bloggers and book deals seems like an interesting development I’m not currently across very well, I’d love to hear more.

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      1. Cupcakes and Cashmere, Man Repeller, Nikki Parkinson from Styling You (who got called by an agent from Hachette), Christina from Hair Romance, Pip Lincoln from Meet Me at Mike’s, the list is getting longer as more and more American bloggers are getting book deals and now Aussie bloggers are too. Just as many YouTube stars are getting their own tv shows and books deals.

        They’re cash cows because of the following they already have, so the publishers think they’re guaranteed sales. If print runs are smaller and many publishers only give out one book contracts, then unless they sell out they won’t be getting another contract, basically making them one book wonders and not authors of any real substance.

        I tend to roll my eyes when a blogger, who has done nothing but blog, say they’re writing a book (which usually consists of their blog posts or some nonsense they think they’re an expert at). I’m like, yeah right, trying plotting a real story with real characters and a plot and then write 125,000 words and write a real book.

        Sadly many real authors are being left behind due to the cash cows of social media.

        And self pubbed authors like Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey all get book deals once they’ve sold a million or two, so that mean publishers are refusing potential authors and waiting until indies have success on their own and somehow “prove” they have enough worth for the trad pubs to take them on.

        Ugh, that makes me sick. We’re not good enough unless trad pubs say so. Forget it! With Amazon, Smashwords, CreateSpace, LS and Lulu all prepared to help people publish and the world of publishing going how it is, why bother with them? Even trad pubbed authors have to pay for their own publicity and do everything themselves these days anyway. So why bother with a trad pub at all?

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