Saturday, December 05, 2009

Who Are These Celebrity Authors?

The TimesOnline had an article called “Publishing House Jobs Go as Celebrity Books Fail to Sell.” The opening line is:
The lustre of celebrity memoirs, possibly the most reviled literary genre in history, is fading as publishers voice their alarm over returns from books that have been “authored” by star names to whom they have paid vast advances.
Hachette UK is saying it intends to focus on more traditional titles. Tom Weldon, the deputy chief executive of Penguin UK, said, “Sales are down by around 25 or 30 per cent this year, more than the decline in the book market overall.” But Weldon then went on to say, “I don’t think the category is dead. It is worth noting that the biggest selling authors this year will be Ant & Dec, while Jeremy Clarkson, Chris Evans, Frankie Boyle and Peter Kay will also be in the top ten.”

Am I totally clueless when I ask, Who, the heck, are those people? Celebrities? I’ve never heard of a single one of them. Admittedly, I’m not terribly hip anymore, but, seriously, celebrities? I will cut Weldon some slack. These names may be immediately recognized in Britain. You don’t have to search very hard in American bookstores to find D-list celebrities with books out either.

As always, there’s debate. Liz Thomson of BookBrunch said:
Most of us are aware of our limitations and have sufficient humility and commonsense to say no to things we do not understand and cannot accomplish with dignity and honesty. Not so the many celebrities who put their names to novels they have not written, and to ghosted memoirs about their vacuous lives.
The author of the TimesOnline article countered with:
For the time being, at least, reports of the death of celebrity memoirs may have been exaggerated.
What do you say? Do you love celebrity books? Do you care if a celebrity book is written by a ghostwriter? Do you think celebrities getting millions in advances and appearing on major talk shows is good for smaller or new writers because it keeps books in people’s minds and wish lists? Or do you think it hurts the ordinary writer because in these tight times there’s not much money and room left over for publishers to take a chance on a new writer?
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  1. I abhor celebrity memoirs - as a matter of principle I have *never* bought one, not even as a gift (that's my way of making my voice count). The only memoirs/ autobiographies/ biographies that have value are those of dead people, because time and history - not some good marketing PR spin - has proved their contribution to humanity in whatever their arena of choice.

    I won't rant anymore except to say if this genre is finally dying and booksellers are starting to concentrate more on *real* books(fiction/non-fiction) then I, for one, will be delighted.

  2. I say 'Die celebrity memoirs, die!' Don't we hear enough about their lives anyway? I mean unless they did something great or inspirational other than being famous doing we need more?

    The craft of memoir is hard enough without celbs blocking up publishing house money.

    Thems my humble thoughts :)

    PS- I agree. I have never heard of any of those names. All the more reason they shouldn't be writing unless they have something fabulous to say and a fab way of saying it.

  3. I've never heard of those names either, but it wouldn't matter. I will not buy celebrity books. They are a larger version of gossip magazines.

  4. Hey Anne, can I just say that memoirs are real books ONLY when they are written by real people who have overcome some REAL stuff and have something REAL to say. Lots of memoirs have helped a great number of people though some REAL crap in their lives. Seems to me the genre deserves the title of 'real book.'

  5. I've never read a celebrity memoir - I rarely read memoirs at all. I just don't get it. Not my thing at all - even if I have heard of the celeb :)

  6. I agree with Tabitha. Don't we hear enough about these celebrities in the news? (Not the ones you mentioned - those people are probably famous in Britain, just not here in the USA.) And do I really care about the salacious & trashy life of a celebrity? Not in the least!

  7. What annoys me are the advances that are paid out to these non-writers. The publishers could use that money to get so many other, worthy, writers published.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  8. Though I assume the publisher thinks the celebrity name will translate into dollars and sales, I've never bought a celebrity memoir. I do like the memoir genre, but have yet to find a celebrity one that intrigues me enough to read.

  9. (DITTO)^max all of the above

  10. Tabitha you're correct. I should have differentiated between celebrity memoirs and memoirs. I'm trying to encourage a friend of mine who has a daughter with autism to write her personal story to help others who have the same struggle: that is, of course, both a memoir and a "real book"!

  11. I do not buy or read celebrity memoirs because I am not interested in pop-culture celebrities or their lives. Narrow-minded of me, I'm sure.

    However, I do not think they will disappear simply because of the bottomless voyeuristic tendencies of a large-enough part of the population. Just look at the shows watched on TV, look at what is on the magazine racks by the grocery store check-outs. See what makes "news" on radio and TV news casts.

    Enough said.

    I have to admit here that living in foreign countries where you do not understand the language and cannot take in what's on TV and magazines is very relaxing! Coming back to the States or Holland (my home country) is always like being hit over the head with all the crap everywhere. Suddenly your brain has to process and digest it all somehow. Very exhausting!

  12. Jeremy Clarkson is one of the hosts of Top Gear, a car program that is hugely popular in the US and the UK. My son and husband never miss it.

  13. I bet Top Gear is a cable show. I've never heard of it. I'm beginning to accept that not being able to get cable is not such a bad thing, though.

    I agree with everything you all have said.

  14. I don't usually buy celebrity memoirs, but I have purchased and read two that I liked: Jane Fonda's "The Third Act" and Barbara Walter's "Audition." Both were very well written and interesting. I read them because both of these women were pioneers, extremely successful and did things their way. I felt I could learn something from their story.
    What scares me is the number of people lining up to buy Sarah Palin's book.

  15. I admit there are some memoirs that are probably good - by people who have lived and done things that are worth writing about and worth reading. Those are few, though, I think. There seem to be too many today that are written for the money and the chance to get on TV and often by a ghostwriter. I've not read Fonda's book or Walter's, but I agree wtih you, Karen.

  16. Those guys are all huge over here in the UK.

    There was a discussion over on the fiction board at ( ) in which some aspiring authors were bemoaning the lack of interest in literary fiction, because of all these celebrity books. And don't forget that these celebrity books aren't just memoirs, they're increasingly fiction, and particularly children's fiction.

    This is part of the reply to the thread by an industry professional.

    I am a editorial director commissioning literary fiction for two literary imprints at a large publishing conglomerate, and I would like to speak up from the publisher's perspective. Firstly, it is a misconception that celebrity books are taking the space of literary fiction, as publishers need to publish books from across a range of genres in order to cope with the vagaries of a changing marketplace and to (hopefully) plant the seeds of success in as many areas as possible, and so the proportion of these 'celebrity' books may well have been remarkably constant over the last decade or so although it might not seem like this (I suspect this is because with magazines like Heat, Now and so on, there are simply more outlets to publicise this sort of book)."

    So what he's saying is that there may seem to be more celebrity memoirs now, but it's probably not really the case, it's just that where a book release wouldn't have been noticed in the past, now there are half a dozen TV stations and several dozen magazines all obsessing about celebrities and with time or space to fill eager to promote them.

    And these celebrity memoirs are helping fund other, less popular, books, in theory.

    There's also the fact that a decade or two ago, someone might write a kiss and tell memoir about their time with an actual celebrity. Or they might have been involved in some disaster and wrote about their struggle. Or they were super successful at the Olympics. We didn't necessarily think of any of them as celebrities. Nowadays, everyone who gets a bit of face time on television leverages it into a media career and so you get the ever expanding ranks of Z-list celebrity.

  17. To each his own. I've never heard of them sorry, but I'm not into celebrity writers even if I know them. Ultimately it depends on what we want to read - real life or reel type, talk show topics. For me the unknown(or lesser known) or non-celebrity author lends more authenticity to a story than the well-exposed celebrity cos I'm already prejudiced ....

  18. I suppose that social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter (and blogs and websites and and and) have stolen the thunder from celeb authors. They've said it all online (in one way or another) before the book even hits the print press. And if the celeb hasn't told all via the Internet, then others have said and posted all for the celeb anyway... It's kind of like when Agassi scooped himself.

    Cheers, Jill
    Check out the "Blood and Groom" book trailer at

  19. I agree with Tabitha and if they have to use someone else to write the book for them why not at least give that person some credit rather than using "ghost writers" I never buy celebrity books. Who cares what rich people do? It's the ones who have to struggle through life and overcome obstacles that I am interested in. I'd rather read a well crafted fiction than a "memoir."

  20. Yay! Oh lest I sound premature, about time all this celebrity trash gets thrown back. Who cares? Let the millions go to authors who can use it and who actually, duh, write! Fiction makes way more sense. How many trashy, useless lives can you read about? And yes who are those people? Never heard of them either. Only few memoirs I read were from people I liked years ago. And what's with writing a memoir at age 20 or so? What's that about?

  21. Thanks Anton for speaking from the British POV. We have just as many, if not more, celebrities over here and they get face time on what I used to consider legitimate news programs which I now find to be 15 minutes of news then either politicians arguing with each other instead of taking care of business or celebrities promoting their books and movies.

    Chris, you had me laughing at the question of what's a 20-something doing writing a memoir. I agree!

  22. I don't read them. I don't think I do anyway unless they actually wrote it and they are celebrities because they actually did something. I'm reading Three Cups of Tea - about a real person who is doing amazing things and a journalist who fessed up to their blinding adoration of the person (went in without a bias but couldn't not love the guy). That's the only celebrities I want to read or read about - like Stephen Lewis and Ane Pema Chodron and Romeo Dallaire and Michael J. Fox and Michaelle Jean and Rick Hansen and Nellie McClung. Your readers might not know these names - they are all Canadian heroes.

  23. I think the HUGE, Millions in advances are a mistake. Also, if the book is total fluff, no matter how well written, that's a mistake for the publishers as well. I do think there will always be "celebrity" books.

  24. I think it would be hard to find a writer who likes celebrity memoirs. We all feel a little jealous, probably. My father-in-law told me I should go on American Idol in an attempt to get famous so I'd have a better chance of getting my novels published. Think it would work? (I guess it would depend on how well I sing!)

  25. LOL, Helen, my hubby and I decided we are definitely out of touch as we don't recognize many celebrity names, either.

    As for the books, I don't buy them, Never did and probably never will. Partly because I don't care about most selebs enough to read a book about them, and partly because the deals made for publishing those books, do make it difficult for other writers to get published.

    It's easy to figure that if one author gets a million or more for a book, that means 20 authors won't get $50,000 for their books.

  26. Ant and Dec have been involved in show business in the UK since they were teenagers. They used to front a kids TV show on Saturday mornings that EVERYONE watched and to this day I regret that it's gone. The closest cultural analogy would be Pee Wee's Playhouse. Utterly different in style, but similar in the way it appealed to kids and adults alike. SMTV was watched by about 2.5 million people every weekend in the UK, probably about a third to half of the people watching TV at that time of day when it was on. They rule the ratings here with their shows on TV now. Age, early thirties.

    Jeremy Clarkson - fronts Top Gear for the BBC. Top Gear used to be a motoring show, now it's a show with some cars in it. Clarkson is a Global Warming denier and encourages excess. I don't much care for him and his antics, but he's pretty popular here and in the US. He's smart and honestly passionate about motoring matters. Age late 40s.

    Chris Evans started as a radio DJ. Eventually he was fronting the second most popular breakfast show on TV here. From there he went back to radio to become the most listened to DJ on radio in the UK and eventually he orchestrated the purchase of Virgin Radio (Richard Branson's radio network). After a complete financial meltdown he gradually clawed his way back into public view, as a humbler and more professional broadcaster. I have massive sympathy for Chris Evans, loved his early work, and expect nothing but brilliance from him in the future. Age early 40s.

    Frankie Boyle is a Scottish stand up comedian. A very angry, very dark, stand-up comedian. I've watched him on TV for only the last few years but he has had a huge impact. He is one of those no-boundaries, says whatever he wants to, comics. Age late 30s.

    Peter Kay was the top comic in the UK. No question. He had a couple of TV series under his belt that are considered classics, focusing on flawed characters with dreams bigger than their abilities. At the height of his ability, after a number of best-selling tours, he decided to concentrate on his family for a while. A long while. He's only just getting back to touring as a comic after a seven year break. Easily the funniest person in the UK. I can't even look at him without twisting my face into the expectation of a smile. Age mid-thirties.

    If I got it as a Xmas present, I would read a memoir from any of the above in a heartbeat. Would I buy it...

  27. Maryann - "It's easy to figure that if one author gets a million or more for a book, that means 20 authors won't get $50,000 for their books."

    I agree with you, BUT the other way to look at it is that modern publishing puts most of the weight on the publisher. You hear it time and time again.

    The publisher pays an advance, prints the books, distributes them... then waits until the booksellers send the unwanted books back or destroy them. It's hugely wasteful.

    It's also weighted heavily on the publisher. They'll tell you that they NEED those guaranteed bestsellers so they can write off the other 19 books that don't make money.

    Come the revolution, when e-books rule and publishers are a thing of the past it'll be a very different industry.

  28. Oh, and to completely spam your comments :) ...

    I bought Michael J Fox's bio when it came out a few year's after he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.

    I'd followed his career from the early days until he was debilitated with the illness, but still working on Spin City.

    The news that he wouldn't be on TV any more (not true, thank gods) was honestly shocking to me, and I wanted to know more about him, his life, and the disease that took him away from my TV.

    Some memoirs rock.

  29. Jan, I know Michael J. Fox.

    Thank you, Anton, for the lowdown on the British celebs. And thank you for spamming my comments - please tell us more.

  30. I bought Mia Farrows book "What Falls Away" a long time ago. She wrote it herself. Towards the end the book got bogged down with her account of life between her and Woody and messy accusations back and forth, (I think he's a scum bucket but she got involved with him and seemed rather clueless.) I have not bought a celebrity memoir since. I am not all that interested in their lives.

  31. Ann, I hope your friend writes that book. I can think of many people who would hang onto to that with both hands and their teeth.

    I get your differentiation and I agree with you. It is the former ghost written memoirs by D list celbs or even A lists ones that the world can do without. thanks for the reply.

    Encourage your friend. Tell her to connect with others who have written memoirs and see if it is for her. Gosh, I hope she does it. Hugs to her. :)

    Great discussion Helen. :)

  32. I'll add my name to the list of folks who have never bought a celebrity memoir and have no intention of buying one. It amazes me how many people stand in line to buy Sarah's book--the one she didn't write. Evidently the publisher is making big bucks, but look how much advertising dollars they've thrown into this. Blows my mind.

  33. My guess is it costs a whole lot more to send a celebrity on a tour for her/his tell-all than to send a regular author on a tour for their memoir. (Although in today's world, there's a good chance the publisher wouldn't pay for the regular author's tour.)

  34. Like so many of you have stated, I've never read a celebrity memoir and don't see any finding their way on my TBR pile either. I have friends who read bios of sports stars but I'm not a fan of professional athletics. I'm not sorry at all to hear that market is taking a hit. Most celebrity books are produced in expensive hard cover books. I always wonder who buys them when I see a stack of them taking up the front of my local Borders.
    Give me a good fiction novel any day.

  35. I can't imagine that anyone outside the UK will have heard of any of the celebs except the loathsome Clarkson who is very well known across Europe.

    Peter Kay is a brilliant, brilliant comedy writer and I think the celeb writer tag won't do him any favours. I bet his book will be funny becuase, hey, he can write.

    Clarkson is horrible loudmouth and little will shut him up, I'm afraid.

    Since we're now attacked with information and misinformation about B & C list celebs every day what is the point of these books? I know more about Chris Evans life than is good for me already.


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