Sunday, April 24, 2011

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.

However.

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.

3 comments:

  1. I loved your take on this subject, Jenn. Guess beginning writers should become fans of celebrities with books on the shelves. :-)

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  2. Thanks, Lee and Liz! I figured that if celebrity books have been with us for so long, there must be reasons for that.

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