Monday, December 27, 2010

Are Celebrity "Novels" Compromising The Publishing Industry?

It wasn't long ago I discovered The Thirteen Most Obnoxious Publishing Stories of 2010. My thoughts?  The author was kind to use the word obnoxious.  The adjectives entering my mind were somewhat less tame.

Over the past few months, I've been fortunate to connect with a variety of writers.  These are people I respect; they have a passion for what they do and are committed to the craft.  Despite having never met them, they are incredible friends and mentors who teach me the tricks of the trade.  I'm humbled to be supported and accepted by such talented individuals.

From them, I've learned writing is more than a hobby - it's a lifestyle.  We live and breathe our words.  We create characters and worlds that come to life, blurring the boundaries of reality.  We own our work.

Serious writing requires serious commitment.  Anyone who ever attempted completing a publishable product knows this.  If you're like Alex George, you wake up at 5am to begin a few hours of uninterrupted writing before your children demand your attention.  Many follow routines like LK Gardner-Griffie, who first puts in the required day job hours before heading home and activating her imagination.  Or if you're like me, you work out in the morning, write in the afternoon, and spend the evenings studying the business.

The point is, we all spend a significant amount of time writing.  And deleting, rewriting, editing, revising, staring, reading, studying, screaming, crying, shouting, cursing, fighting, and more.

But for most of us, our daily schedule does not allow for this:

Now there is an award winning novelist.  She must have just finished editing.

Before I go further, I want to clarify one thing.  Although I do not agree with (and as an Italian, am often offended by) the majority of the behaviors captured on this "show," I do not begrudge the cast for capitalizing an opportunities presented to them.  Who wouldn't? 

I'm more troubled that our society will most likely make the "novel" written by the star of the clip above a best seller.

And this bar hopping author is simply one example.  Lauren, Nicole, and Hilary have all landed YA deals, but what I want to know is, how hard are they really working?  For some reason, I'm unable to envision these gals sitting down to research agents, draft the perfect query letter, and pick themselves back up after being rejected.  Not until after last call, anyway.

In fact, I'm skeptical more than a few words were written by the authors themselves.  I suppose I can believe they came up with the idea and perhaps created some of the key plot events.  But if you're asking me if I think they even read a book recently, let alone write one, my answer would be no.

As an aspiring novelist, I hold the industry in the highest regard.  It is the Nirvana of the literary world.  The highest honor; the strongest compliment.  Publication symbolizes excellence.

And honestly, these posers clutter the shelves.  It's a slap in the face to the writing community, and I'm disappointed to see quality and standards being overlooked for a name on the cover.

So, fellow writers, what are your thoughts?  Do we sacrifice quality for celebrities or am I completely wrong?  Have these icons something to offer through the written word?  Are they worthy of publication?


  1. Personally, I think Hillary Duff had a huge hand in writing her novel. I've always believed she was talented beyond average celebrities. And I think just because someone's a celebrity doesn't mean they're incapable of writing a killer story.

    I don't believe airheads like Snooki, for an instant, could construct a proper sentence, let alone sweat it out for a publishable novel. Or even an unpublishable novel, at that. For me, it depends on the celebrity. Neither Lauren nor Snooki (or even Nicole) have proven themselves talented in any other arena, so why, as an artist, would I believe them capable of rising to another art form?

    Simple answer: I don't.

  2. "And I think just because someone's a celebrity doesn't mean they're incapable of writing a killer story."

    I can agree with that comment, but I also believe that - as you said, Paul - it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to become a master of the craft. In fact, it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to write a killer story.

    Sure, some of these people might have the talent buried inside them to write a great story, but I dare say few of them actually put in the time. Just as it is an insult to true actors when someone like Brooklyn Decker or Paris Hilton stars in a movie simply because they have a good body or a pretty face, it is an insult to true writers when a celebrity "writes" a fiction book and it becomes a best seller.

    At the same time, however, the most any of us can do is focus fully on each thing we do, and in that manner we can each achieve our own goals, regardless of what others might be doing to reach the goals they have (or have not) set for themselves.

  3. I believe big trade publishing has been afflicted by such writing. However, small press still seems a viable outlet for quality writing. Self-publishing can also preserve quality writing if coupled by disciplined self-editing. Books by snooki and other celebs don't threaten the foundation of writing, they just tap into a market that is apparently more than eager to pay for it.

  4. Jamie Lee Curtis. John Lithgow. Hillary Duff. Stick to acting and leave the writing to those of us who DON'T have instant name recognition and who work our collective rumps off to fulfill our dream of publication. It irks me to no end. Now. I need to punch a wall.

  5. "Although I do not agree with (and as an Italian, am often offended by) the majority of the behaviors captured on this "show," I do not begrudge the cast for capitalizing an opportunities presented to them. Who wouldn't? "

    Yes, to both the Italian part and also the 'who wouldn't?' The biggest difference I see is that unlike them, if any of us were offered the same opportunity, we would actually enjoy the pleasure of doing the writing ourselves. I have not once picked up a celebrity novel just because of the name recognition. It seems ridiculous to me and I would only hope the ghostwriter behind the story is getting mad royalties.

    And like Chris, I too, am irked. While I may not go punch a wall, I will definitely have to beat the knuckles of my main character against something hard...perhaps a wall will do, but then I would need to figure out what the wall did to him to deserve it...

  6. Thank you all for your comments and insight. Normally I try and respond to each individual post, but I think if I tried to do that this time, I'd end up writing a series of essays (which I have been known to do....)

    But, I will say this. My purpose in writing this post was simply to provoke an interesting discussion, and I've enjoyed reading what you all had to say. I agree that being a celebrity does not mean you lack the talent to tell an engaging story, and it wasn't my intention to stereotype that no celebrity could do this. I think we can all agree it is frustrating, especially as we shut down our computers exhausted and delusional from the work we've put in, only to learn others do not have to go through the same process. Like Sal had mentioned, there is a sense of accomplishment from completing the writing yourself, and I wouldn't want it any other way. (On a side note, my senior year in high school, I was accused of turning in a paper for AP Psych I did not write myself. Insulted, I explained to my teacher I would never put my name on something I didn't write, because chances are, I would think they did a lousy job.)

    I think JMT said it best: "At the same time, however, the most any of us can do is focus fully on each thing we do, and in that manner we can each achieve our own goals, regardless of what others might be doing to reach the goals they have (or have not) set for themselves." It goes back to that phrase our parents uttered more times then we ever wanted to hear: life isn't fair.

    Finally, the teacher in me has to acknowledge I feel sorry for the English teachers who will be arguing with kids this spring. "No, you can't read Sn00ki's book for your report -go pick something else!"

  7. One could also make the argument that this type of novel is actually helping the publishing industry stay afloat. Being able to sell 100,000 copies based on name recognition alone is not a bad thing to Penguin or Random House, and the more money they're making on these "easy" projects the more they can spend on new talent. So yes, while it might be annoying to us try-hards and indies, we can't completely begrudge the industry trying to turn a profit on this sort of thing.

    Besides, I didn't see this kind of uproar when Richard Belzer started writing novels. Ha!

  8. @Todd - Great point. Maybe it does help out for the publishers to pick up these insta-sells for financing purposes, but the question still remains. 50 years from now when our children and grand children pick up a "best seller," what kind of legacy and work ethic are we passing on to them when, not only did the "author" not write the book, but it was complete nonsense (ok, so not all celebrity novels are nonsense, but I am assuming a good number of them are).

    I am stuck. On one hand, it looks like a lucrative, money-making plan for the publishers, but the other seems to be culture-destructing word vomit as "just another" source of income for the celebrities.

    Wow, I do believe I have just used more quotes within a single comment than I have on a page of my novel. "Go figure." :)

  9. @Sal
    All we can really do is keep on educating the next generation. Not to wave my "hater" flag, but just look at how many copies of Twilight have sold (both book and movie version). It's passable YA literature, but it's not exactly the kind of thing I want my kids to think of as the pinnacle of literary achievement for our generation of authors. All the same, though, I'd rather have them read Twilight than whatever Snooki has produced simply for the fact that Stephanie Meyer is an author and commands that sort of respect.

    I agree with Paul in that by bypassing the publishing industry's QA process, [at least some of] these celebs are creating books not worth the paper they're printed on -- but if people are reading them, at least people are reading. These days, that's becoming more and more of a rare thing... which is why I cheered on my parents (both in their 60's) for buying each other a Kindle this year. :)

  10. Todd, you raise a valid point about these instant best sellers keeping the publishing industry in business. It makes perfect sense, because sadly, these are the books that sell the easiest. And yes, people are at least reading. We must not lose sight of that. I hope your parents enjoy their Kindle, and I keep that same "hater" flag in my pocket at all times. Never hesitate to wave it in my presence.

    Sal - I share your frustration, which is what prompted my post in the first place. I was actually in Borders (where as a daily visitor, the staff has come to know me quite well). They were discussing the novel and where to display it, to which I couldn't resist suggesting the dumpster, and it sort of escalated from there. However, when your novel is finished, you will have done everything correctly - developed a concept, created characters, and learned the process. You did your own work, and for that, your piece carries a large intrinsic value these other indviduals miss out on. Last night, I thought more about this and realized these celebrity authors miss out on a lot. Yes, they sell copies and make a profit, but do they receive the sense of accomplishment the rest of us get from typing the final period? They may be published, but they are not part of this outstanding community of writers, and I'm sure they don't spend much time interacting with their readers. I guess it all depends on how one defines success.

  11. You know, I've never read one of these celebrity books. I wonder what the quality is? Will Snooki's book be Snooki authentic? Interesting. I used to always say whatever gets people reading is something that is worth writing, but things like this make me question that!

    Sweet video, by the way.

  12. @Todd - Makes perfect sense to me. Michelle brings up a good point. Maybe I will just have to go and make a truly undesired purchase just to see if there is actually anything there content wise. It might actually make for an interesting project - reviewing celeb books from a writer's perspective.

    @Paul - "Yes, they sell copies and make a profit, but do they receive the sense of accomplishment the rest of us get from typing the final period?" Great question. I am not sure if this is even similar, but I was listening to a lecture not too long ago about New Years resolutions and why we don't keep them. The professor said the reason most people don't keep their resolutions, take getting fit for example, is because when we begin to tell people and get the "atta boy" for making an attempt, our mind doesn't know the difference. Our brain releases the feel good chemicals and we don't know the difference between actually accomplishing the task we set out for and all the praise we are receiving. I wonder if it is the same for the celebs...

    Either that, or they think what happens in their case is actually the reality of the process, then they wonder why authors express their difficulty in getting published.

  13. I agree completely as well, I doubt most celebrities even write a tenth of their novels. I know a few right off hand that hired ghost writers to pen their words. Any train wreck with a reality show it seems can sell a novel in record numbers but it takes true talent to make the book stick with the reader. Less sales doesn't mean less thrill of a read. I have no intention to read any novel from a celebrity. I prefer to read from those who are passionate about the words they wrote on their own. The best booms on the shelf didn't come from the tv era.

  14. While Jennifer makes an absolutely valid point, it does leave me wondering a few things. On the one hand, the question remains: "How exactly does fame qualify one to write a book, fiction or otherwise?" At the same time, though, many of us don't exactly go to school to learn how to write books. Talent, however ambiguous the concept and regardless of my loathing for the excuses it allows, can potentially be found anywhere.

    So, I guess their experience may play a role in it for me. If Snooki wrote a novel about a decadent tv idol's downward spiral into madness and infamy, I might just believe it's genuine enough to read. Hillary Duff has done enough "coming of age" girl stories that I'd probably believe a story worthy, if she wrote it in that vein.

    At the same time, though, that creates a conflict for me -- a 30 year old white male who writes fantasy stories from varying perspectives set in worlds different from our own. Sure, I've spent countless hours researching and honing my craft, but I say that up front. Who's to say they haven't done their homework, as it were.

    Funny image: Can you imagine Snooki in a critique group?

    End of the day, I think I don't have any conclusion on this. I leave it up to others more discerning and knowledgeable than I.


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