Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lauren Conrad's book

So there has been some chatter on the forums I frequent about Lauren Conrad publishing a novel (for those not in the know, and I seriously envy you your ignorance, Lauren Conrad came to fame starring first in the "reality" television series "Laguna Beach" - about rich kids in California - and then graduated to her own reality show "The Hills").

This is a conversation that comes up every once and a while, and with sadly more and more frequency, as celebrities, particularly those famous for just being famous, announce they have just "written" and published a book. Real writers, and by this term I mean it not as an offense but quite literally, as very few of these celebrities write their own books, get a wee bit annoyed by such announcements and of course enjoy venting with one another online about it.

Their reason for venting is straightforward:

1. It's darn hard to publish a book. People who have spent their lives in the pursuit of such a goal, who have studied the craft in great detail, who are just in general passionate about reading and writing, suddenly discover some celeb who otherwise refuses to give a toss about books, profiting from the same industry they diss*. What's more they are getting published with relative ease. In fact often publishers will approach these celebs to ask them to write a book. I mean, what real author wouldn't love that? So of course there is just straightforward jealousy and frustration from those people out there who have dedicated their lives to writing and seeing their words in print.

* A sadly hilarious example of this is Kanye West dissing books as a whole, while at the same time promoting his own (seriously, this quote is from an interview about his book), talk about your serious oxyMoron:

"I am not a fan of books. I would never want a book's autograph . . . I am a proud non-reader of books. I like to get information from doing stuff like actually talking to people and living real life."

2. Celebs give the false impression that anyone can get a book published. It does a great disservice especially to the reputation of the picture book industry, because a lot of celebs have figured since they have kids they must know how to write a picture book, plus they're like super short, how hard can that be? It makes the public think, "Well how hard can it be to write and publish a book?" It contributes to the influx of queries that agents receive from people wanting to be published who seriously should never ever have had even the idea of writing a book in the first place. Besides which it kind of sucks that so many people think the job that you sweat blood and tears over is easy.

3. The books themselves wind up typically not being very good. Nor contributing anything particularly meaningful to society (not that all books need to, I'm just saying that celeb books rarely do this either). They come out in a flurry of hype, sell tons, make the celeb even more money than he/she probably needs, and then vanish off the radar just as quickly.


I don't take issue with celeb books.

Sure I do find it somewhat sad that the public believes these celebs actually write their own books (9 times out of 10 it's a ghost writer), and sure I'd love it if my books would become instant bestsellers, and being an actor I seriously would not mind taking a tour of the talk show circuit.

But what authors, real authors, need to remember is that celeb books don't take away shelf space from other books. I know it seems like they do, but they really don't. They are their own market, and, what's more, serve a very important purpose in the industry. They make money. They make money predictably and quickly and by the truck load. And you know what happens when a publishing house makes money? They feel more financially secure. And what happens when they are financially secure? They can afford to take risks.

Celeb books, as well as the Dan Browns and Stephenie Meyers of the world, make it possible for smaller books, for more complex books, for, dare I say it, innovative books, to get published. The publishing house is willing to take a financial risk because it has a couple Lauren Conrads in their back pocket.

I know a lot of people don't think original interesting books are being published anymore. This is probably because all the attention goes to these celeb like books and it's hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. But the good stuff is out there too. Believe me, I've seen it, I've read it. I've blurbed it.

So maybe the biggest issue with these books is that they do take away attention from the good stuff. Even though now the good stuff is allowed to exist thanks in part to the celeb books, it still can flounder while once on the shelves - having been eclipsed by those same celeb books. Maybe that is the greatest negative I can point out. The noise from those books deafens us to the good stuff that IS out there. And once and a while you kind of wish publishers would take a small little interesting book and just promote the heck out of it like they do with the guaranteed successes.

And there's the rub. Those two words: guaranteed success. Because truly, it doesn't exist in the publishing industry. There is no path to bestsellerdom, even being a famous person does not guarantee success - there have been accounts of million dollar celeb book deals totally flopping once the book hit the shelves. So it's pretty hard to imagine a publishing house calmly willing to promote in the same manner a risky complex novel by an unknown author, not when even some celebs fail.

The celeb books are the closest the industry is ever going to get to a sure thing. That's why they aren't ever going to go away. And we real authors need to just sit back, relax a bit, and accept that as truth. And remember, behind most celeb books is a ghost author, and at least he/she is getting some work out of it. That's something!

Let's try to turn the tables on the celeb books. Instead of being frustrated, let's feel secretly smug. Let's thank them for getting us past the bouncer, let's watch them dance with frenetic energy, the centre of attention, until they burn out an hour later, and go off, limping towards home. And then we'll slowly get up, smooth out the wrinkles in our skirt, walk quietly to the middle of the room. And dance. And dance. And dance. Until we're the only ones left on the floor.

To mix my metaphors: Just keep swimming everyone. Just keep swimming.

**I am adding a caveat here, I realise that the term "real author" is provocative, and to be honest it is meant to be. However there are some celebs out there (typically they are not the celebs who are famous only for being famous) who ARE real authors, who happen to be multi-talented and actually write their own books, and are good at it. I'm talking Julie Andrews here, and John Lithgow etc. I think we all know to which celebs I am referring in this post.


Doug A Scott said...

My current favourite children's picture book by a celebrity: "Freckleface Strawberry" by Julianne Moore. It's adorable (and obviously semi-autobiographical). I stumbled on to it completely by accident at work, read it through, and thought, "That is one of the cutest things ever."

This didn't really add anything constructive to your topic, but it was the first thought that popped into my head after reading the post. :-)

Karen Strong said...

Great post. Celebrity books although sometimes it seems unfair that they get the bulk of hype, the also tend to make money for publishers (who are about the bottom line of business) allow them to buy more books.

Cat Connor said...

As annoying as celebs being handed book deals is... it always makes me smile.
I love the 'I'm famous so I'm going to write a book' attitude. Go for it I say. (Flash in a pan springs to mind)

I'll just carry on writing my books with the knowledge that the deal I have is one I worked hard to get. And it was accomplished because of my ability to write.


Derek Molata said...

Good post!

Don Bolen said...

Yes, Lauren Conrad and of course Miley Cyrus' autobiography where she reveals all the "Hardships and Heartbreaks" of a fifteen year-old.

That being said, I'm looking forward to the political book of the century... the result of Sarah Palin's $7 million book deal. I can't wait to read every enlightening sentence... that will end in "also" ;-)

Janet said...

I seriously did not know who Lauren Conrad was. Do I win a prize? Or is the not-knowing its own reward?

I agree with your point, is that celebrity books are not competition to "real" books. The people buying them are not picking them over another book, for the most part. They're a part of the celebrity product market. And if the advance isn't too outrageous, it is beneficial to the publishing house. If. Sometimes these books bomb big time and cause no end of grief.

Joanne Hartley said...

great post. balanced and insightful view. thumbs up from me. :)

Mary said...
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Mary said...
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Sonia Ayoub said...

Amazing post! I share a lot of your sentiments but you also shone light on some new ideas - namely the money in the publisher's pockets allowing them to take more risks.

Thanks for reminding me that each celebrity book provides another chance for a newbie writer


J m mcdermott said...

I, for one, never understand anyone hating on anyone else's books, celebrity or no.

Other people's success does not diminish your success. And, when books like this come out, people take their kids to the bookstore on a Saturday afternoon, and the kids are generally allowed to pick out something they want.

There's so much untrackable spillover from successful books, across genres.

Every successful book is a net good for all of us.

RMD said...

Great post!! I thought I totally knew where it was going (celeb book bashing, which I was anxious to join in on) until you pointed out that celeb books actually benefit aspiring writers. Woah, I had never thought of it that way but now it seems so obvious.

Anonymous said...

Paris Hiltons a published writer. Yikes!

Anonymous said...

Celebrities "writing" books is like athletes trying to be actors. It's the mentality that just because I'm famous I can do it all!