Gold-encrusted Celebrity Books Send out all the Wrong Messages to our Kids…
At the risk of sounding like an embittered scribe with a bad case of sour grapes, it’s high time the publishing industry had a word with itself. But it’s a catch twenty-two, isn’t it? What started off as a practically invisible trickle; an annoying little itch, has infiltrated society to the point that it is now bursting at the seams. I’m talking, of course, about The Celebrity Novelist/Celebrity Non-Fiction Expert/Celebrity Cookbook Writer/Celebrity Young Adult Author. And last but by no means least, The Celebrity Picture Book Creator.
From Ricky Gervais to Kate Hudson, Julian Clary to Madonna and well, of course The Kardashians just had to get in on the act too, now didn’t they, it seems there is no area of showbiz whose stars don’t feel the need to dip their quills in ink, diluting the real bedrock of literary talent.
But change starts with US.
And that means we as consumers have a responsibility, to planet Earth, to our children, to the next generations, to be a LOT more choosy about the kind of books we buy and read. Yes, its revolution time! It’s time to Bring Back Real Writers and Authentic Authors. I don’t necessarily mean Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky and Jane Austen. But then again, I definitely don’t mean Katie Price, Pamela Anderson and Nicole Richie. Do we even realise the latter three’s ‘works’ are flippin’ well ghostwritten?
Bookshops, supermarkets, magazine reviews, the headline section of The Bookseller and Publishers Weekly (and all their wordsmith magazine cousins), book clubs, literary festivals… and ultimately our children’s heads are choc full of celebrity books which are written either entirely, or in part, by somebody else. They are the real writers in a media circus, whose names often don’t even feature in the credits, let alone on the front cover. It’s nothing short of scandalous. And an insult of the highest degree to those of us who have spent years honing our craft.
The message is clear.
If you want to be an author, get famous… and then. Then you can churn out adventure stories for children à la David Walliams and reign supreme over Waterstones’ charts and WH Smiths’ bookshelves. Or become a beautiful mumma-friendly TV presenter just like Holly Willoughby. It’s practically a given that you’ll go on to pen stories for young girls… as well as landing yourself a deal for a much marketed baby care book so you can branch out into non-fiction too.
Oh, and let’s not forget Fearne Cotton. Didn’t you know she’s a Michelin starred chef these days? Her cookbook is released this summer. Oh yeah, move over Nigella.
Actually, I don’t think The D.G has too much to worry about there!
We can’t leave out Frank Lampard and his football series either… In my former life as a Literary Agent, ‘Frank’s’ footie series for boys was the prime reason one of the most brilliantly captivating football adventures I have ever read (by one of my author clients) was rejected time after time after time. Competing with England’s Golden Boy just wasn’t worth any publisher’s best efforts… or more to the point, the extra budget being blown on marketing a relatively unknown (but fabulous) author.
It begs belief.
Listen, all four of the above famous faces have a wonderful TV persona. I’m sure they’re equally lovely in real life. And David I have more than a soft spot for after all his amazing charity gigs – particularly that cross channel swim! This is not a personal attack on them. Chances are, in their shoes we’d most of us be milking the perks of our trade for all they’re worth as well…
But the celebrity onslaught has got to stop!
It’s the publishers and editors I take issue with on this. Where do your loyalties lie? Money over integrity; that’s where. If enough of you in the industry stood up to whoever is pulling the purse strings, were maverick and ‘rebellious’ enough to follow your hearts and not your heads, we wouldn’t have to wade through some of the utter tripe that you are ‘gifting’ us. In the words of Lady Lolita, ‘Get some balls!’
Stop selling your souls.
The LOA savvy Pollyanna in me knows there are enough pieces of pie for the rest of us and that focusing on a problem is only going to inflate it to epic proportions. But sometimes even I need a rant. Because then I get it out of my system and go on to do something positive about it. And you do have to admit I’ve got a point! We’ve allowed famous faces bringing out books to become some kind of bizarre ‘right of passage’ in the year that is 2016.
The absolute onslaught of the nouveau celebrity masses (in particular) is akin to Londoners with second homes in Cornwall – used twice a year at Easter and Christmas for a week. They’re clogging up the arteries of a community: the publishing world.
I’m prepared to overlook the Claire Baldings and Fern Brittons. Journalism paves the way for good words. I suppose I ought to ease up on David too in that case… he did, after all, co-write those Little Britain scripts. I know because I once had a ‘brainwave’ for a comedic sketch… only to have it declined along with a very polite and lovely couple of signed pictures to explain that David and Matt (Lucas) pen their own material and sadly cannot accept anything unsolicited.
And biographies, autobiographies and memoirs. Well, those are fair play. Of course they are. Naturally, we’re interested in the lives of the stars. And we all love a good tale of from rags to riches. But then should come the full stop. Not the…
Bloggers who have landed book deals too; they’re exempt from my crusade, the hours and hours and hours of polishing their skills having finally paid off.
Yet bloggers are also, paradoxically, a part of the problem.
Once again, it’s become a numbers versus letters game. Oh yes, I have lost count of the times as a Literary Agent that spectacular manuscripts have been turned down by publishers… simply and purely on the basis of the writer’s small (and in most cases) zero social media following.
And why weren’t these talented authors busy building up their Twitter and Instagram accounts with memes to attract their posse? Because they were writing. They were doing what they do!
And so once again we see how friggin’ lazy the industry has become and how unnecessarily and ridiculously Chicken and Egg ‘they’ have made the goalposts.
What happened to bold, gut instinct style decisions? I can tell you from personal experience, they are dead and buried. Nowadays, a publisher is more interested in one thing and one thing only: dollar signs. The bottom line IS hitting the bottom line. Finance before fiction. Wonga before wisdom. Profit over principle.
It’s a dire situation but we CAN turn it around.
And many of us are doing just that. Because what will remain of raw talent otherwise? A puddle of underpaid novelists among a sea of phonies, who are somehow prepared to accept a measly (and in many cases non-existent) advance… because finances have been swallowed up pushing a one-hot wonder TOWIE star’s latest release into the stratosphere?
So how do we do it?
We stop thinking mainstream publishers are the answer to our prayers and we make our books happen ourselves. Now of course, the first port of call could be via a Literary Agent (or directly to a publisher if they are open to unsolicited submissions which haven’t been vetted). Don’t get me wrong, there are exceptions. You can, absolutely, get lucky down the traditional route. But 9 times out of 10, you won’t. If a publisher cannot see your book being a runaway financial success, they just won’t take a punt. So have a Plan B up your sleeve.
Plan B… and more.
Self-publish. It really is a viable option. Read up on it as much as you can. It’s an extremely competitive market, but if you can promote yourself to the hilt, chances are you can accrue far more success – and longevity… lest we forget the narrow marketing window the big publishers are prepared to promote anybody’s book for. Whereas when you are putting yourself on a pedestal, the sky is quite literally the limit! The power is in your hands. And you will retain a far higher percentage per copy of your book sold.
The other alternative is to crowdfund. Unbound is a fabulous website to inspire you further when it comes to that idea. Many authors whose books have previously been published by mainstream trade houses have come to Unbound with niche projects which the big fish were unprepared to ‘gamble’ on. Unbound – and smaller publishers with their outlook – are bloody refreshing in an industry which has become a cash cow.
Finally, blog. Yes, everybody and their dog seems to be at it. But a good blog will only grow in numbers and loyal traffic. It is just a matter of time. Whilst you may choose to write articles about anything and everything, it is an excellent way to showcase your portfolio and written skills. Publishers are always on the hunt – incognito of course – for exciting blogs with fresh ideas and voices. Naturally, with their current mindset, you can bet your bottom Dollar they are looking at the 100,000 plus follower style blogs, but we all have to start somewhere.
The main thing is write for the joy of it. Never for the money. Do it with passion and zest and one of these days when you are least expecting it, the lucky break could come your way.
Us writers are a funny breed. Sensitive as you like, yet we have the inbuilt power to change worlds and move mountains. Never more so than when we remain true to ourselves and write our own words.
When all is said and done, they can’t take that away from us…