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It’s no longer a big surprise when yet another celebrity announces they are trying their hand at writing for children and become a member of the famously increasing book club which already includes much loved stars like Ricky Gervais, Will Smith, Madonna and Holly Willoughby. Yet at the same time it still tends to attract a decent amount of groaning and moaning from the public. So why is this? Many of us may be getting a bit tired of hearing about celebrities who think they rule the world and can do anything they like. So we could be forgiven that our first reaction might be that they should stick to what they’re good at! Yet why shouldn’t they use their fame to get ahead in the publishing world? After all they have achieved their stardom off their own back; it’s their talents that have earned them the media attention in the first place so there’s absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t –unless they’re truly rubbish at writing of course! Every book goes through a million and one grammatical and editorial checks, months sometimes even years before it goes to print so how much of it is ultimately written by the celebrity themselves? For some it is very little if anything at all in the instance of a ghost writer being employed. A ghost writer would discuss ideas with the celebrity and put them on paper in the correct grammatical format, create a story around these initial ideas and ensure vigorous editing is achieved whilst the final book itself is officially credited to the celebrity, who’s possibly contributed a few bullet points. Katie Price was blatant about using a ghost writer but as the American actor turned author Jason Segel put it when singing the praises of his co-author Kirsten Miller, “I’d rather team up with someone who’s amazing at what they do and have something turn out great, than do it alone, out of pride, and have it be less good” (Jason Segel relishes the role of storyteller). At a readership level it is very hard to fathom the true level of involvement the celebrity has in writing the book especially when they’re publically taking the credit; they have to look like they know what they’re talking about. Those involved might say it’s a win-win situation from a financial point of view, others, that it’s a pure farce to twin a writer who isn’t bothered about celebrity status with a celebrity who isn’t bothered about writing!
HOLD ON…….is this just bad feeling on my part from assuming that celebrities can instantly get published on the basis they’re a good marketing bet? Is it not possible that they could be talented at more than one thing?
Frank Lampard has in fact stuck to what he does best by basing his children’s books on football and surely few could argue that for David Walliams to share his sense of humour with children can only be a positive influence. Believe it or not, being a celebrity can also be a hindrance in the writing world. It mustn’t be forgotten that being famous could actually predetermine a negative bias towards the celebrity’s book. If you don’t like the often controversial Russell Brand for example chances are you’re not going to bother with his book, acting on a judgement you’ve made before even opening his book! Whereas a reader has no preconceptions of an unknown writer so if the blurb on the back of the book sounds good they could be more likely to give their book a chance.
A couple of the Guardian write ups were less than complimentary to Russell Brand’s books (My booky wook for the kids: Russell Brand is telling fairy stories and Russell Brand’s and Neil Gaiman’s childhood reinventions) suggesting that in true Brand style he merely throws an array of possibilities up in the air leaving you to slot all the pieces together and try and determine if they actually mean anything. Yet isn’t that his appeal? Is this the journalist’s view of the book or the author? This kind of bad publicity could be a disaster for an unknown but this is probably when being a celebrity comes into its own and just needs a quick flick off the shoulder for them to bounce back into the marketing light.
Realistically the amount of celebrities gaining publication of a children’s book in comparison to the amount of celebrities out there is actually very low, it’s merely we hear about celebrity books more often as they’re already a person being talked about in the news. Let’s face it, a column on Russell Brand’s new book venture is bound to entice you over a headline unveiling Amanda Lonergan’s new children’s book – never heard of her, who is she anyway! It begs the question whether it is the book the readers are interested in or the celebrity? If I do ever get a national newspaper spread about my books, the chances are it would be exactly that – about my books and not so much me – which in my eyes is the right way round as it is my books I want children to enjoy and seek out. It is not an unusual trait for some writers to shy away from the public eye and favour solitude over celebrity status, so perhaps it is the perfect partnership after all.
Here are some more links for a good read on this topic.