Discussion: What Do You Think of the Rise in Celebrity Authors?

Cover Art by Alison Hunt

I was going to post a picture of celebrity authors here, but I figure I’d rather promote my own stuff.

Anyway, I’ve noticed how often a celebrity shows up with a book that rockets to the top of the bestseller lists and makes a fortune.  This post was actually inspired in October when I sat down to watch ‘The Daily Show’.  The guest was John Cena and I thought he had a movie or wrestling event coming up.  Nope, he had a children’s book, which was both cool and got me curious.  I typed in ‘celebrity authors’ to see how many famous book have moved into being authors and it would be easier to list who hasn’t done this.  It’s almost like publishing a book has become a milestone for the already famous.  Is it a good or bad thing?  I’m not sure.

I went reading articles and found many that talked about full-time, successful authors who were getting second jobs because they weren’t making any money.  This included a few bestselling authors.  A celebrity will get a massive advance while a non-celebrity will get the standard if anything because companies are putting more money toward the people with built in audiences.  YouTubers were targeted for publishing contracts because of their fame and I read about one who shot to the top of the list.  Then, it came out that they used a ghostwriter.  So, this has become almost entirely on working off famous names instead of talent. I mean, publishing companies are in it for the money, so I guess we can’t be surprised here.

Another article I read talked about how there was a literary convention and the celebrities were promoted.  Some of the long-term authors got angry because they were being ignored and feared that the lack of convention exposure would hurt them.  Can’t blame them for that because who would notice them if someone famous was there too.  This isn’t the article, but it notes how children’s books are a big arena for this situation.  It even mentions those giant advances that put all of the non-celebrity authors at risk.  If that celebrity fails to be a success with their book then they can just go back to whatever made them famous.  Yet, the company has taken a big loss and ends up needing to cut other authors to avoid bankruptcy.  So, these companies are basically gambling with the future and livelihoods of their other authors in the hopes that this celebrity will bring their success from one industry into the new one.

Now, is this entirely a bad thing?  No because many celebrities do these books for charity and they send all their royalties to others.  It could also work out well if companies got the celebrities to help promote their other authors.  This is a little give-and-take, which you don’t see very often though.  It’s also not something that happens these days, so it’s not really on the table.  I guess the charity and leading more people into reading are the only benefits at this time.

Everyone should be allowed to publish books if they have a story to tell.  It wouldn’t be right to tell someone that they’re already famous, so they can’t do this.  Yet, it also isn’t right for companies to put all of their energy into promoting people who are already household names while those struggling are left feeling abandoned.  I really do think there should be some synergy here instead of there being two separated sides.  I mean, if these celebrities love books so much then I assume they would be happy to help those who are trying to make a career out of writing.  Right now, it feels like the new rule is that you can only be a successful author if you’ve become a successful something else.  If you have award-winning, best-selling authors falling to this new ‘fad’ then it’s hard to see things as anything else.

Seems I said more than I expected since I really only wanted to pose the situation and get thoughts in the comments.  So, let’s talk.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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55 Responses to Discussion: What Do You Think of the Rise in Celebrity Authors?

  1. So what kind of children’s book should a robot girl pseudo-celebrity write? I think it’s sad that many of us work for years learning how to present a cohesive story, and they get to cut the line because they’re a TV chef or something.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You covered many of the pros and cons in the post, Charles, and as you also say, everyone should be allowed to publish a book, even ‘Celebrities’, although it does seem to be grossly unfair to non-celebrity authors.

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    • Yeah. It does seem to be skewing more in their direction these days. It feels like publishing companies are desperate to survive in a world where people are more interested in movies and TV shows. So, they might look at these celebrities as easy money. I can only imagine how many of them are doing this simply to put the author feather in their cap. Maybe part of the contract should be that they choose 2-3 unknown authors to promote while they push their own books. Doesn’t even have to be the same genre.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I doubt they, or the publishers, would even consider doing that, greed is a terribly blinkered evil 😈

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      • True. Kind of like how the publishing companies could have looked at the Amazon indie scene as a talent pool. That never seemed to happen and now the whole thing seems to just be there. I remember when Amazon was promoting their own publishing labels too. Seemed to be very popular and going strong until they announced James Franco was going to be one of their top authors. For some reason, the interest among indies gradually died off on the heels of that announcement. It’s like we see a big fuss made over a celebrity entering our arena and immediately figure that we’re no longer wanted there. Fear of being overshadowed? Then again, it does seem like these platforms become know exclusively for any celebrity that uses them, so it might be a well-founded fear.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Publishing companies have only ever existed to make money from authors, but have managed to make authors think they’re helping THEM make money from their writing.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Good point. I wonder how authors survived before publishing companies appeared. Unless the houses started as supportive and got greedier over time.

        Liked by 1 person

      • They likely started as printers, then grew with demand 😎

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      • Didn’t think of that. Thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I liked the point about the famous helping other authors and I agree it would be a good thing. In reality, I think it would be a red letter day if the famous helped anyone but themselves. Good post, Charles.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. mothertherealist says:

    I don’t like it -but I’m a snob who thinks literacy and writing well ought to be valued in a culture that is moving increasingly towards gifs for everything.

    I don’t see it as them wanting to write a children’s book because, most often, they are approached to do so because the publishing companies know they can sell books based on name. I hadn’t thought of it as a life achievement for the celebrity mostly because they often get some ghostwriter. The CELEBRITY didn’t work for hours and years to craft a story and get it through agents and hoops and such.

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    • Literacy does seem to have taken a hit in our short attention span culture. Having to be brief on social media to get a point across doesn’t help.

      I wasn’t sure how many set out to do it or are approached. Thought most just got the idea to write a book and went to the company who provided a ghostwriter or contract. I have read that many use a ghostwriter and don’t acknowledge it, which seems to make things a tad more frustrating. How much does the ghostwriter make compared to the celebrity?

      Liked by 1 person

      • mothertherealist says:

        Much, much less, particularly if they use one from overseas. I don’t see it often, but sites like freelancer and upwork post jobs for people to do things like that. Hopefully they go with a better writer, but pay rate is still fairly low.

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      • I’d think they would use somebody who is in-house for the publishing company. Then again, this could all be about going cheap.

        Liked by 1 person

      • mothertherealist says:

        I hadn’t considered that. I suppose I was basing my opinions on the foreign names listed for illustrator and the small print that says the book was printed overseas -on the few celebrity picture books I’ve perused.

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      • Never noticed that. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear that book printing has been outsourced like so many other industries.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I think, that they understand the cash flow game and with their celebrity status, use their name to create cash flow. Period. That said, I’m sure a few like writing, but the vast majority, I would gamble with certain probability, have ghost writers.

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    • You’re probably right on the ghost writer thing. I need to look up the whole cash flow thing a bit more. There didn’t seem to be any evidence of that flow helping the company’s other authors. Guessing it went to management or back to the celebrity. That kind of makes this worse in my mind.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cash flow depends upon the success of a book. Celebrities sell more books solely because their name is on the cover, so publishers know they’ll make money off the book. It sucks, but it’s true. Makes us writers have to pen even better books. But look at JK Rowling! Nobody knew her in the beginning. Her book’s are WAY more popular than pretty much every celebrity out there! She’ll have cash flow for generations!!!

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      • I think JK Rowling came about just before the celebrity author trend really hit. She’s also an interesting example of the modern day ‘celebrity author’. Publishers don’t seem to want to stray away from people like her, Martin, and King. I remember a few years back, they released new editions of Harry Potter in various languages. About 1/3 of the Top 100 Fantasy lists on Amazon were these books, which knocked everyone else out of the running. It was fairly frustrating because it showed you can work hard, start making it, and then get knocked down by a re-release.

        You mention that we have to pen better books, but does quality really factor in when people are buying based on author fame?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes! Let’s look at HP. It wasn’t the first wizarding world. In fact, in the eighties, there was a book and movie called the Worst Witch that took place at a witch school. So why didn’t that creator soar to the top? The answer is quality. JK’s HP world is incredibly detailed. It’s in a class all it’s own. That said, anyone can yield this kind of excellence. The trick is to find something you love, you’re incredibly passionate about and that you’re willing to pursue relentlessly. But above all—believe, believe, believe! Most highly successful people and celebrities create their realities because of their faith.

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      • I have to admit that I only read the first book and it was good. Yet, I really think it was more that it struck at the right time with the right marketing. I’ve read better, more engrossing fantasy books. I mean, she’s a talented author, but people put her on an incredible pedestal. Maybe it’s just me because the world didn’t grip me like Middle Earth or Narnia. It is interesting that ‘The Worst Witch’ is similar, but didn’t reach the same level. Is it really lower in quality or is it also because it appeared in the 80’s before social media was around to give books a massive boost? A lot of popular series get that way because they trend on Twitter or have some curious hook that goes beyond the words. For example, ‘Eragon’ wasn’t an incredibly written work and many pointed out how it lifted a ton from ‘Lord of the Rings’. Yet, it was considered amazing because it was billed as something written by a teenager. I remember that being a bigger selling point than the story. My point in all this is that quality isn’t always the deciding factor. In fact, many times it’s secondary.

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      • When it comes to HP, it’s quality. Period. Trust me on this one. I’ve read the entire series multiple times, watched the movies multiple times, dissected the plot to ad nauseum as well as read a lot of JK’s Pottermore material. While Narnia, Lord of the Rings and Eragon are good, HP is just (oh how do I explain this) grander? It’s JK’s plotting (a plot that stretches 7 books), her eye for detail, her characterization, her creativity, her depth, so many things! Think of the grandest meal you’ve ever eaten. And then compare it to a bowl of Cheerios. Cheerios is good, but it’s pretty basic right? HP is not basic. It’s woven so spectacularly that as a writer myself, I’ve not even considered trying to compete with it. JK was born to storytell and create. Her gifts in this area are simply so special that it’s best to tip our hats to her and appreciate the wonderful gift she’s given us all and use it as a treasured resource with which to learn from. I’m SO grateful for HP you can’t imagine. And I’m grateful to you for writing such an engaging blog! These types of questions make us all think. These are my humble opinions. I enter this discussion biased from the beginning as an HP lover. But I’m also a lover of many far less successful authors. What I have noticed in reading over the years is that literary fiction while beautiful, rarely does well when it comes to consumerism. Sci-fi also takes a back burner lots of times. Your John Green’s, fantasy writers and pop culture usually make out best. Why? People either want to be understood (John Green types), escape (fantasy) or feel included (pop culture). Most people don’t want to solve their emotional problems and if people are going to learn something, they’ll seek non-fiction before literary fiction or sci-fi. Marketing at its roots is about human behavior and understanding what the majority want and then delivering it. If you want to be successful, study what makes people tick and then write something that feeds a need or desire and watch how quickly it spreads. Sorry. I could go on for days about this. I’m going to shut up now. Peace out!

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      • Not really sure what to say. As far as grandness, I’ll admit my bias leans towards Tolkien and Lewis. They created vast worlds with no connection to Earth like Potter. I always feel a sense of awe when I read a book that transports me to an entirely different realm instead of another Earth. For that matter, a lot of the fantasy I grew up with has connections to Middle Earth. It created a major foundation for the genre instead of its influence remaining within its own pages. You don’t really see that these days. A hit series shows up, dominates the arena, and crushes anything that its favs perceive as the slightest threat. It’s much more combative and that really doesn’t help modern authors.

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      • As I sit down at my desk to start another day of writing, I think of you and your thoughts asking myself how they influence my outlook on writing. I’ve created a world that doesn’t take place on earth at all, but on another planetary system. Will my story be well received when the time comes to pursue agents? I am not sure. All I know is, something bigger than myself draws me to my desk each day and into a world that provides me with purpose, discipline and fulfillment. I show up each day for these feelings. Outside my writing bubble, I feel inspired by stories like JK’s and sure, if I’m honest with myself, I sometimes feel intimidated, but if it weren’t for the feelings I chase, I know I would not be able to persevere. Who I innately am is connected to the project I’m working on. I need to do it like I need to breathe air. Being a stand out is exhausting. Being myself is life-giving. JK Rowling’s story has already been told. To strive to be like her or any other celebrity will only result in our own discouragement. What evokes feelings of purpose, discipline and fulfillment in you? What gives you life? If the answer is writing, keep moving. Much love, my friend! And thanks again!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. It seems that the celebrity ‘business model’ has changed over the years. I remember when movie actors would never do television and vice versa. Now, they seem to branch out into multiple media like music and writing books. My feeling is, if they are writing a book just to cash in on their fame, chances are the quality of the book will reflect that. There are some, however, that are decent writers that write fiction that is not related to their fame. William Shatner’s Tek Wars series is an example along with select others. The other side of the coin are writers that become celebrities and are million sellers of all of their books regardless of the quality. James Patterson comes to mind. I’m not sure if they are any better.

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    • Good point on quality. If those in the top tier of celebrities wrote a book that was bad, would anybody even mention it? There’s such a loyalty to these people that I think they could put out something with spelling errors on every page then get praised. I have seem that many are sticking to children and biography though. So, those might be safer arenas. I’ve never read James Patterson books. How is the quality? I know he’s become famous for have a stable of authors that he helps regardless of genres, which seems to have dubbed his as a multi-genre author. Guess the difference with him is that he stays in the writing world and isn’t trying to put out a music CD.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Patterson’s initial books, like kiss the girls and some of his Alex Cross books were good. The quality has declined as he has become a prolific factory of formulaic books.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a shame. Are they always written by him? Like I said, he has that author stable that a few people told me to try and get into. It feels like he works with others more than doing stuff on his own these days.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Usually, his name is in giant letters on the book cover and it says ‘with so and so’ on the bottom in much smaller print.

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      • That’s probably why he’s able to put out so many books in a short time. What does he do on these books since the other author is the one who writes it? I’m guessing adviser and editor? It really is a curious business/art model.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think he is like a benefactor like the Medicis in Ancient Rome.

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      • Must be a lot of benefits to get his name in bigger letters.

        Liked by 1 person

      • HL Carpenter says:

        Patterson is taking a page (sorry for the pun) from Edward Stratemeyer, who used ghostwriters to produce series including the Bobbsey Twins, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Rover Boys, and Tom Swift. Stratemeyer didn’t acknowledge the other writers while Patterson does give the other writers credit.

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      • Honestly, I never got into those series, so I had no idea about that. Sounds rather underhanded to me. You’re right that Patterson does give the other writers credit even though his name is bigger. The issue is probably more his fans and the media who only talk about him as the author.

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  7. I’m sick of this plague of celebrities writing children’s books. It’s hard enough to get our books noticed, without all these famous names muscling in. I wish they’d stick to reality TV if they want a bit of extra cash!

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    • The crazy thing is that it isn’t only reality TV stars doing this. When I did a search, I found big names on there too like Jamie Lee Curtis and Tom Hanks. I’m guessing many of them did biographies, but there does seem to be many who go into children books. Be nice if those in charge found a way to help both sides of the fence.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh yes, the big names are certainly doing it. What I meant was, if they want some extra cash/publicity, they should appear on a show like ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’. I’d much rather watch a celebrity eating crickets in the jungle than read some ghostwritten kids’ book with their name on it! 😀

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      • That ghostwriting thing definitely hits a nerve with everyone. I wonder if it would be better if they wrote their own books. Honestly, I understand doing these for charity, but that seems to get countered by the staggering advances.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. The issue of celebrity “writers” has been going on for at least ten years. I think it’s fairly well understood that most of them are dilletants who just want to play with some new toys. It’s also understood that they often use ghost writers. I don’t get why they all jump on children’s writing, though.

    The rest of us who aren’t already famous can only roll our eyes and keep writing. This is annoying but not something we can control.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I vaguely remember it being around 10 years ago, but it feels like it’s increased a lot in recent years. There were reports not too long ago about actors who got ‘record number advances’ and contracts. It’s like salt on the wound for some people.

      Maybe children’s books are seen as easier to write and sell? I think that’s a bigger industry than most of the other genres because parents are always trying to get their kids to read more.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Such an interesting post. The unknown author, however good his/her book is struggles to get noticed, to find an agent and/or publisher to even have a look at their work, whereas a celebrity already has a deal signed even before a word has been written. Not to mention that they have editors and marketing people behind them. I wonder if these celebrities write the ever dreaded synopsis of their book on one page. I guess in the end, it’s who you know. Still, we unknown authors keep on telling our stories and hope. Good luck, Charles, with your work. 🙂

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    • Great point on how a celebrity gets the deal before the work is done. Sometimes even before it’s started. That’s entirely backwards from how it goes for non-celebrity authors. I doubt they do the blurb since it seems like many of them use ghostwriters. Still, you never know.

      Liked by 1 person

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