Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Rock 'n' Roll (Over) for Celebrity Books

The celebrity book boom has been profitable for publishers, but is it hurting new writers’ chances of success?  ♦ 
Whatever kind of writer you are—amateur or professional author, copy editor or copywriter, journalist or poet—you know that the marketplace has been changing significantly in the past several years. In the digital age, the demand for print books has generally diminished, and technology makes writing and editing much easier, even for the average person. Though the platform is shifting, writing and accurate editing are as important as ever. Digital content production and social media are booming.
   But, buckle up; the competition is growing. There is one trend that is beginning to push aside professional writing: books written by celebrities.
   Yes, it’s surprising. We don’t expect celebrities to know anything about writing memoir, much less to have the time in their crazy schedules to write a sixty-thousand-word novel. Celebrities primarily have their professions to worry about, whether they are in music, movies, or politics, and, on top of that, their families, social lives, and other events. It makes sense to have ghostwriters pen autobiographies for celebrities, most of whom are not educated in writing, editing, or design. But memoir, which includes celebrity books, has spiked in popularity. According to Nielsen BookScan, memoir sales increased by over 400 percent between 2004 and 2008.
   Peter Hook, former bassist of New Order and Joy Division, has published three books about his life in music: Unknown Pleasures, Substance: Inside New Order, and The Hacienda. The original manuscript of Substance was three hundred thousand words, one-third of which made it to publication. Simon & Schuster published the book in October 2016.
   Hook had no help from a professional writer to pen his story. And Substance was only one of three books he has written in the past nine years. Meanwhile, he still continues to regularly perform and tour with his own band, The Light. Even Hook’s former bandmate, Bernard Sumner, published his own autobiography in 2014, despite his involvement with New Order.
 In 2012, Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band published an autobiography with HarperCollins. In 2011, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith published his autobiography, Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? Bruce Springsteen published Born to Run in September of last year. John Oates of the popular eighties duo Hall & Oates wrote his own memoir, Change of Seasons, expected to be officially published on April 4.
   At the other end of the spectrum, Irish author Donal Ryan is one writing professional who is feeling the effects of a celebrity book boom. He recently returned to his day job in the civil service in order to pay his mortgage, which is not supported by the forty cents he makes from each sale of one of his books. Despite signing a deal and getting advances for three future novels, Ryan still cannot cover his mortgage and two children with the money he makes from his writing.
  The bottom 50 percent of writers make less than $12,815 annually ($4,000 less than a minimum-wage job would earn). That is not nearly enough to live on. Only 12 percent of authors made their living solely through writing in 2013, compared to 40 percent just eight years prior.
   Working writers also find that the competition is tough when it comes to getting advances and pitching ideas to publishers. Even when ghostwriters or professional writers are hired to pen the work, the appeal of a famous person publishing a book dominates the pitches of lesser-known hopefuls. With competition already tough, a new pool of celebrities would wash out the bottommost population of writers trying to publish.
    So let’s look at the raw odds of being published.
  Publishers Weekly reported in 2006 that the average published book sells less than five hundred copies, despite 80 percent of Americans expressing a desire to be an author. There are millions of Americans hoping to be published authors, but the majority of them will not sell more than a few hundred copies, even if they do get published.
    But this shouldn’t be cause for losing hope.
   John Grisham’s A Time to Kill¸ his first novel, was rejected twelve times before publication. Chronicles of Narnia author C. S. Lewis was rejected (allegedly) a good eight hundred times. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was turned away twenty times. Even billionaire J. K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter novel was rejected twelve times before selling well over eleven million copies. All of these authors were once hopeful writers just like any others, hoping to be published and paid to do what they love.
    Despite any rise in the popularity of celebrity books, there will always be people who look out for, appreciate, and prefer the work of a professional. Writers, don’t lose hope.
  • About the Author
    Tyler Rigg is a senior Journalism and Professional Writing major. He enjoys running, reading, writing, and music (yes, all genres). When he’s not doing one of these four things, you can assume he is either sleeping or dead. He enjoys writing alternate history novels and hopes to make it to publication in the future.

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