A celebrity author is someone who gained their fame not from writing. Good examples include Newt Gingrich, Snooki and Tyra Banks, none are known for their writing ability. What they have is the media, and an agent who calculates that their name recognition will sell books. Their books are not about actual content, but are only a vehicle to give them more recognition and face time. Most celebrities, even though they believe they have a story to tell, do not have the talent for telling it. What they usually have is a ghost writer.
A ghost writer is an individual who toils away on a book knowing that he or she can never ever acknowledge they wrote it. A personal friend ghost wrote a book for a better known psychic. Every week I’d see her she had some outrageous complaint of some horrible writing mistake or non-factional tidbit the psychic wanted to include. My friend felt her writing standards were compromised by writing in the fashion the psychic wished. She also had problems with including outright lies and presenting them as truth in a non-fiction book. What if people believed her? What if people acted upon them? I reassured her it didn’t seem to stop the various political writers from putting out there books full of mis-statements and shameless propaganda. Never stopped Hitler either, but he didn’t employ a ghost writer.
Some celebrities write wonderful books folks might argue. It could be they employ great ghost writers. Of course, we will never know because the ghost writer has signed a contract never to mention her contribution. I never knew who my friend wrote for, but I had suspicions since she would drive to her house. Often celebrities are clueless about the work that goes into a book. Their agent tells them it’s a good idea, maybe even hires the ghost writer and they expect it to happen overnight. Celebrities don’t expect normal writing guidelines to apply to them.
This is one of the major differences between celebrity authors and famous novelists. People who actually write for a living know how the game is played. Nora Roberts came to a local book store for a signing. Two hundred books were pre-sold for a signing and were guaranteed to be signed. Many more than two hundred people came. Ms. Roberts signed every book, way past two hundred, posed for pictures, and graciously answered questions from people who had the effrontery to question her writing methods. She stayed until closing, way past the two hours she allotted for the stop. In fact, the fans were locked in the store until she greeted every one of them. She informed the group they could also leave books at the store to be signed too. Her agent would get them to her. How accommodating is that?
Flash to Sarah Palin, who had reached almost cult status, comes to the exact same state, with two hundred pre-sold books with a guarantee of signing. The day she arrived late on her tour the fans were forced to stand in the cold rain due to security. Only a few fans were allowed in the store at a time. After signing about twenty books, she decided to leave. She simply got on her bus without an explanation and left, despite the drenched fans chanting her name. Later on, when public backlash occurred with the fans complaining publicly about their treatment she manufactured a weak excuse. Palin did not value her book fans. She didn’t understand like most writers that your readers are everything.
Bob Mayer, a former Green Beret, and an amazing writer of The Green Beret series, not only values his fans, but also values other writers. He started Cool Gus, a company that assists promising writers. At a recent workshop, not only did he instruct aspiring writers how to get ahead in the business, but spent quality time talking with each person.
This is the major difference between celebrity authors and famous writers. The novelist, not all though, believes everyone is just the same as he is. At a humor writing conference in Dayton, Garrison Keilor, who is currently 69 stood for several hours after his keynote address talking to everyone who spoke to him. When I met him, he asked me my name, and what I was writing. We spoke for about eight minutes in which he seemed genuinely interested in me.
Famous authors often want to help other authors because they’ve been helped as they scratched their way up the writing ladder. Another sterling example is Jennifer Crusie, who often came to my Ohio writing group and walked us through workshops while I lived there. The author tended to poke fun at herself as opposed to insisting her way was the only way to write.
Often publishers make huge mistakes chasing after the celebrity author. Witness serial killers who have been signed to six-figure contracts to detail their horrific murders only to have public outcry cause the publishers to drop the controversial book. Thomas Nelson, a religious publisher, dropped Lynne Spears’ parenting book when her sixteen year old daughter Jamie became pregnant, and her older sister Brittany battled her own personal demons publicly. Why did Lynne have such quality advice on how to be a parent? She didn’t, but she did have famous children, apparently that is all it takes.
As a writer, I have a bias against celebrity novelists. Maybe it is because publishers fall over themselves to feature them over regular writers. It could be because often their work isn’t good, but people buy it because of the celebrity name or they have the money to hype it out the wazoo. Then again, it’s probably because my contract got set aside to promote a Biggest Loser contestant. I am unsure if she won or what. I do know after her fame disappeared my contract was resurrected, but I still felt ill-used. I do understand the publisher has to go after what they think will sell on that given day, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.