Saturday, February 03, 2007


MotherReader is championing Bloggers Against Celebrity Authors (BACA). Not, an author who has become a celebrity because of being an awesome writer; no, rather, those celebrities who write books; and 9 out of 10 times,* it's a book for children. Actually, it's usually a picture book for children.

Of course, there is some quibbling over how those celebrity authors are identified. I love Mandy by Julie Andrews so would not include her; others champion Jamie Lee Curtis (who I personally adore as an actress, but feel her books are way too message driven for my taste; still, she has respect for children's literature, so I won't argue Curtis's omission from BACA.)

Interestingly enough, as I was wondering the criteria for a "celebrity author," I saw a post at Miss Snark that emphasized the point that in order to be a good writer, you need to be a reader: "Read. Read. And when you're done, read some more. Read what you're interested in writing for now, but also read other things too. Then read some more of what you're interested in. Don't even write. Just read." This advise is found on almost every author website, in almost every book about writing and getting published. It's part of the "prep" work needed as a writer, to make an effort to know what is out there, to read a variety, to become aware of things such as the ALSC notables lists. To just rely on the rememberings of books read in childhood; nope, not good enough. To just rely on the books you find at Target; nope, not good enough.

I would think that what the celebrity does for a living** requires preparation, whether it's singing, sports, acting. And that the good ones do what is necessary to be "best" at that particular art. So why, when it comes to books, do they act as if nothing is required except to sit down at the laptop and start typing? Or is acting and singing and baseball really that easy, that they think other things are, also?

Reading, in my humble opinion, is at the heart of why celebrities are not, for the most part, good writers. Now, I'm not saying that they are illiterate; I'm not saying that they don't read at all; but I doubt that many of them read, read, and then read some more. I doubt they treat writing a children's book the same way they treat their "real" profession.

If a celebrity author does do those things -- read, read, and read some more -- then it'll be obvious. Because the book will be good. And I'll read it and review it; not because it's a celebrity author, but because it's a book by an author who happens to be a celebrity.

Some additional notes to celebrity authors who want to be judged as authors, rather than championed as celebrities:

--Books aren't about teaching lessons. They are about good stories. In that way books are just like the movies and TV shows you make and the songs that you sing.

--It is a universal truth that you could read the phone book to your own children and they will love it; it's the attention, the being read to, the belief that they are in the story that the kids love. It's not a thumbs up to the actual story. Testing out your book on your own children doesn't count.

-- Books need to be universal. Yes, the story just for your child is sweet; a wonderful family memory; leave it at that. Why the need to share this tender moment between parent and child by publishing it? Especially because other readers will know it's not for them.

--Write about what you know.

-- Study. Find out what it is that makes good writing work.

--Take the same risks you take in your "real life" job. If you're willing to be naked (either emotionally or for real) on film, why not be willing to be naked on the page by being honest in your writing?

--Join a writing group or take a class where you can get real feedback. No, your hired assistants telling you the book is perfect don't count.

--Get an awesome editor. Trust the editor. Listen to the editor. Revise.

--Publish under a different name. Writing is one area where people can remain anonymous, at least for a short time period. Let your work live or die on it's own.

Any one else have any guidelines on how to turn a celebrity into an author?

* I am perhaps being overly generous; perhaps 99 out of a 100 is more accurate. Especially when we exclude memoirs; books written with a ghostwriter; and books that are related to the reasons why they are a celebrity.

** Paris Hilton is the exception.


christine M said...

A note on Julie Andrews Edwards - her books are published under Julie Edwards - and she acts under the name Julie Andrews - when I first read Mandy, I had no idea that Julie Edwards was a famous actress.

Liz B said...

Best as I can tell for Julie Andrews books is that originally she published as Julie Edwards & more recent books / reissues are as Julie Andrews Edwards. The Mandy cover I found that used JE is the book I remember reading, and I also didn't make the connect between the 2 until after I'd read the book. It would be interesting to look up the initial reviews of Mandy to see how much a "secret" that was in the publishing / reviewing world (but obviously, not interesting enough for me to actually do that.)

The name used is all the more reason that I see JA as an author who happens to be a celebrity.

Anonymous said...

I think that you make some good points, Liz. And you included one that I feel very strongly about: "Books aren't about teaching lessons. They are about good stories." This is a pet peeve of mine, and I'll refuse to read books that are thinly veiled lessons. A lot of people, not just celebrities, seem unable to resist this temptation, especially for picture books.

Diana Peterfreund said...

So do you think anyone who achieves some level or renown in a given field should be forced to use another name when switching to a new field?

This argument is a very slippery slope. sometimes, someone is an artist -- they write some, and act some, and sing and dance a little, and then, they just *happen* to become famous when some song they sang is a hit. Does that make them a bad actress or a bad writer or someone who is just cashing in on their name?

Why can't they put their name on their work, and be proud of it in the same way as any other author?

Did you read Ahmet Zappa's book> I really liked it! Does he fall under the purview of BACA for being the child of a celebrity and having a few minor roles in teen movies?

How famous is too famous? If you had a couple bit parts on soap operas, does that count? If you were REALLY famous on TV, say, 20 years ago, but no one knows you now, does that count?

I'm all for the end of celebrities whipping out children's books on a lark that would never be published were they not the celebrities they are. I'm all for the end of ghost written celebrity books. But when is a celebrity a real celebrity, and when are they a working artist that you happen to recognize from a particular piece of their work?

Better to bear some "english roses" than give up the amazing "last of the really great whangdoodles."

Liz B said...

Diana, all good questions -- being a person who has switched careers, I agree that it is possible for someone to do more than one thing and to do more than one thing well.

I'm also reminded of how Stephen King used another name for publishing some of his work (but, of course, after a few years, publicized it.)

I just realized I have the Zappa book in my TBR pile so I'll take a look at it. I'm beginning to think that BACA is really more about picture books along with the inane comments those authors make...

I have to say, I am a bit torn about the using another name issue; on the one hand, everyone knows that say Joe Hill is Stephen King's son so why bother using a different name? Along with, so many authors use themselves to sell their books -- look at the John Green site & his videoblog etc. -- why shouldn't a celeb author do that also?

Along with, I read some of these A list books and think, wow, imagine if say Drew Barrymore wrote a YA book? If she gave it the same attention as anything else, that could be an awesome book, and yes, why should it be under a different name?

But I do think if someone is as big as Madonna, yet wants their book to stand on its own, why not trot out a different name, or at least not their celeb name, like Julie Andrews did when Mandy first came out?