Are Celebrity Authors Hogging the Market?

The Sunday Telegraph, today, has an article by Craig Simpson entitled ‘Shun the celebrity authors like Megan publishers urged’. With its photos of celebrity authors promoting their children’s books, I had to have a read.

Mr Simpson is a reporter with Daily and Sunday Telegraph covering arts, culture, history, heritage.

Madonna reads her latest children's book 'Lotsa de Casha' to children in a bookstore
Madonna reads her children’s book Lotsa de Casha in a bookstore in New York City 

The article says: “LEADING children’s authors have hit out at publishers trying to “swamp the competition” by continuously commissioning new books by celebrities such as the Duchess of Sussex.

Sales figures obtained by The Sunday Telegraph show authors like Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton still sell millions more copies than any modern-day celebrity, with the exception of David Walliams.

The duchess is among a number of famous faces who in recent times have written a children’s book, alongside the likes of Madonna, Frank Lampard, Idris Elba and the Duchess of York.

Earlier this month it was announced her first title, The Bench, would be published by Penguin Random House, and the June release is inspired by the “special bond” between her husband Prince Harry and their son Archie.

But children’s writers have pointed out that many end up being “absolute disasters” and that better authors are being repeatedly ignored.

Gareth P Jones, who won the Blue Peter Book Award in 2012 for The Considine Curse, believes the e financial success of literature produced by dedicated writers should prompt publishers to prioritise quality over celebrity.

He said: “Meghan isn’t unique in wanting to write a story inspired by her children or pets or, in her case, a bench. Lots of parents do this.

“The ones who are not famous but good writers sometimes get books out of it. The ones who are famous but not good writers always get books out of it. I think the list should be seen as a useful u reminder to publishers that the fame of authors should not be the main steering factor when it comes to signing new book books. “Children’s literature matters. It matters to the industry, to the young readers and to the future of our society. Most celebrity authors get such whopping advances for their efforts that I’m not sure book sales or long longevity are important factors for the them.” A list of the top children’s au authors since 2010 compiled by Nielsen BookScan analysts shows only one celebrity writer – Walliams – in a top 20 list otherwise dominated by writers like Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson and JK Rowling. Separate sales figures focusing on 2019 alone featured just three celebrity authors in the top 20: Walliams, Tom Fletcher and David Baddiel.

Walliams has written 26 books for children netting more than £100m, of which he is estimated to have taken home £10m. This puts him alongside some of the UK’s highest earning authors, such as JK Rowling and Jacqueline Wilson.

Lucrative advances for celebrity book deals – many of which are believed to be in the millions – compare with some as low as £2,000 for lesser-known children’s authors.

“It’s so true that writing good children’s books is not an easy wheeze,” said the author of children’s thriller Waiting for Murder, Fleur Hitchcock. “There have been some absolute disasters over the years – remember Madonna’s? Some sell on the name and fizzle out, but some are so aggressively marketed that they swamp the competition.”

It seems to me that the complaining authors have a point. I have read lots of children’s books: as a child, to my children and grandchildren. The good ones are enchanting; the poor ones are boring. What’s the difference? It takes more than good verbal skills to write for children. (Some celebrities would fall at this hurdle). It also requires a special variety of imagination that can bring to life the complex feelings of a particular age group. Moreover, patience with multiple re-writes and a commitment to high quality standards are necessary.

Perhaps with the leverage of their name in mind, some celebrities see children’s books as an easy, short way to a big payday. If so, they will be disappointed.

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