Celebrity children's authors...

Published by: Squidge on 5th Oct 2017 | View all blogs by Squidge

There's been a lot of debate around celebrity children's authors in recent months, and it all kicked off again the other day when World Book Day announced their line up of authors for 2018. You can read about the response of some famous names in this article, from the Gruniad. 

As a children's author myself, I admit, I do get a bit narked about celebrity authors who may - or may not - be writing their own books.

I'm of the non-celebrity species of children's author. Although there have been whispers of 'there's Granny Rainbow!' in my local supermarket when I'm spotted by a child whose school I might have visited. Which is a 'yes, but no' kind of moment because although Granny Rainbow and I both have grey hair, I don't have magic potions to hand!

Sorry. I'll get back on track.

I'm very much a non-celebrity children's author. I work very hard to build relationships with readers and with schools, and I make my writing the absolute best it can be for my audience. I can't help feeling that when celebrities decide to give children's writing a go, it belittles the huge effort that professional children's authors - and yes, I class myself as a professional even though I'm not well known or selling millions of copies - put into their craft. I do appreciate that if their books can get children reading, that's a Very Good Thing, of course. But I do wonder whether they'd be so successful at selling their books if they weren't tagged as 'celebrities'...

This article, by Jo Cotterill, sums it up brilliantly from the point of view of a children's author - and says it so much more eloquently than me. 




  • SecretSpi
    by SecretSpi 9 months ago
    When the Director of World Book Day starts using this kind of marketing mumbo-jumbo, you know you're in trouble:

    “contain an extract by an up-and-coming author, to enable children to continue their reading journey and discover great new authors. Yes, there are celebrity writers on the list (who have written their own books), but if they are the catalyst to encouraging a non-reader to pick up a book and start a nationwide conversation about reading, then everyone will be better off,”

    journey, conversation = bleurghhhhh!

    Do children know or care what half these celebrities did to become celebrities, or is it just a way of getting their parents to buy the book?
  • mike
    by mike 9 months ago
    This happens in all genres. I got confused by the critical response to a few plays. In particular, I could not see what people were laughing at. Then a critic in the freebee London paper gave one of these plays one star, and wrote that the actors could not act. The cast of this play were well known celebs - from TV situation comedies. I had not seen these sit coms, so I has no idea why the audience were laughing. But there is no reason why someone who has a talent in one field should not have a talent in another.
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 9 months ago
    Mike - you're right, they can be multi-talented. BUT - it's the fact that celebrities seem to think that writing for children is easy, and they'll 'have a go' at it. They are then picked up by publishers because the celeb's name and fame attract the attention, not the book.
    Spi - I do think that if you can encourage a child to pick up a book in the first place, it's a good thing, whether you're a celeb or not. There seems to be a reliance though on the name selling the book in the first instance, not the quality of the writing or anything like that! And don't you think the comment about the 'up-and-coming author' is condescending to the fabulous new talent that we see in children's fiction? As though WBD is doing them a favour...
  • SecretSpi
    by SecretSpi 9 months ago
    Call me cynical, but why spend all the time, effort and money it takes to market new/unknown authors when you can slap a celebrity name on something and guarantee sales that way? It's laziness, pure and simple. As mike points out, it's not just children's books and not just books either. Look at the perfume industry.

    I'm glad I live in a country where people aren't quite so obsessed with celebrities as the Brits are.
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 9 months ago
    I'm British, and I'm not in the least impressed by celebrities - rather the opposite. But then, as I proudly recall my late mother telling me quite a few years back, 'You're not normal, are you, Richard?'
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 9 months ago
    The conundrum is whether the celebrity authors are, as the publishers assert, widening the market for everyone or are in fact just crowding out better qualified people. It would be interesting to compare the market in childrens' books of the UK and other countries with a less celebrity obsessed culture.

    I understand that publishers tend to commission a great many celebrity memoirs for release before Christmas, in the full knowledge that most will lose money but a few will take off and easily justify the investment. It's a publishing form of spread betting. It's hard not to conclude that this practice isn't pushing out authors who might otherwise be given the advance, editing and marketing resource that go to celebrity titles that will mostly end up virtually given away in January and pulped in February. How this compares with childrens' books by celebrities I don't know.
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 9 months ago
    I'm not normal either, Richard. I actively avoid brands, as I assume that you're paying for the brand or celebrity endorsement, rather than the product.
    But such things happen in grown-up books too, when a celeb decides to write a romance or thriller or what-have-you.
    And yes, I think it does belittle the authors who've learned their craft and laboured for next-to-no money.
    For grown-ups at least, I'd challenge whether such celeb books actually *do* get people reading more. They might buy *that* book, yes. But do they read it? All the way through? And do they go on to buy another book by anybody?
    Somehow, I doubt it.
  • SecretSpi
    by SecretSpi 9 months ago
    I don't think it's a particularly new thing in children's books - Madonna comes to mind as do some terrible books that Fergie (Duchess of Pork, not Black-Eyed-Peas) wrote in the 80s. Generally, the UK children's book market is regarded as one of the best in the world as far as quality and buoyancy go, but I couldn't say whether the celebrity effect is chicken or egg.

    I try not to get too pissed-off about it, and get on with doing my school visits when I can. I do often wonder, though, how many celebrities have the idea themselves to write a book, and how much of it comes from their agents and PR people, and the publishers.
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 9 months ago
    To save us from sliding into total negativity, just now and again you get a celebrity who actually can write. Not often, but it can happen.

    Dick Francis comes to mind. Though this was before our current insane celebrity culture, he was already quite famous as a jockey and had written a successful autobiography, and I've little doubt that this helped him get his first novel published. But the man could write. I particularly remember his impressive knack of summing up a personality or a relationship in two or three pithy sentences.

    Back in the day, I was pretty sniffy about thrillers and particularly crime fiction (cheap superficial stuff, don't y'know), but I picked up one of his books that MrsB had out from the library and was hooked. And again, and again.

    When Emma told me at York last year that the extract from my WIP reminded her of Dick Francis I was quite flattered.
  • AlanP
    by AlanP 9 months ago
    @ Richard, I read somewhere that Dick Francis books were largely written by his wife. His plot ideas, her execution.
  • Woolleybeans
    by Woolleybeans 9 months ago
    A bunch of my students really enjoy David Walliams' books. I've never heard he has someone write those for him. Of course, he is well-known due to a career that involves creating and writing, in any case.
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 9 months ago
    There are definitely some celebrities that can write...and yes, Walliams has done lots to get kids reading (although I must admit I don't like what he writes myself). I can fully appreciate that he's a writer who's turned his hand to a different form of writing.

    And yes, it seeps into adult books too - so it's more widespread than children's fiction.

    Interesting to think that maybe it all stems from our (not including myself - I couldn't give a monkeys!) love of celebs, and is nothing to do with love or otherwise of writing/reading.
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 9 months ago
    Alan, now you remind me I believe I have heard something to that effect. Ah well, at least the plots were pretty good too, as far as I recall.

    His son collaborated on the last few books too, and is now carrying on solo. Which gives the rather strange billing of '[Title} by Felix Francis: a Dick Francis novel.' Eh?
  • Scheherazade
    by Scheherazade 9 months ago
    You're in good company Richard. Remember Jeanette Winterson's book 'Why be happy when you could be normal?' (which is what her mother said to her)
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 9 months ago
    I'd have put that the other way round, of course. Though maybe I'm a fine one to talk, since I was once called to my face, in public, a miserable bastard...
  • mike
    by mike 9 months ago
    Last week a comedian appeared on a music programme on Radio 3 and played the piano. I do not know if this was a joke, but he seemed to suggest he had changed his career. If this is so, he has been given a great advantage with prime spots on a premier showcase for classical music. Just by chance, in the same week, I saw a young pianist perform at a free concert at a London church. She is Russian and had major musical qualifications. My mother taught the piano but I am no critic. The Russian started by playing Bach arranged by Busoni - if Bach were not difficult enough! Then she played a Chopin sonata as her main choice. I know this sonata (It is the one with the famous funeral theme) and she played it with real passion. I doubt if she has been given a major spot on Radio 3. The comedian played Satie and he did play it well - as far as I am aware - but he has an advantage over the Russian pianist. I suspect he can play the Chopin piece but, put them side by side, and the Russian might give the better performance. Mind you, I I think she overdid the peddling but this could have been the echo in the church.
    I put an item on Word Cloud because I was interested in people’s response but took it off very quickly. (It concerned the slave trade and clerics) Had a journalist found the material he would have used it, as the subject is extremely topical. There is a play on the London stage about the Arab/Israel conflict. Just by chance, I sat next to an actress and mentioned that the conflict existed long before the Balfour Mandate. She agreed and said she had been in Jerusalem and the two groups spat at each other. The two groups came close to doing this during the play.
    But I am not a professional journalist. Mind you, isolating the source of modern slavery is not a good idea!
    I recently came across a primary source document for a certain historical period, It is a male response to the early feminist movement and opens up the events to a dramatic interpretation. But I am not involved in the theatre and can do nothing with it.
    The same occurs with writing surely? David Walliams books are performed on London stage during half term. He is as much of an industry as Rowling. I did read her detective novel. I rather liked it as an accurate portrayal of the literary world but gave up on the TV adaption which I thought totally derivative and I find laid back acting tedious. I would rather understand what people say.
  • Penworthy
    by Penworthy 9 months ago
    Yes, some celebities may have writing talent but you have to remember that they are ASKED to write their books because the publisher wants guaranteed sales. They don't have to go through the same trials and tribulations of submission as the rest of us do. They are handed publication on a plate and this shrinks the market for others. As I've said in the past, if they really want to prove themselves as writers, children's or otherwise, let them submit their work under a different name without giving a clue as to their real identity, and see how readily it is accepted.
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