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Writer Wednesday: The Frustrations of Celebrity Book Deals

Hello lovely authors and welcome to another #WriterWednesday, where we discuss news, tactics, and the ins and outs of industry. Traditional publishing has been a frustrating front of late between the push for diversity to the top of the crop, the foils of the pandemic, and the ever narrowing avenues of entry thanks to consolidations. But recently, the writing community caught wind of a deal that summed up a lot of our frustrations in a single 22 book stroke.

The Deal

That's right, I am talking about the massive deal that landed in, the ex wife of Prince Andrew, Sarah Ferguson's, rich, royal, lily white lap. If you don't have a clue who Sarah Ferguson is, it's because she's been relatively out of the lime light for well over a decade. There are so many issues within the current publishing climate that are blatantly highlighted with this deal. The disparity between advance payments. The baffling decision to ink a deal for a 22 YOUNG ADULT book series for a person most teens do not recognize. The hard guarantee this series will be mainly penned by ghost writers, subverting the commitment of time and effort of so many struggling authors have at present. There are so many cringe worthy details to this deal, you have to laugh or you may end up screaming into the void.

Sarah Ferguson, aka The Deal

If you've heard the rumblings of discontent and incredulity in the writing community, they are completely founded. Authors have been fighting for equality in advances for years, particularly after the shocking disparities were thrown into the spotlight with #publishingpaidme. Beyond that, there is the push for publishers to support and market their releases, many who have taken off through word of mouth and the support of readership where their publisher slacked.

The Laughable Draw of Celebrity

Celebrity book deals are nothing new. The amount of money poured into celebrity book deals might make your jaw hit the floor, but it's been an ongoing business practice for decades. Even politicians lean on their image as a public figure to ink a deal, such as Mike Pence's recent seven figure, two book deal with Simon & Schuster. This is a subset of 'authors' who have struck gold within an industry that treats the rest of the 99% as cannon fodder. The disparity of fame to writing talent advances and marketing is kind of heart breaking, particularly because celebrities usually fall back on the use of ghost writers for the grunt work. Not all, but most will hand off the bulk of the work to other people. Their book will then be heavily backed by the marketing team of the publisher, another advantage, heaped up top of an advantage, with the advantage cherry on top.

Why wouldn't we be mad?

The problem is, these book deals were forked over on the sheer faith that this person's 'celebrity' will be enough to sell books. In some cases, it is. There is enough curiosity and celebrity allure to tempt readers to pay that hardback fee, for better or worse. However, a deal like Ferguson's raises a few eyebrows for several reasons. Signing that large of a multi book deal is rare, and it is more rare the higher you go up the publishing totem pole because series are high risk until initial books in the series prove successful.

As seen in past , publishing is perfectly willing to sink millions of dollars into celebrity deals but it's highly unlikely, even with the outrageous price of hardbacks, that these books earned the millions of dollars back that were pumped into them. Not all celebrity is equal either, as publishing learned the hard way when it tried to get Social Media influencers into the biz, offering big advances that equated to poor sales. A large follower count does not translate to effective marketing. This is a doubly painful reality when most authors are basically punished if their books do not earn out their advance.

There is absolutely no doubt that Fergie landed this deal on the basis of her celebrity status. She may have displayed some business acumen in recent years with many ventures but let's be real here, if she wasn't who she was, there is no way.

Plus, no matter how solid her series idea may be, milking 22 books out of any concept is tricky. There have been many a wonderful series that has gone stagnant and repetitive well before it hits that mark. Many articles point to YA as a fast growing market, but we have long since passed the day of long running children's series that were once so prevalent and also often relied on the ghost writers to carry them on. Something publishing also needs to acknowledge is while a large portion of YA readership is also adults, the core readership has shifted significantly, embracing more complex and diverse stories.

Will the YA readership be pulled in by Fergie's semi autobiographical series when they have this rich bloom of diversity happening right now? Does trad publishing really believe this is the sure thing? Or will their stubbornness and failure to recognize the vitality diversity brings to the publishing market be the final nail in the coffin?

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