Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Stars in Your Face

My cohorts and co-writers Betsy Bird of the Fuse #8 blog and Julie Danielson of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, have been talking celebrity books this week.

Betsy asks Celebrity Children's Books: Good V. Bad - Who Will Win? while Jules begs for One Not-So-Impossible Favor Before Breakfast.

And now I've decided to join in on the fun.

Ask me what I think of children's books written by celebrities and, after I finish rolling my eyes and gnashing my teeth and foaming at the mouth -- and after you've finished wiping my spittle off your face -- I will tell you that I am not a fan.

Show me a good celebrity children's book and I'll show you one that was written by a ghostwriter.

But as little patience as I have for these "star authors" (not, you'll note, "starred authors"), I reserve most of my wrath for the editors and publishers who acquire these books and foist them on the public.

Surely these editors know better.

Surely they have higher professional aspirations.

Wouldn't it be better to leave this world knowing you were responsible for bringing the work of, for instance, Katherine Paterson, to millions of children, rather than a legacy of placing children's books by Dr. Laura, Dom DeLuise, and LeAnn Rimes in Big Lots stores all across the United States?

I've often wondered how editors treat their "star authors" compared to their "real authors." Are they starstruck? Deferential? (Does Queen Latifah's editor call her "Your Majesty?") Obviously they don't spend much time actually EDITING celebrity books. (If they did, the books would be better.)

I recently uncovered a curious (and completely spurious) series of editoral letters that may answer some of these questions.

Here are some excerpts:

Dear Crystal Alexander:

It isn’t every day that an editor returns from lunch and sees a message from an Emmy-nominated actress on his desk!

According to my secretary, you have an idea for a children’s picture book. I think I can safely say -- sight unseen -- that we’d be very interested in working with you! Please have your agent call me ASAP and we can have a deal by the end of the week.


Rodney Needham
Senior Editor / Logan Books

Dear Helen Holbrook,

It isn’t every day that an editor returns from lunch and sees a manuscript from a Newbery Honor author on his desk.

According to your cover letter, this novel has great personal meaning to you. I will pass the manuscript along to our “first reader” and we’ll get back to you with our decision by the end of the summer.


Rodney Needham
Senior Editor / Logan Books

Dear Crystal,

Here is your contract for ULYSSES M. GOLLYGOOFER AND THE IMPORTANCE OF SAYING “PRETTY PLEASE.” As negotiated with your talent agent, you will be receiving an advance of $100,000 against royalties....

Dear Helen,

I’m enclosing your contract for NIGHT BIRD SINGING. As negotiated with your literary agent, you will be receiving an advance for $10,000 against royalties....

Dear Helen,

I have been editing your manuscript all day today and want to tell you how beautifully written it is. The scene in which young Millie spends the night curled up beside her mother’s grave actually brought to tears to my eyes. I’m including a few editorial suggestions, which you may want to consider as you see fit....

Dear Crystal,

I have been editing your manuscript all day today and want to tell you how beautifully written it is. The rhyme that reads:

Ulysses was a bad boy who never ate his peas
He cussed and kicked and had a sassy mouth and he had a really bad attitude and stuff, plus he never ever ever said “Please.”

actually brought tears to my eyes. As GREAT as your manuscript is, I do think it needs a little help here and there and wondered how you’d feel if we brought in someone to tidy it up a bit. It might help to think of this person as a “script doctor” -- just like you have in Hollywood! -- who will assist you in polishing your story to absolute perfection....

Dear Helen,

The galleys of your novel went out today and I thought you’d be interested in seeing the press release we included:

Though Helen Holbrook has won many prizes during her writing career, including a Newbery Honor and a National Book Award nomination, nothing will prepare readers for her towering new effort, NIGHT BIRD SINGING, the story of a sensitive Appalachian girl coping with the death of her mother. “I based the story on my own experiences,” says the author, whose own mother died when Holbrook was only ten....

Dear Crystal,

The galleys of your picture book went out today, along with several novelty items including three-color buttons with the logo “Don't just say please...say PRETTY please!” and the official Ulysses M. Gollygoofer® plushie. I thought you’d be interested in seeing the press release we included:

Emmy-nominated actress Crystal Alexander makes a remarkable debut as a picture book author with ULYSSES M. GOLLYGOOFER AND THE IMPORTANCE OF SAYING “PRETTY PLEASE.” This delightful tale about the importance of good manners was inspired after Ms. Alexander gave birth to her son Sasha (whose father is Crystal’s former boyfriend, rock star Joe Haley) and her daughter Audrine (whose father, Mark Tyson, is the co-star of Crystal’s current hit sitcom.) “Having children of my own really opened my eyes,” revealed Crystal. “I realized there are no good books out there for kids today...so I decided to write one of my own!”

Dear Helen,

Time to do some publicity for NIGHT BIRD SINGING! Our Promotions Dept. has gotten you a booking on a TV show called “Booktalking with Sheila,” which runs Sunday afternoons on your local public access channel....

Dear Cryssie,

Ready for your book tour? Our Promotions Dept. has gotten you booked for two segments on THE VIEW next Monday, Rachael Ray on Tuesday (make sure to bring a recipe for the cooking segment), Fox News on Wednesday, and Larry King will give you a whole hour on Thursday if you’re willing to talk about your experiences at the Betty Ford Clinic as well....

Dear Helen,

Congrats on the magnificent reviews!

“Emotionally-compelling!” – School Library Journal, starred

“One of the year’s best!” – Booklist, starred review

“Heart-wrenchingly honest!” – Horn Book, starred review

“Every sentence is poetry!” -- Bulletin of the Center for
Children’s Books, starred review

Dear Cryssie,

Don’t worry about the reviews. Nobody cares about reviews. What we care about is sales and, honey, your sales are going through the roof! Your appearance on THE VIEW took you to the top of the Amazon.com charts for two days and we’ve sold 17 thou in the past week alone. As a point of comparison, let me tell you about this “literary” novel we just published. It got starred reviews from all the major review publications, yet sold only 119 copies last week....

Dear Helen,

A Newbery Honor for NIGHT BIRD SINGING! We’re over the moon about it! Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations....

Dear Cryssie,

Pixar bought the rights to Ulysses M. Gollygoofer!!! Congrats, congrats, congrats....

Dear Helen,

In twenty-plus years of publishing, I’ve never missed ALA before. I’m so sorry I won’t be there with you as your NIGHT BIRD is acknowledged as one of the year’s best, but I’ll be there in spirit....

Cryssie, sweetheart,

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d ever attend the Golden Globes. Thank you so much for the invite. I had to miss an important library convention to attend, but it was worth it. Heck, the gift bag alone was worth it! (Mine included a DVD player, a coupon for a free hotel stay at a resort in Cancun, plus a laptop computer! The gift bags at the library convention contain bookmarks and pencils engraved with the names of book distributors. Which do you think I’d rather have?) Anyway, it was nice to meet the producers of the upcoming Gollygoofer flick at the ‘Globes, plus I got to meet Angelina and Brad, both of whom said they have ideas for children’s books....

Dear Helen,

Just received manuscript for the NIGHT BIRD SINGING sequel. It looks marvelous. I’m going to read it on the red-eye out to the coast. (Taking a meeting with my friends at Pixar about an animated flick we’re doing based on one of our bestselling children’s books.) I do want to warn you, however, that in these tough economic times we don’t have a lot of money to throw around on advances -- regardless of your recent Newbery Honor....

Dear Cryssie,

Your idea about ULYSSES M. GOLLYGOOFER AND THE IMPORTANCE OF SAYING “PRETTY PLEASE WITH SUGAR ON TOP” sounds sequel-icious! And I think we can bump up your advance too. How does two hundred thou sound....

Dear Helen,

I know you’re unhappy that we can’t offer more for the NIGHT BIRD sequel, but I think I have a solution. I could add $5,000 more to your advance if you’d be willing to do a little uncredited ghostwriting for another title we just acquired, ULYSSES M. GOLLYGOOFER AND THE IMPORTANCE OF SAYING “PRETTY PLEASE WITH SUGAR ON TOP.” Let me know if you’re interested. I’ll be in LaLa Land working with Pixar this week, but you can text me or just send me a tweet. Luv ya babes.


Rod Needham
Senior Editor / Logan Books
Advising Producer / GOLLYGOOFERS : THE MOVIE! – a Pixar Production


Lisa Jenn said...


Unknown said...

Perfect. Exactly how I imagined it would go down.

The only "celebrity" author who I think has made it clear that she isn't just celebrity is Julie Andrews. However, I hated Madonna's books. What kid is going to sit still for a picture book that is that freakin' long? And Tim McGraw's book...blah.

Nine Mile said...

^ Has steam coming from ears. Depressing.

anup said...

Hmmmm....I don't know know why you are against Pixar. They would never be interested in a book like that.

Unknown said...

Oh, goodness! Thank you for that light-hearted look at what I'm sure is not too far off the mark. I've always wondered why actors think they can sing, singers think they can write children's books, football players think they can act, etc etc etc?

I was recently introduced to a book written and illustrated by a ten year old author that puts what most celebrities write to SHAME! It's called Sewing a Friendship by Natalie Tinti and I just loved it for its 'girl power' theme. Maybe Madonna should write little Natalie for some pointers!

Thanks again for this glimpse into the publishing world! I'll be LOLing all morning over this!

Brian James said...

I'm soo with you on this. It drives me nuts. These books are so poorly written. Not to mention it's an insult to us writers by basically reassuring the notion that "anyone can write a children's book."

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Connie said...

There is always the exception that proves the rule ... I still remember how impressed I was when Julie Andrews published those two novels in the 70s under the name Julie Edwards ... lots of people who read and loved them didn't know until long after that it was Julie's married name. It was the book that counted. And the fact that both Mandy and The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles showed up in the 'also rans' in Betsy's recent poll indicates that they had lasting value. More than one grown-up reader remembered them fondly enough to include one or the other in a personal list of top ten children's novels - I call that a lasting influence. And Julie's recent poetry anthology is nothing short of splendid.