Tuesday, October 19, 2010

YOU MEAN YOU’RE NOT A MILLIONAIRE?

Thanks to the media obsession with celebrities, most people think that authors are rolling in dough. I’m here to tell you that although most authors may occasionally plunge into a bowl of cookie dough ice cream, they are definitely not cavorting around in Olympic sized pools filled with the likes of Ulysses S. Grant and Benjamin Franklin. (Okay, so maybe JK Rowling, James Patterson, and Stephanie Meyer are, but there are exceptions to every rule.)

It seems a week doesn’t go by that we don’t read about another celebrity -- or parent, spouse, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin or next-door-neighbor of a celebrity -- being handed a huge chunk of money to write anything and everything from tell-alls to memoirs to diet to exercise to fiction to kids’ books. Even fantasy. What else would you call a parenting book by the mother of Britney and Jamie Lyn Spears?

The latest
celebrity -- and I use that term loosely -- to land a book deal is Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, one of the stars -- and I use that term loosely, as well -- of Jersey Shore. Snooki, who has admitted she’s read all of TWO books in her life (Twilight and Dear John) is writing a romance novel. Title of the book? A Shore Thing. According to Simon and Schuster, the book will include “big hair, dark tans and fights galore.”

Of course, celebrities really don’t write their books themselves. That’s what ghost writers are for. But the only items that make the gossip pages are the 6 or 7 figure advances the celebrities are getting. Someone told me Snooki’s receiving over half a million dollars in advance for her literary masterpiece (or should that be messterpiece?), but I can’t verify that.

So it’s understandable, I suppose, that the vast majority of the population would think the rest of us writers are doing equally well. After all, we’ve written real books. They come complete with covers and pages with words, and they’re sitting on the shelves at Borders and Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores across the country. So of course, we’re making gobs of money -- NOT. At least not most of us.

I know authors who have made it to the NY Times bestseller list. Most of them can’t afford to quit their day jobs, but few people are aware of that fact and even fewer believe it when you tell them. (“Oh, I thought you still worked at the diner because you love being on your feet eight hours a day, serving burgers, fries, and shakes to your adoring public!”)

So every time I read about someone like Snooki being handed a fortune for “writing” a book, I get a little steamed. Can you blame me? And just to add insult to injury, she and her
Jersey Shore cohorts -- only one of which is actually from New Jersey -- are adding to the stereotype of my state. You should come visit sometime. We’re really nothing like what you saw on The Sopranos or see on Jersey Shore. Well…at least not most of us. There are those Real Housewives of New Jersey, but they’re probably not really from New Jersey, either. At least, I hope not.

27 comments:

Caridad Pineiro said...

Okay - I am from Jersey - a transplanted New Yorker - and I'm nothing like those people in all those shows. I also am not a millionaire and still hold a day job while writing multiple books. I'm sticking to that day job because (1) I like it and (2) otherwise I'd be a starving artist. I think the one thing I'd like to end this comment with is: Write because it's your passion. That's the only reason to do it.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

If I had a dollar for every person who has asked me why I'm still working as a paralegal, I wouldn't need to work as a paralegal. Even other writers think because I write three series, I must be able to quit the day job. NOT!

I'm sticking to my day job because (1) I like it, (2) benefits like health insurance and a 401K, and (3) I'm rather fond of food and shelter.

P.A.Brown said...

The image doesn't just come from those ridiculous advances. Take a look at TV. Writers there are always portrayed as wealthy -- think Castle, Jessica Fletcher, etc. The only time I've seen a writer who's not wealthy they're are shown as hacks, no talent wannabes. Not once have I ever seen a regular, hard working author who has a few books, isn't famous who still has a regular job. So no wonder nobody believes you or me when we tell the truth.

jeff7salter said...

Lois (is this you?),
Great post today. I feel your pain. Not published yet in fiction, but I'm co-author of two non-fiction books with a royalty publisher ('88 & '91). Loved that single year with a four figure royalty check! But I also had a year with a royalty check for under $5 ... ha. And, since both books have long been 'remaindered' --- many years with no royalties at all.
But, back to your post: yeah. I remember a quote by baseball great Pete Rose. Some reporter asked him something (evidently about reading) and he proudly exclaimed, "I've never even read a book." [I believe him, by the way.]
To that, the reporter replied, "But, Pete, you've WRITTEN two books of your own."
Pete was momentarily at a loss for words, because (as you pointed out) many celebrities don't write the books they've 'written'. Pete had sat for hours with interviewers, the book was written, he made appearances to promote it ... and even signed copies. But he never read it.
Or anything else.
Jeff

Keith Raffel said...

In the show's opening, Castle opines that there are two kinds of people who sit around thinking of how to murder people -- psychopaths and mystery writers. "I'm the one that pays more money," he says. Oh, you're a psychopath? I wonder.

Tess said...

Great post, Lois!!!

Lois Winston said...

Caridad, I think you've hit the nail on the head. Too many people want to write books so they'll get rich. The true writer writes because he or she can't not write. (excuse the double negative!)

Su Ann, I'm rather fond of food and a roof over my head, as well. And as Jeff pointed out, you can go for a long time between royalty checks.

Pat, it's typical Hollywood. They're always playing around with facts. We authors are held to a higher standard. We get lambasted if we're caught playing loose with the truth.

Hey, Keith, what's the going rate for psychopaths these days?

Thanks for stopping by, Tess!

Alan Orloff said...

How does one get hooked up to be some celebrity's ghost writer?
Just askin'

Mike Dennis said...

I get upset at that kind of stuff, too, Lois, where people like these JERSEY SHORE types get big bucks for "writing" a book.

However, we both know our consolation lies in the fact that Snooki and all her cohorts think their fame will last, that they will forever be on everyone's mind, on everyone's lips, that people will always want their autographs or their photos, that they will be media darlings from now till the day they die.

But of course, they're dead wrong.

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi Lois,
Just to help counteract the misperceptions about New Jersey, I remember paddling the slow-moving, iron-stained currents of the streams that criss-cross the Pine Barrens. We gathered ruby red cranberries from the bushes overhanging the banks and boiled up homemade cranberry sauce over the campfire at the end of the day. New Jersey has some lovely wild areas, totally unlike the polluted suburbs of New York City that everyone imagines.

Lois Winston said...

Alan, the only person I know who is "sort of" ghost writing is CJ Lyons for a series of books with Erin Brokovich. In her case, the publisher came to her and asked if she'd like to do it. But she's also getting credit as a co-author, even though she's really doing all the writing.

Lois Winston said...

Mike, I can't wait for the day that Snooki and her co-horts are washed out with the tide. Unfortunately, a new crop of pseudo-celebrities will take their place.

Lois Winston said...

Thanks, Beth! You're so right. We have some incredibly beautiful, scenic areas around the state, and some very quaint towns. Too bad most of the country has no idea they exist and only think of NJ in terms of what they see on TV. My own town is often used for movie shoots because our downtown area is so picturesque.

Julia Buckley said...

I guess our goal should be to get the ghostwriting jobs. :)

I too live in genteel poverty, but like many of you, I like my job. But it sure is hard to find enough hours in the day.

Wendy Toliver said...

Great post! :)

Lois Winston said...

I wonder how much the average ghost writer actually makes, Julia. Especially when we hear about the celebrities making 6 and 7 figure advances. I also wonder who winds up getting the royalties. Could be that the ghost writing gigs are flat fee work-for-hire.

Thanks for stopping by, Wendy!

Keith Raffel said...

I spoke to a friend at Bouchercon who is doing some ghosting. Usually ghosting is a work for hire gig, but he is also getting 1/3 of the royalties.

Lois Winston said...

Thanks, Keith. Depending on what the flat fee was, it could be lucrative. You'd also have to ask yourself how you'd feel about someone else taking all the credit for your hard work. Would the money be enough to offset that, especially if the book became a bestseller?

Keith Raffel said...

Lois, the money would help. As Dr. Johnson said: "No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money."

Jill McCullough said...

I like my Jersey Shore a little more sentimental and a lot less Snooki. Give me Johnson's popcorn, Mack & Manco's pizza, and the Double Shot over "big hair, dark tans and fights galore" any day.

STORIDIVA said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
STORIDIVA said...

What makes it doubly insulting is that the editors cop out for the dough. I remember when Carly what's her name was going to write about her life when she was 15 years old. What Life. Her dad was the achy breaky heart guy, she got a top rates show, singing AND acting kids.. what else did anyone need to know that was told fourteen ga-trillion times in the tabloids. Publishers love this Snooki, situation jersey shore mess, but they are making money while we sit here hoping someone will grace us with a book deal. It's insane.

Mike Dennis said...

Lois, I was so inspired by your post today that I wrote a blog myself on my own website. I reference you in it. You might want to check it out at http://mikedennisnoir.com

Lois Winston said...

Jill, don't forget Day's ice cream!

Storydiva, I think you mean Miley Cyrus, and I totally agree with you.

Mike, thanks for mentioning my post on your blog.

Kathleen Ernst said...

This is a hot-button issue for me as well. I've been writing in the children's/YA world, and I can't count how many celebs have gotten huge book deals. Most (not all) aren't any good. Most, I've been told by editors, don't earn out their huge advances. One editor said that even though the business model makes no sense, some editors still bid big bucks because of the sparkle value a celeb name adds to their list.

I will say that a few, like the books Jamie Lee Curtis writes, are great. I and read somewhere that she gets frustrated when parents come to her book programs and want to talk movies; she wants to talk with the kids.

Lois Winston said...

Kathleen, I remember seeing a statistic a few years ago that said 80% of celebrity books wind up on the remainders tables. If that's the case, I doubt many ever earn out their advances. Just think, if publishers would stop throwing money at people like Snooki and that wrestler now writing kids' books, there'd be a much greater pool of money to give real authors decent advances.

AvonLadyJerrica said...

Fantastic post, Lois! I agree on all counts! I don't tend to begrudge anyone their success, but it does grind my gears quite a bit that Snookie has only read two books in her entire life. What a great role model for today's youth! (Hopefully you can hear the sarcasm dripping off that last comment.) And while I'm not native, I, too, am a Jersey Girl and take umbrage with the way we are portrayed to the rest of the world.