Monday, January 5, 2009

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy...

...that Laura Bush has signed a deal with Scribner to pen her memoir, and the guesstimates are that the deal will come in around $8 million.

The celebrity memoir rant is one of my favorites, and perfect for my Blog a Day Challenge kickoff. I'm participating in the challenge organized by the blog-genius Dani at BlogBookTours, an event which stretches to the end of the month. But I digress...

What, one might ask, can Laura Bush, a woman who has lived in the national spotlight for eight years, have to reveal (that she is also willing to reveal) that justifies $8 million dollars? A good question, but the better one is when will the big houses stop doing this crazy stuff? The scenario will be that, since the publisher has millions on the line, they will strong arm stores and distributors to take on pallet-loads of the Laura book. Probably they will buy end-caps in the big stores and do a bunch of co-op ads. Then of course, after it's released, Laura will be everywhere for a few weeks, Fox & Friends, The View, Charlie Rose, Hardball, and all the rest. If the book is moving, everyone will be happy. If not, the returns process will kick in and Laura will end up on the remainders tables with Whoopi Goldberg, Katherine Hepburn, and all the other celebrity books that were busts.

My favorite is Marsha Clark's deal. Remember her? The LA prosecutor who LOST the OJ Simpson murder case. She got a $4 million media deal (there were other things in it beyond the hosting a TV show and so on) to issue the 80th book on the trial of the century. It didn't do well, and Marsha seems to have faded back into obscurity to enjoy her millions. Even after that, Johnnie Cochran penned a memoir. And it did worse! It was remaindered within the first month or so.

Years ago, as I was starting Oak Tree, I went to NYC for fact-finding. I made a bunch of appointments with editors at the big houses, just to chat. They were very gracious. The Whoopi Goldberg memoir had come out and laid its big egg just a few months earlier. When I met with a big editor at Random House, we got on the topic of the celebrity memoir, and, being a sparky sort of gal, I just asked him outright, "Why do you keep doing these memoirs that don't make it?" He said, "We know from our model that one in ten will be a big seller. We're willing to lose on nine to get to the tenth one."

I can still remember how stunned I was, and I still can't fathom the idea of accepting nine loser titles in order to get to the great one.

In my fantasies, I like to take a bejillion dollar advance and imagine divvying it up among all my's still a nice chunk of change!


Gayle Carline said...

In this age of economic and ecological crises, I'm appalled at the insistence of the large houses on maintaining Business As Usual, even while they slash staff and put new acquisitions on hold. What do they think happens to the remainders of the nine books that tank? How many employees could have been kept for the price of one maybe-famous-memoir?

"We know from our model that one in ten will be a big seller. We're willing to lose on nine to get to the tenth one."
- This is the way my ex-husband asked women out on dates. Clueless.

Katie Hines said...

Whether or not they deserve a book written about their lives is really moot. Apparently, the publishers feel those types of books will sell well, or that it is worth risking. They apparently also feel they're going to get their money's worth or they wouldn't do it.

I personally don't read celebrity books; most are non-fiction and I don't read hardly any non-fiction.

Bluestocking said...

Doesn't make sense to me either.

Heidiwriter said...

Like I said in my e-mail to you, if your name isn't Grisham or Steele (or Clinton or Bush) then you don't stand a chance with the "Big House" publishers.

Thanks for what you do!
Heidi M. Thomas

artandwords said...

Heidi, it's not necessarily impossible to break into a Big House -- I actually wrote a bit about this on my blog under "Publishing 101". I really think the most important tool for breaking into a Big House is a good literary agent, since so many of them won't consider unsolicited submissions. These days, literary agents act as their gatekeepers.

Re Laura Bush and her big advance: I can't help but wonder if the winning publisher feels that the accordant publicity they receive for signing the book helps their profile. It definitely sends a clear message to agents who are looking to place certain types of high profile manuscripts. So even if they lose money on Laura Bush's memoir, they'll recoop it when on something else.

Also, Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife did very well - maybe this suggests that there's a bigger market than expected for LB's book?

Kris Waldherr
author of Doomed Queens: Royal Women Who Met Bad Ends, From Cleopatra to Princess Di

Christina E. Rodriguez said...

The "Celebrity Author" is one of my biggest goat-getters when it comes to the publishing industry. Even with the economy being so bad, and the big publishing houses laying off their own people, we're STILL going to see MORE celebrity-authored books because that's what sells. Gayle is totally right - how many employee's could've been kept on for Laura Bush's $8 million advance?

Christina E. Rodriguez said...

I should admit that I've bought one celebrity's "memoir." It was by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and I found it in the discount bin at a drugstore. No matter how big a fan I am of the guy (I used to have a 6-ft poster of him in my college dorm room), I still couldn't bring myself to pay full-price for what I knew was going to be ridiculous fluff.

In my opinion, the only celebrity-authored children's books of any quality are the ones by Cheech Marin (and that's because his illustrator is a nice guy).