Although the barriers to publishing books have fallen precipitously over the past several years with the introduction of the Amazon Kindle ecosystem and similar services from Barnes & Noble, SONY, et.al., the largest challenges for most authors remain intact, namely marketing and distribution. For this reason, the only reliable path to widespread success for writers is to get picked up by one of the major publishing houses and their imprints (Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins, Random House+Penguin Group, Macmillan, and Hachette) who will expend money and personnel to cultivate talent and fund promotion.
However, because the big publishers have also seen their traditional revenue streams upended by the e-book juggernaut, they’ve redoubled their focus on deriving greater profits from a shrinking set of people who have a large base of established fans. Notice I said “people” not “authors.” Today, it appears the book publishing industry would rather engage with actors, musicians, TV personalities and sports figures than novelists, biographers and essayists. This is especially true in the non-fiction genre. Top sellers this week on the New York Times nonfiction list (hardcover and paperback) include these erudite scholars from the world of TV: Chelsea Handler, Bill O’Reilly, Greg Gutfeld, Charles Krauthammer, Brian Kilmeade, Tina Fey and Cokie Roberts.
For people who fancy themselves dedicated full-time writers as opposed to celebrities who phone in pointless memoirs and redundant history lessons as part-time money-making shtick, receiving even passing recognition is a pipe-dream. Publishers love to gin up exposure for their top revenue prospects, and with the possible exception of an audience with Oprah, nothing can compete with being the star of a Barnes & Noble’s in-store author event, particularly in Manhattan – home of the traditional publishing industry.
During the of month April, B&N will host dozens of authors who might read passages from their books, discuss characters, and sign books that have been purchased as a prerequisite to attend the event. An examination of this month’s featured writers reinforces the notion that big publishing promo dollars tend toward celebrities who have name recognition and can draw in the loyal fan base. Here are a few of the top draws.
Title: Face the Music: A Life Exposed
Author: Paul Stanley
Literary credentials: Member of rock band Kiss
Publisher’s comment: “A memoir with a gripping blend of personal revelations and gritty war stories about the highs and lows both inside and outside of KISS.” Gripping? They also mention that Stanley was born with an ear deformity that rendered him deaf on the right side – a necessary hardship that every memoir must include to give an otherwise formulaic subject an obstacle to overcome.
Title: Dirty Daddy: The Chronicles of a Family Man Turned Filthy Comedian
Author: Bob Saget
Literary credentials: TV personality famous for playing maudlin characters and hosting “funny” home videos that actually seemed quite sadistic
Publisher’s comment: “Millions of viewers know and love Bob Saget . . . in this bold and wildly entertaining publishing debut, Bob continues to embrace his dark side and gives readers the book they have long been waiting for.” I believe millions know who Saget is, but love him? Perhaps these are the same dopes who love toe jam and the sound of scraping fingernails on a blackboard. Furthermore. . . “bold” and “wildly entertaining”? Are we talking about the same Saget who once frotted with Liberace?
Title: Playing with Fire
Author: Renee Graziano
Literary credentials: Mobwife on TV
Publisher’s comment: She’s “the star of Mob Wives and perhaps the show’s most compelling character.” I assume they hedge with the word “perhaps” because it’s likely there are absolutely no compelling characters on the show whatsoever.
Title: Love Life
Author: Rob Lowe
Literary credentials: TV and movie actor
Publisher’s comment: “Find yourself in the presence of a master raconteur, a multi-talented performer whose love for life is as intriguing as his love life.” So intriguing in fact that the reader will learn Rob’s views on “camping at Sea World, his first journey to college with his son, trying to coach a kids’ basketball team dominated by helicopter parents, and the benefits of marriage.” Clearly, such insights will open the eyes of middle-class adults who have never experienced such phenomena.
Title: Everybody’s Got Something
Author: Robin Roberts
Literary credentials: Member of TV’s “Good Morning America” show
Publisher’s comment: “Recounts the incredible journey that’s been her life so far, and the lessons she’s learned along the way.” Watch out for the phrase “so far” – that means a derivative sequel is in the works. “With grace, heart, and humor, (ed. note: and not to be outdone by Paul Stanley and his dodgy ear) she writes about overcoming breast cancer only to learn five years later that she will need a bone marrow transplant to combat a rare blood disorder . . .” Damn, she should be on “As the World Turns” instead of “Good Morning America.”
Title: Magnificent Vibration: A Novel
Author: Rick Springfield
Literary credentials: Pop musician/memoirist
Publisher’s comment: ”Bobby calls the 1-800 number scrawled inside the front cover, only to discover that he has a direct line to God. This launches Bobby on an unlikely quest, serendipitously accompanied by a breathtakingly sexy and exceedingly sharp travel companion named Alice. Together the pair sets out to find some combination of spiritual and carnal salvation—and possibly save the planet.” Well, at least Springfield wrote an actual novel involving salvation both carnal and planetary – after penning an obligatory memoir in which he shares grim details of “his lifelong battle with depression.” Sidebar: Is depression a better or worse condition from a memoir point-of-view than a stubby ear?
Title: Jason Priestley: A Memoir
Author: Jason Priestley
Literary credentials: TV and movie actor
Publisher’s comment: “Honest, compelling, and often humorous details of Priestley’s up-and-down life, from his childhood in Canada to his adult life as a husband and father.” Note that the book covers the ups and downs facing Priestly lest his story not meet the required allotment of cheap pathos.
Title: The Closer
Author: Mariano Rivera
Literary credentials: Baseball player
Publisher’s comment: “The man who intimidated thousands of batters merely by opening a bullpen door, began his incredible journey as the son of a poor Panamanian fisherman. When first scouted by the Yankees, he didn’t even own his own glove.” Such is the conceit of the memoir – always a struggle. The dude didn’t even own a fucking glove. (Again, does that trump the Paul Stanley’s bum ear and Robin Robert’s blood disorder?) Nevermind that Rivera pocketed about $170 million for pitching a couple innings every few games thereby outperforming in one year the reader’s lifetime earnings – he suffered more than you.
Title: The Nolan Ryan Beef & Barbecue Cookbook Recipes from a Texas Kitchen
Author: Nolan Ryan
Literary credentials: Baseball player
Publisher’s comment: “Legendary pitcher Nolan Ryan grew up in Texas and early on developed a passion for cattle ranching that rivaled his interest in baseball. His first cookbook offers 75 recipes for sizzling T-bone and rib-eye steaks, mouthwatering burgers, slow-cooked barbecue ribs, and more.” Thank God for Nolan Ryan’s book without which we would still be boiling ground beef in used motor oil and barbecuing ribs in the clothes dryer.
Title: Unbreak My Heart: A Memoir
Author: Toni Braxton
Literary credentials: Singer
Publisher’s comment: “The bestselling solo R&B artist finally opens up about her rocky past and her path to redemption. While Toni Braxton may appear to be living a charmed life, hers is in fact a tumultuous story: a tale of personal triumph after a public unraveling.” Oh yes – the “charmed life” is merely a façade to hide the horrible life of this wealthy diva. Maybe that’ll make you feel better about yourself after spending $27 for the hardcover. (By the way, she has small vessel disease in case you’re feeling smug.)
Title: Brunette Ambition
Author: Lea Michele
Literary credentials: TV star
Publisher’s comment: “The star of the hit show Glee shares her experiences and insider tips on beauty, fashion, inner strength, and more in an illustrated book that’s part memoir, part how-to, and part style guide.” Part how-to . . . what? “Lea Michele is one of the hardest working performers in show business.” Really? I wonder if the thousands of actors performing bit parts off-off-Broadway, sitting in the dark night after night as the never-called understudy, auditioning all afternoon for a bit part on a 30-second TV commercial, and making rent money working second-shift as a singing waiter would agree. But hey – Lea has inner strength, so eff you.