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The flip side of the celebrity bought-o-biography

I don’t disagree with everything Colleen says below, but I have a different perspective having been involved with a few of these projects.

First of all, the big celebrity advance never comes out of the unknown author’s pocket. Quite the opposite. Those big books are cash cows that enable the publisher to take risks and often lose money on mid-listers like myself. If a big book tanks, the loss is absorbed by other big books. That goes for big advances paid to novelists as well.

The artistic integrity of a book project is a little more difficult to quantify. I really struggled with that when I accepted my first ghost gig. What I ended up learning is that artistic integrity is not inherently missing from or present in any book of any genre. Artistic integrity is supplied by the artist.

I’m remembering something Susan Wiggs said in an RWA workshop I attended a while back: “There are so many things stacked against me in this industry. I didn’t need people telling me my books don’t have value.”

Not every movie is Schindler’s List. Some movies are Weekend at Bernie’s II. I appreciate a fine wine, but I’m sitting here drinking a Diet Coke, because...I just like it. Cultural value is as widely varied within every genre of fiction and nonfiction. Some celebrity memoirs are well-written and meaningful, some suck Cheez Whiz. Some literary novels transport and transform, some are pretentious pieces of crap. A Harlequin Romance got nominated for a Pulitzer this year, for God’s sake! Now that’s an artist who knows how to bring it in any venue!

I prefer to call myself a memoir guru rather than a ghostwriter or book doctor, because my mission in every gig is to excavate the story worth telling and tell it beautifully. I get paid well to do it. And any time a writer gets paid well, honey, an angel gets his wings. I consider it my privilege and duty to stand firm on the value of talent. If writers were able to do that with any sense of unity, we’d all get paid better.

For me, the best part of this symbiotic soup is that I get to experience all the rewards and challenges of my craft without having to do the promotional stuff that distracts me from my real work. I’ve been on the Today Show. It was not that big of a thrill. This morning I woke up at 4:30, knowing the exactly right way to structure a scene I’d been struggling with. Oh, my darlings—HUGE thrill! Meanwhile, my latest memoir guru client is gearing up her fame wattage for the exhausting launch of her book. She’s doing what she does fantastically well—be a star—while I sit here and gratefully write this novel.

She has a great story to tell. I helped her tell it. The publisher supplied baby’s new pair of shoes. Now here come the readers to complete the circle of life.

Cue dramatic sunrise over the Serengeti.


We agree on several points. There's honor in bringing your best to the table, whether it's mahogany or Formica. And when a high-profile book does score, the high tide floats all boats.

I still don't want to read about Scott Baio's sex life, but, thankfully, I don't have to... and there are plenty of good books out there to keep me busy.

As for which projects subsidize which, somewhere in the labyrthine bowels of book publisher's accounting departments lies the answer -- which means we may never get the straight scoop.

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