THE QUESTION OF CELEBRITY AUTHORS
By Sarah Odedina
As a publisher, and as a parent, I have absolutely no doubt that a child reading is a great thing.
Reading provides pleasure, escape, the opportunity to visit other worlds and the opportunity to become more confident in their own world. I am also absolutely in no doubt that it does not matter what the child is reading and that no book is ‘worthier’ of their love and commitment than any other.
Which brings me to the issue then of writers. Which writers ‘deserve’ to be read more, have more copies of their books sold, be respected more for their effort? Is it the one who has toiled in relative obscurity to work the magic into their words, or is it the one who has toiled in relative fame to work the magic into their words? I imagine that the process of writing is not easier or more difficult for one author than another just because of their fame.
So why are so many people inflamed about the right of celebrities to write books? Is it because they think they get an easier ride to the publisher’s stable? This may be true. Publishers struggle constantly to get attention for the books they publish for young readers. While children’s books represent one in three of all books sold in the UK, they take up a miserable three per cent share of review space. To get a journalist interested in a novel by a children’s author is virtually impossible, but to get a journalist interested in a novel by a famous person who has written a children’s book is a different story. Suddenly we have column inches and TV appearances.
This is great for the celebrity author and also great for children’s books in general because all the light that is shone into our corner of the publishing world reflects on all books and all authors. AND if a child finds that reading a book by a hugely famous comedian is something that they really enjoy and they go on to read other books by that same comedian and then, realising that reading is actually a great fun thing to do, they go on and read books by other, less famous but equally entertaining authors then there is plenty to celebrate here.
I do not think that the problem for the publishing industry is an over-focus on celebrity authors. Out of the thousands of children’s books published every year, those by celebrities are a tiny percentage. I do not think either that children are any more interested in a book because it is by a celebrity. I think that they exercise the same critical awareness regardless of who the author is, and the phenomenal sales of David Walliams books can only be because they are great books that really appeal to young readers. Children vote with their feet. If they like it they want to read it. They are not swayed by ideas of critical acclaim or prizes.
However, their parents can be, and more often than not it is parents who are paying for the books, so the reviews and attention for celebrity authors will impact on their choices. It would be just so wonderful to have some more informed and quality reviewing going on across the wider area of children’s publishing to help get more wonderful authors into the buying consciousness of parents.
What I fear about the incredibly low percentage of reviews is that some journalists have no way of appraising or respecting children’s book without a celebrity attached to it. Why, I wonder, can some critics and journalists not apply the same critical thinking and respect to children’s literature that they use for assessing the worth of adult literature? Surely the skill and competence to write either is equal. It’s just that one has children in.
Hooray to celebrity authors, I say, and to all authors whose work fills a child with the joy of reading.
Editor – Scoop Magazine
If you want to read other opinions on the issue of lack of review coverage for children’s books there are two marvellous blogs: