The rise of the celebrity children’s author

by | Nov 13, 2017

When comedian, David Walliams, signed a book deal with Harper Collins to become a children’s author, did he know his stratospheric sales would make him one of the three highest-earning authors in the UK, clocking up print sales of £11m?

Possible not, but he might have had a good idea, as would his publisher when they invested in him.

Says the Bookseller Blog (March 2017):

In a culture where celebrity sells, I understand why publishers go down this route. The phenomenal success of David Walliams has put every publisher under pressure to have their own chart-topping version. Celebrity authors are a ready-made PR story, they have existing fan bases, social media followers and famous friends to endorse their books. When celeb books work they can be hugely lucrative which, in theory at least, means profits can be invested in nurturing new talent.

Nicknamed ‘The Walliams Effect’, a whole host of comedians are now turning children’s author. The list includes Sandi Toksvig, Charlie Higson, David Baddiel, Russell Brand, Julian Clary, Adrian Edmonson and Harry Hill.

It means that for us ordinary folk trying to make it in the children’s book world, we don’t stand a chance, quite frankly.

Even non-celebrity top children’s authors are hitting out, with Skellig author, David Almond recently writing that “the nation’s children are being short-changed” by the decision to include four celebrity names among the ten chosen books for next year’s World Book Day.

Mr Almond criticised the decision to include books by comedians, TV presenters and former musicians over non-celebrity authors, a criticism echoed by other authors, including Anthony McGowan and Philip Pullman.

The ten titles for World Book Day 2018 include books by comedian Julian Clary, Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain, sports presenter Clare Balding and Tom Fletcher, formerly of the band McFly.

Mr Almond told the Daily Telegraph:

“There’s nothing wrong with celebrities writing books, but an organisation like World Book Day should be giving a good idea of what children’s literature is today, and this doesn’t at all. It gives a false impression of what it is to write a book.”

The rise of the celebrity author is a concern to both non-established and well-known children’s authors alike.

Children’s author, Lucy Coats, agrees:

“The number and frequency of recent deals is making many of us consider our involvement in the business. It’s depressing to say the least.”

Chocolat author, Joanne Harris also wrote on her blog about the detrimental effect the current spate of celebrity is having on the children’s book industry, arguing it is affecting the reputation of children’s writing as a whole, as well as literacy in general.

So what is an aspiring children’s author to do? Give up?

Well that would probably be the wise move if you’re in this for the money, fame and fortune.
As a non-celebrity, low-ranking, ordinary UK citizen trying to make a difference in the world though, it might be best to redefine what success is.

If success means 4 or 5 star reviews from children who have read and enjoyed your book, even though this may number in the tens, more than the thousands;

If success means you’ve encouraged a reluctant reader to pick up and finish a story (your story);

If success means you’re inspiring children in your local area to write a story of their own;

Then you might consider that in your own way, you HAVE made a difference.

We’re dominated by celebrities achieving success in all markets, from perfume to fashion and books.

Too often today, children are being led to believe that in order to be successful, you have to achieve celebrity status.

What message is this sending?

I believe it’s important for us mere lowly authors to show children that ordinary people, just like them, can succeed. For me, this means continuing to write children’s stories and connecting with my local community to inspire the children to get creative and write stories of their own. If I can encourage children to keep reading and hopefully foster in them, a love of stories, I’ve done what I set out to do.


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