Can celebrities be considered real authors? The Guardian recently posted a list of the bestselling books of 2019, and the authors of the top ten books might surprise you.
David Walliams dominated the list, with three of his children’s books receiving a place: The World’s Worst Teachers, Fing and The Beast of Buckingham Palace. Mrs Hinch was also on the list, with Hinch Yourself Happy, a tips-and-tricks guide to cleaning the home. Two spaces were occupied by recipe books, Veg by Jamie Oliver and Pinch of Nom by Kate Allinson and Kay Featherstone.
These books belong to a diverse range of genres, and yet they all have one thing in common: they were written by celebrities. Each author was already famous, for something non-literary, prior to becoming published authors.
Kate Allinson and Kay Featherstone were co-creators and content producers of the Pinch of Nom blog, which features slimming recipes. Pan Macmillan, their publisher, hails their blog as “the UK’s most visited food blog” with “an active and engaged online community of over 1.5 million followers”. Jamie Oliver’s prior fame likely goes without saying. He starred on cooking show The Naked Chef, released several recipe books, and opened his own chain of restaurants, Jamie’s Italian. Mrs Hinch is an Instagram personality, with 3.1 million followers to-date on her Instagram account, @mrshinchhome. David Walliams is perhaps the most famous of the authors, and requires even less of an introduction. He is an actor and a talent-show judge, appearing on Come Fly With Me and Britain’s Got Talent.
These men and women were all household names or brands before they put pen to paper. But can these celebrities truly be considered authors? And what does this mean for the ‘traditional’ writer?
It’s important not to become a book snob here. Arguably the best thing about books is that they can be written and enjoyed by anyone, and this diversity is something to be encouraged rather than shut down. Nevertheless, celebrity authors are a controversial topic, especially on twitter.
It’s clear that celebrity authors have a bad reputation. There is a general consensus: they have an easier time being picked up by a publisher, their sales are better due to an already established social media presence, they don’t have the same monetary concerns as an author without previously accrued fame. In short, their pathway into, and experience of being, published can be extremely different.
It’s equally important to consider the benefits of celebrity authors. Specifically, they offer what Fiona Noble refers to as an “entry point” into reading, offering familiarity, and a reason to pick up a book for someone who might not normally.
A celebrity can become an author, but the legitimacy of this is dependent, as with all authors, on the quality of their writing. Just as this is undeniable, so is the unfortunate ease with which they can navigate the publishing industry and the consumer market. Yet this isn’t a unique experience. Established authors, famous for their previous works, are often similarly handled. Just look at Margaret Attwood, and her recent success in the 2019 Booker Prize.
Publishing is competitive, ruthless and inherently flawed. At the same time, rather frustratingly, there is no clear solution. But one thing is clear: although celebrities are convenient scapegoats, it’s not their fault.