Celebrities Writing Children’s Books
By Mathilde Sire
There has been an incredible surge of celebrities writing and publishing children’s books in the last few years. In a time when you can drink tequila sold by The Rock, get your phone internet provider from Ryan Reynolds and buy organic baby food from Jennifer Garner, is it really so far-fetched to think you could read a children’s book written by Meghan Markle?
Ever-evolving, the children’s book market in the US is worth around $2 billion whilst the UK is worth just shy of £400 million (IBISWorld, Statista). We can easily understand how these figures might be somewhat attractive to agents looking to expand their client’s brand. Most of us will frown at the idea that a book could be seen as a product, nothing more than merchandise. This is one sure way to secure years of royalties and a boost in popularity and relevance. It could be said that most of these books aren’t actually aimed at children but at the credit card owners who will know the author from some tv-reality show or Netflix special.
Some of the controversy also lies in the discrepancy between what professional children’s writers typically earn for a book and what celebrity authors receive. There is, of course, the question of co-authorship and ghostwriting as well. Upon researching this trend, one would come across many job adverts for co-authoring a guaranteed best-selling book on websites such as celebritybrandingagency.com. Even though these practices aren’t exactly new, Alexandre Dumas had a team of writers working with him in the 1800s, there is a clear negative view that some celebrities might not necessarily have the independent inclination, or the talent to pen their own books and are indeed only interested in the paycheck.
Something that comes up often when celebrities are asked why they decided to write a book aimed at children is that being parents themselves, they have first-hand knowledge of what a child wants from their bedtime story. To take a recent example, Meghan Markle has mentioned that the inspiration for her first picture book, The Bench, (to be published by PRH in June 2021) was a poem she had written for her husband on Father’s Day about his relationship with their son. There are also those who couldn’t find the kinds of books they would like their children to read and took it upon themselves to write them, like Kristen Bell and her book The World Needs More Purple People (2020, PRH).
In a more positive light, some within the industry take the stance that success for some is success for everyone. Professional writer Lin Oliver tells Romper Magazine that “bestselling books add to the coffers and publishers are in the business, not only to make a profit, but to spend their profit on creating more content”. Publishers would use the financial gain provided by celebrity authors to invest in the rest of their author pool. However, this does not seem to be the majority’s opinion in this professional versus celebrity authors debate. In an article from The Bookseller dating back to 2017, Chris Priestley, author of Tales of Terror published by Bloomsbury’s Children’s Books, talks of his experience with getting book deals, even after years of success, “I still have to pitch my books,” whilst celebrities only need a tweet stating their wish to make a book to receive several offers. Even though the article was written over four years ago, it is as relevant as ever in 2021.
Ultimately, while some celebrity children’s book authors are widely regarded as talented and deserving, like David Walliams and his literary empire, their successes seem to be regarded as detrimental to professional authors. It will be interesting to see how the latter adapt to this rising challenge and what the future holds for children’s books worldwide.