Why We DON’T Need More Celeb-“Penned” Novels

Poor Jonathan Swift has probably spent this whole week spinning in his grave. Earlier this week, we invoked his famous 1729 satirical piece “A Modest Proposal,” which suggests Irish people could ease their economic troubles by selling their babies to the rich as a delicious delicacy. Our post proposed modestly that celebrity novels are awesome and may save the publishing industry.

Some of you got it and left some great comments. Some of you didn’t and sent confused tweets. (And judging by the paucity of pageviews, most of you were yawningly indifferent.) At any rate, the point of the piece was to show that celebrity-“penned” novels are, at best, simply to be ignored, and at worst, unmitigated turds of American idiocy. That’s not a being a literary snob. That’s stating the prevailing opinion of a majority of people who can actually walk and chew gum at the same time.

But what can you do? Lots of people are obsessed with celebrity, and so these novels do represent what a sector of the American public is looking for the one or two times per year they accidentally wander into a bookstore. In the immortal words of James Carville, “Have at it, haase.”

I have no idea whether publishers actually use the profits these novels produce — and they must product huge profits, as they’ve exploded in number in the last few years — to fund publication of less-marketable, more literary novels. I hope so, but I have my doubts. More likely, these profits are fed back into advances for other celeb novels or for bonuses for the editors who shepherded the novel from ghostwritten first draft to publication. But if the profits from celeb-“penned” novels are funding publication of struggling writers, and someone can show us proof, I’ll be the first to shout “end justifies means, end justifies means!” from the rooftops.

One thing I am sure of: These novels ARE ghostwritten. As the NY Times explained this summer: “There is certainly a wink-wink understanding among publishers, editors and agents that ghostwriters are behind many novels by celebrities, but it is not made clear to readers.” That shouldn’t have to be made clear, but (again at the risk of sounding a tad snooty) the kind of person who loves these novels is probably also the kind of person who can be led to believe that Snooki actually bore down with her laptop five hours a day for several months.

Look, I know it’s not exactly original to complain about these novels. Nor is it venturing out on an ideological limb. But, since to me, it’s the most odious trend in the publishing industry now, it’s cathartic to rage about in writing every now and then. So thanks for reading.