Celeb Children’s Authors?
Mmm. This article https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/dec/11/children-authors-kids-non-celebrity-book-christmas is certainly worth a read. If you don't want to click through, for the most part it argues that celebrity writing for children (such as Tom Fletcher, David Walliams, Jamie Oliver, Joe Wicks) sucks the readership away from "proper" children's authors.
I completely understand the frustration of seeing known celebrity names placing high in the book charts. I don’t agree with it though.
It’s a very narrow way of understanding readership.
Sure, there are books that aren’t for me. But I have to be honest and say I don’t think there’s “bad reading”. (Or in fact film viewing, or music, art etc - I have a whole chunk of opinion about the way we have created a hierarchy of the arts!).
There is plenty of celebrity writing for kids that is in fact fun and inventive, and well (ghost?)written. Most kids who like to read don’t have just one book for their entire reading lives. It doesn’t work like that. The wider problem is how we choose the books to read - children & adults alike, fiction and non-fiction. The world of publishing is full of incredible writing. Some of that will only have a tiny print run, maybe 20-30 copies. Some books will bought by huge companies that can print thousands of copies flood the market so that you see that book in every bookshop window, supermarket shelf, and pushed on Amazon, tricking your brain into thinking the plentiful stocking is a sign of success and therefore
You may think that the availability of free advertising (Twitter, Newsletters, social media etc) - which is not in fact free because someone has to actually do it - would help improve sales, but if anything, the majority of readers rely more than ever on easy availability + familiarity. If they’ve seen it in about half a dozen places and can get pick it up, then they are more likely to buy it. The celebrity writers have the familiarity factor in spades. They’ve been in our homes & lives via the Tv or radio for years, decades even. They have the budget to make their work available to the book buyer at every turn. The average author has one (or two) other jobs (full time or otherwise/ in writing or elsewhere) and cannot find time to saturate the market in terms of familiarity, nor can their publishers afford the risk of publishing a run of thousands of copies.
I don’t know how we move away from this. I thin it’s great to have celeb writers for kids as sometimes that is the spark for a lifelong joy of reading. Personally, my least appealing type of book is a sports (auto)biography. My husband reads several per year. It’s a relaxing and enjoyable hobby. The writing may not be Umberto Eco dense. So what. I bloody loved Eco but honestly, I would not want to read like that all the time. I buy books in the supermarket, loads. I also buy them on Amazon. I buy them in Waterstones. And I buy them in independent bookshops, charity shops, jumble sales and direct from publishers, and even from the writers.
Ok, so I buy a lot of books!
In my early twenties, mostly I only bought books that had been recommended or by an author whose name I recognised. I have grown in confidence with regards to buying books by authors that I’ve never heard, across various genres. I’m happy to stop midway and think “oh well, not for me”, and crow from the rooftops for the wee indies. For instance, improved diversity in literature started with indies. Dyslexia friendly writing for children - started with indie publishers.
I know that the only way for readers to grow in confidence, from childhood, and to have the desire to explore new reading horizons is by reading. Lots. And for there to be lots of choice and variety, we need the whole ecosystem of writing, from the self-published hand illustrated child’s book to global success leviathans of publishing. The independents (writers, publishers & bookshops) are the motor of innovation, they incubate new talent and the writing is no “lesser” than that produced by the big publishing houses. We need the big names and publishing houses to be the ballast of the whole sector. We need the mid-sized ones and their writers, we need as much variety in the sector as there is variety of readers.
I know that Waterstones have improved their support of indies local to them. I'd like to see chains like WH Smith's or the big supermarkets do more - like a have a shelf space dedicated to local writers & publishers. But that's unlikely to happen.
So what can the reader do? If you want good, varied writing from childhood upwards then explore indie publishers, follow them online, read their newsletters, buy their books, review their books, read & gift their books. A little bit of an adventure in indie publishing might bring you a huge amount of joy. My kids are hooked on a comic published by a small family business. They now own several books by the various contributors, who we have been to see at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Huge joy in reading!
Of course, I'll suggest you follow my own publisher Leamington Books. However a brilliant starting place is Books From Scotland. Loads there to explore. Other countries or counties have similar organisations.
Happy adventures in words!