Celebrity publishing as strong as ever: examining the people behind the books with Alan Samson


By Stephen Haskins, Kingston University MA Publishing student

I work in a bookshop, and every day when I arrive at work I walk past a wall of the latest hardback books. At this time of the year I’m greeted by Cheryl Cole, David Walliams and Arnold Schwarzenegger. 2012’s Super Thursday saw a number of publishers release this year’s batch of stars telling their stories ‘in their own words’. So what better time for publisher Alan Sansom to deliver a Masterclass to Kingston MA Publishing students about his experience working with celebrities?

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Alan, who now works at Orion Books (having previously worked for Macmillan and Little, Brown) has published Julie Walters, Dame Helen Mirren, and Nelson Mandela (who he is most proud of having worked with) to name but a few.

I think it is safe to say that these big names are up on the A-list of who’s who, but, as we know by now, nearly anyone can have their 15 minutes of fame, and that 15 minutes will sell you around 15,000 books. Book charts are regularly dominated by these life stories, with 55 making it into the top 100 selling books of 2011. This is a vast change from when Alan started out in publishing, when it was hard enough even to name 50 celebrities. Nowadays, for every celebrity Alan takes on, he turns away about nine others. It seems everyone has a life story they feel the rest of the world needs to know.

Schwarzenegger signing his ‘Total Recall’. Photo: Nils Jorgensen/Rex Features.

Schwarzenegger signing his ‘Total Recall’. Photo: Nils Jorgensen/Rex Features.

‘There have always been celebrities’, Alan told us, and there always will be. The nature of a celebrity may have become extremely fluid, but their worth is as strong as ever. Celebrities are coming closer than ever to the public, and it is this public that now has the power, both in what they want and how they want it! The public is also where the interest lies, says Alan. People are more and more interested in the journey these celebrities have taken and the line between regular life and the path to stardom. This explains the success of stars like Cheryl Cole, whose autobiography has sold more than 100,000 copies. Her rags to riches tale resonates with people, and brings that emotive ‘I’ve been there’ feel to the book.

One of the most interesting issues Alan touched on was the writing process itself. In some cases, even when the celerity dictates their life to the ghost-writer, many believe that they wrote the book themselves. They then want to do another, or even write a novel! This has worked in certain cases, such as the success of Katie Price’s autobiographies and novels, but is not a universal picture. It is the authentic nature of personally-written biographies that Alan feels helps with the success of that person’s book. The public get to know the individual and not someone else’s view of them.

Whatever your opinion of celebrities and their biographies, we can be sure that they won’t be leaving the forefront of publishing anytime soon. And who knows maybe one day Alan will get that call he’s been waiting for; I can hear him now, saying ‘Yes, ma’am, we’d be delighted to publish your secret diaries of palace life’.

You can find out more about the changing world of celebrity publishing from our blog on the previous Masterclass Alan delivered at Kingston.

Sstephentephen Haskins is a student on the Publishing MA programme at Kingston University. He also works part time at Waterstones and has an ever expanding bookshelf! You can follow him on Twitter @MyBookishLife.

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