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Your Author Photo Isn’t Cute Enough

Walking past a local bookstore, my boyfriend and I noticed a line of people beginning to form outside. So devoted were these people that they were sitting in lawn chairs or propping themselves up with backpacks.

We peeked into the window to see who would be visiting the bookstore that day. Lauren Conrad, a television personality best known for her appearances on MTV’s Laguna Beach and The Hills, would be reading from and signing copies of her book The Fame Game.

I have nothing against Lauren Conrad. In fact, I think she’s rather cute and savvy. I thumbed through a copy of her book, on prominent display inside the bookstore. Though Conrad did strike me with her radiance emanating from her author photo, she didn’t exactly win me over with a plot centered around petty jealousy and words like “Botox” and “backstabbing”. On one hand, I’m charmed by her; on the other hand, I had to keep reminding myself that she’s not a writer, in the traditional sense.

By even considering buying her book and attending her reading just to catch a glimpse of her (I decided it wasn’t worth battling the crowd of adolescents), was I supporting what writer Chuck Klosterman refers to as the loss of a “middle class of writers”? In a recent interview with BULL Men’s Fiction, Klosterman admits, “What worries me is that the culture of the publishing industry is really going to polarize what books exist…And so the only kind of people who are going to write books are going to be those who are already rich and can write a book without an advance, or whoever is the new Kafka who writes because he loves it and has to.”

I reluctantly (only because I don’t want to agree) agree with Klosterman’s prediction. The only people receiving huge advances for their books are people who have already attained some kind of celebrity, whether through their non-writing career or because they’ve already written a best-selling blockbuster. On the opposite end of the spectrum, writers write without any hope for an advance, simply because writing is their passion. Can a balance exist?

Upon further inspection of the bookstore’s window, where readings are advertised, my boyfriend and I realized that about 90% of future visiting authors are people known for their celebrity, not for their writing. In fact, I’m pretty sure that none of the visiting “authors” actually wrote their books.

I find it rather discouraging that a bookstore doesn’t believe a reading series filled with writers could generate enough interest in the community. I was also very discouraged by the self-indulgent nature of the displayed books, many of them memoirs, which offer solipsistic stories that will matter only as long as that person’s reality show exists.

I don’t blame people for wanting to see a celebrity they admire, but the interest in celebrity-hood, which has spilled over magazine racks filled with tabloids, fuels the publishers’ incentive to keep publishing books by people who don’t write. I know that publishing is a business and that publishers need to sell books, but I wonder if these monolithic companies cave too much to consumers’ most guilty pleasures. Maybe if we didn’t make so many of these throw-away reads so accessible, publishers could spend time putting the talent of their marketing departments to work, trying to sell books that might be a little more difficult to sell.

Until then, writers everywhere will have to start going to the gym, getting their hair done on a regular basis, and trying to land a role in one of the many reality shows that networks like Bravo are constantly cooking.

(Photo by Ashley Cooper)

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