With the stream of celebrity book releases every Christmas and the bestselling book of 2014 (that’s set to outsell Harry Potter) written by a YouTube star, can anyone write a book?
The writer in me wants to snobbishly declare that no, not just anyone can write a book. If this is the case, I’ve wasted almost £30,000 on an education to say otherwise.
However, we’re forgetting several things:
- The amount of copies of a book that sells does not always correlate to its quality
- Many celebrities have their books ghost-written
- Saying ‘a book’ or even ‘a novel’ is still vague—yes, most people are capable of sitting down and putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard, but that doesn’t make a book
Let’s break it down:
Quality vs. Quantity
Think of a book that’s sold well. Twilight for example. A story that many people are a fan of, but that when dissected is littered with clichés, sparkly skin and what some would call as a butchering of vampire lore.
The book didn’t sell well because of its quality. It sold well because it’s a good escapist read. Edward and Jacob are both Bella’s protectors, and I know very few people that don’t secretly want someone to swoop in and look after them. It makes life a whole lot easier. Until it gets creepy and they start watching you sleep.
The most popular books are accessible. The more accessible a book is, the more likely someone is to pick it up. If you’re writing something that’s aimed at scholars, it’s automatically got a much smaller target audience because fewer people will understand its lexicon.
Many celebrities have admitted to having their books ghostwritten. Jordan—sorry, Katie Price—hasn’t written any of her books. She comes up with a vague idea, then tells her ghost writer and her ghostwriter runs from there. She has very little say in the whole process.
Other celebrities are much more involved, the only thing they’re not involved with is the actual writing. Vlogger Zoe Suggs is a good example of this. She was heavily involved in the creation of her book, but she didn’t put the words down on the page. The story mimics parts of her life, including being a vlogger, but as she’s admitted, she’s not a novelist. However, she had a story to tell, (and the publishers had money that they knew could be made), so she was matched up with a ghostwriter and off the story went.
The difficulty with being a ghostwriter is that you have to make it sound like the person you’re writing it for. You can no longer have your own voice; you must adopt another person’s, or, if theirs doesn’t translate well into writing, you have to create one.
Not only that, but it’s very unlikely you’ll get any credit, despite having put in most of the legwork. Ghostwriters may also only get a small advance to write the book and get no extra money if this sells well.
The Difference Between Writing and Writing
As mentioned earlier, books that sell well aren’t always the most amazing piece ever written. Critics and audiences seldom agree.
Critics are looking for originality, for language manipulation, for literary beauty and something that’s thought-provoking.
Most readers want something easy to digest that they can read before they go to bed. Heavy-going books that critics are likely to love do not fall into this category. This is why books such as Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight sell so well. Very few people want to read something that’s going to make them think because life is hard enough. The closer something is to reality and to their own life, the harder it is for them to digest.
There are of course books that are well-written, thought-provoking and escapist too. Marian Keyes is a good example of this.
The process of sitting down and actually writing a book is much harder than people realise. Remember sitting and trying to write an essay? Books are much harder—unless you’re a published author, you won’t be given any guidance, deadlines or really anything to go on. The only thing that can keep you motivated is yourself. This thought is terrifying to just about everyone. Some believe it’s impossible. It’s not, but it requires much more self-discipline than many of us have.
Writing requires practise, and lots of it. Many writers write several novels before anything gets published, and some don’t get published until they’re middle-aged because they just haven’t found their voice yet. Every writer is different, but that doesn’t make the process any easier for any of us.
Conclusion: Can Anyone Really Write a Book?
What makes a popular book doesn’t always make a good book. Of course, the quality of something is much more difficult to analyse, but critics and the marking criteria for Creative Writing courses has to start somewhere.
Many popular celebrity books are guest-written, meaning that if said celebrities did have the capacity to write a book, they have very little time interest in doing so.
Writing a book is a skill, and like all skills, not everyone can do it. However, I do believe that everyone has a story to tell. It could be something autobiographical, an old family story or something they’ve made up. Ghostwriting allows people to get their stories out there even if written communication isn’t their strong point and without them losing credit for the idea. Whether that’s fair or not on the ghostwriter is up to you.