At the age of 14, Britney Spears enjoyed daiquiris with her mother in Biloxi, Mississippi, which they referred to as “toddies”. Jada Pinkett Smith sold crack in the streets of Baltimore and her marriage to Will Smith ended long before he found out. Barbra Streisand applied her own makeup for the screen test of Funny Girl. Julia Fox describes her relationship with Kanye West as “unsustainable” because it felt like taking care of two babies.
This month and in the following month, memoirs containing various subjects will be released and available for purchase. Publishers are anticipating their success in sales, similar to that of popular summer movies, and possibly earn back the money they invested in the books. However, there is uncertainty if this will actually occur.
Publishers are seeking more genuine and timely memoirs due to a decrease in sales of non-fiction books since the peak of the pandemic. The market is saturated, and celebrities have the ability to communicate directly with their fans through social media, leading to a higher level of personal transparency. According to agents representing authors, celebrity memoirs are facing challenges, as publishers are pressuring celebrities to share more personal details, partly influenced by social media pressure.
According to David Kuhn, a literary agent at Aevitas Creative Management, a celebrity memoir must provide something more meaningful, valuable and insightful than it did 10 years ago.
Before the release of Spears’s The Woman in Me next week, several excerpts have been released. We’ve learned that she and Justin Timberlake agreed not to have the baby after she became pregnant. “It was a surprise, but for me it wasn’t a tragedy,” she writes. The singer of Baby One More Time and Oops! … I Did It Again also shared glimpses of what’s to come. “There’s a lot that people don’t know that I want them to know,” she said in a video posted on X.
Robert Thompson, a media professor at Syracuse University, states that the ideal scenario is when a tell-all autobiography provides new information rather than repeating what is already available for free. He explains that due to the constant and widespread nature of social media, celebrities are constantly trying to increase their audience. Therefore, it is a challenge for them to reveal something that they have previously kept private.
“There’s a sense now that a memoir that used to be a first window of the confessional is now step 90 in a perpetual exposure. In order to work, they have got to have stuff that people haven’t been tweeting about for years, and this Britney one is managing that.”
It is important to strike a balance. If too much information is released before publication, customers may not see the value in it. However, if too little is released, the launch may go unnoticed.
The demand for celebrity memoirs remains high, but in recent years, there has been a shift in the market. This is due to publishers offering large sums of money based solely on the celebrity’s name, without considering if the book will actually sell well. Eve MacSweeney, a principal agent at Calligraph, notes that the quality and level of honesty in these memoirs is crucial and is now a major factor in their success. This trend is evident in the new wave of memoirs, where confronting challenging topics is a significant selling point.
According to Hannah Yelin, a professor of media studies, being personally addressed by a celebrity in their own voice for three hundred pages can be a lengthy experience. She also points out that women are often expected to share more personal details than men.
She claims that the audience’s interest, genre norms, and financial equation all work together to require enticing revelations. This is particularly true in our sexist modern media society, which expects women to be exposed, either mentally or physically.
At the age of 81, Streisand has not limited herself to just 300 pages; her memoir, set to release on November 7th, spans a whopping 992 pages. According to Vanity Fair, the book includes a story about a party in 1966 where the then-young singer-actress was approached by Marlon Brando, who reportedly said, “I want to have sex with you.” Despite this initial proposition, they eventually became friends.
However, what is the limit? Klaus Kinski, who starred in Fitzcarraldo, faced a lawsuit for slander from his daughter, Nastassja. Marlene Dietrich also threatened to sue him for his self-reported and fictional account of his hedonistic lifestyle, titled Ich bin so wild nach deinem Erdbeermund (which means “I am so wild about your strawberry mouth”). The film was later renamed All I Need Is Love.
In 1985, a notorious blunder was the publication of Priscilla, Elvis and Me, a tell-all book by Priscilla Presley’s boyfriend Michael Edwards. A reviewer admitted to not being able to finish reading it, comparing it to not being able to finish a roast beef sandwich due to finding a hair in it during lunch the day before. The content was deemed too repulsive to continue with.
The standard by which current memoirs are judged is Prince Harry’s “Spare”. When asked if this set a higher standard, a prominent New York publisher replied that it did not necessarily raise the standards, but rather made readers feel nauseous. Nonetheless, the memoir sold well despite its reported $20 million advance, causing the prince to be ostracized from his own family.
According to Jon Malysiak from Story Terrace, the success of the book was due to the protagonist, Harry, but it was short-lived. Although it had good sales initially, many individuals were satisfied with the media coverage and sales declined rapidly.
Publishers were alerted by memoirs that did not perform well. An example of this is comedian Amy Schumer’s The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo from 2016, which briefly appeared on the US bestseller list for two weeks but did not generate enough interest to justify a $9 million advance.
According to the New York Post, trolls left negative one-star reviews on the Amazon page for the book, causing Senator Schumer to become upset and cancel scheduled promotional events. However, the publisher, Simon & Schuster, claims that the cancellations were due to illness and that the book was ultimately successful.
In the beginning of this month, Julia Fox, known for her role in Hidden Gems and her past as a dominatrix, published a memoir titled Down the Drain. The inside cover of the book contains a sneak peek with the quote: “Sometimes, you have to take a risk and let go of everything to see where it leads you.” Fox is currently offering tickets for $100 for a book launch and performance at a theatre in Times Square next week.
Numerous famous individuals’ autobiographies are often aided by a ghostwriter, who has the power to either enhance or harm the overall work. It has been rumored that Pamela Anderson’s autobiography draft was significantly improved by a ghostwriter’s involvement.
According to a publisher in New York, the upcoming weeks will reveal which individuals are successful and which are not in the realm of crafting authentic memoirs. These celebrities crave attention and are actively seeking it, but due to the prevalence of social media, there is increased competition and a higher standard for quality.