Celebrity Memoirs Will Survive Armageddon

Good news: Famous people can’t overshare their way out of a book deal.

I’m at Book Expo America in New York, which is for booksellers, authors, publishers, literary agents and the like—in other words, people who read, people who know and care about language. And there’s so much spin doctoring going on, my head is spinning.

I went to a talk by the Digital Disney people and learned that the “pre-theatrical app” and “post-theatrical app” and “post-theater merchandise release” and “prior-to-the-special-feature DVD” are not, in fact, references to wringing every possible dollar out of every possible child with every single film—that’s called “extension of the story.”

I have learned that self-publishing, long snubbed by literati and academics alike, is now called “independent publishing.” Potential authors have “control” over their books, rather than the assistance of those pesky copy editors and those difficult-to-work-with cover designers; they have “freedom” from, rather than help from, the terribly annoying promotional assistance that one traditionally (yawn) received with old-school publishing houses. However, all of these “independent publishing service providers” will assist would-be authors with any of those things, for a fee.

Signed books are wildly popular. At least 40 authors stood at one end of what I can only describe as individual cattle chutes, while their reading fans waited for them to sign their books. Other authors stayed at their publisher’s booth, while handlers helped with the line and moved the crowds along. The line for Rachael Ray to sign her new burger book wound through her own publisher’s stand and past at least four others.

I have confirmed some things I already knew, like parenting books, cookbooks and diet books (don’t you love that contradiction?) are among the most popular, evergreen topics.

Confirmed: Memoir is huge. While we used to say that everyone wanted to write the Great American Novel, it seems that now everyone wants to write a memoir, though “regular folk” tend to have to have gone on some sort of adventure, survived something traumatic, or a combination of the two. I saw one memoir author dressed as an angel and one dressed as a devil to promote their own books—but come to think of it, I never saw them together. Celebrities get to write memoirs and just tell the story of their lives, which apparently are often traumatic adventures.

I have learned that Kristi Yamaguchi, and Kirstie Alley have written autobiographies, further establishing my belief that the popularity of the celebrity memoir will not be weakened by Twitter and Facebook. If stars overshare on Twitter (Jessica Simpson: “dear elderly man at the gym: its hard 4 me 2 keep composure whilst punching at chipmunk speed when ur ball sack spills out of ur wind shorts.”), what might they reveal in a memoir when they have more room than 140 characters and ghost writers to help them? Celebrity fans will follow and buy the memoir for more.

My greatest moment, so far, was watching Patti Smith interview Neil Young. Neil wore a poncho, and Patti wore denim and black, both staying true to the personas we know. (I’m sure that neither Neil nor Patti tweet, but they don’t have to.) Neil was as eloquent and poetic as you might expect, telling us that his book, being released in October, is more a diary than a memoir, as he tells us what he was thinking during certain moments in his life rather than what he actually did. I learned that his father called him “Windy” because he was always “so full of ideas.”

I have not learned where the bathrooms are, or my way around this huge convention center. I have learned that the only wine available during the cocktail parties is Barefoot and that it costs $7 for a plastic Dixie cup.

I learned that the book is not dead and neither is American commerce. Both are thriving, often simultaneously.