Like fragrances, clothing lines and restaurants, literary tomes are never off limits to celebrities when they want to expand their empire. Some celebrities with a knack for writing, like Carrie Fisher (“Postcards from the Edge”, 1987) and Steve Martin (“Shopgirl”, 2000) successfully diversified into literature, penning well-received novels. But for the most part, when a star publishes a novel, it’s immediately obvious to discerning booklovers that the star would have struggled in the quagmires of fiction writing were it not for a ghostwriter rescuing him or her.
The biggest contention with celebrity-authored novels is that the celebrity him or herself, for the most part, did not really sit down at desk and pound out the manuscript pages. Instead, the star hires a ghostwriter to craft his or her ideas into a fluid manuscript. Meanwhile, “legitimate” authors, who study the art of writing and discipline themselves into slaving over outlines and manuscripts, are having a much tougher time finding their big break. “Write what you know” is a popular mantra, yet many celebrities take that too much to heart. It has come to a point where their novels read as though they retell their lives on paper but give their characters fictional names.
Riding on the coattails of their success as the stars of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”, sisters Kendall and Kylie Jenner decided to try conquering the literary world. In June 2014, the Jenner sisters released their debut young adult sci-fi novel “Rebels: City of Indra” to poor reader reviews on Amazon.com and Goodreads.com. Two common threads throughout the reviews are that they were given a book deal based on their fame alone, and the novel has neither a coherent plot nor well-developed characters.
In no particular order, here are 10 celebrities who more or less found success on the bestseller list as authors. A few of the listed books were adapted into movies with the star-author’s involvement.
10. Naomi Campbell, “Swan” (1996)
Who’s better to write a novel about a supermodel than an actual supermodel? And there’s no supermodel more superb than Naomi Campbell. But nobody was surprised when she confessed this novel was ghost written. “I just did not have the time to sit down and write a book,” she said.
“Swan” is the story of the title character who steps down as the spokeswoman of the Swan beauty line. Five young models are the final candidates after a worldwide search for a replacement is launched. Hearsay surrounding the death of Swan’s sister complicates things, and thus the novel presents itself as a story of dark mystery and palatable glamour. Or does it?
“Despite the insider perspective provided by Campbell – herself a supermodel – the narrative is somewhat disjointed, making the various stories difficult to follow. Not an essential purchase,” reads a review in The Library Journal.
9. Sylvester Stallone, “Paradise Alley” (1977)
It might come as a surprise to some that Sylvester Stallone wrote a novel. It might come as a further surprise that at least he has the writing credentials for this, since he penned the Oscar-nominated “Rocky” screenplay. The novel, “Paradise Alley”, is about three Italian brothers looking to escape New York’s Hell’s Kitchen in 1946, one of whom becomes a wrestler. Stallone starred in the 1978 film version.
According to Jonathan Yardley’s scathing December 1977 Sports Illustrated book review, the runaway success of “Rocky” landed him a book deal, yet the novel proves he “doesn’t seem to know basic grammar.”
“‘Paradise Alley’ is unalloyed trash, so bad in every way that it would get an F in a creative writing class,” the article says. “But such considerations must not count for much in the offices of Stallone’s publisher, which has rushed the book into print on a wave of publicity.” Ouch!
8. Macaulay Culkin, “Junior” (2007)
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Macaulay Culkin was one of history’s most successful child stars, but his well-publicized family issues have been no secret. Though he denied his book “Junior” is based in reality, it’s hard to believe that.
“Junior” is an oddly structured novel without a plot. Though critics say the book is emotionally raw and intriguing, it gets buried underneath the awkward paragraphs, childish drawings, quizzes and journal entries.
“But as a calculated piece of celebrity implosion, the book is weirdly compelling. Passages dealing directly with the father are uniformly powerful: smart and tragic,” reads a Publishers Weekly review. “Unfortunately, this rich central conflict gets buried beneath interminable bellyaching over the writing process, half-baked philosophical musing and go-nowhere overtures to a woman who no longer loves him.”
7. Kim, Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian, “Dollhouse” (2011)
Yet another thinly-veiled celebrity autobiography parading as a work of fiction, “Dollhouse” tells the story of three wealthy sisters suddenly thrust into the spotlight when one of them (the middle one, like Kim) is discovered and becomes an ultra-successful model. The book really makes no effort to stray from the Kardashians’ lives. The fictional sisters are named Kamille, Kass and Kyle Romero and their mother’s name is Kat. Kat is a restaurant owner married to a retired baseball player and their birth father, a famed movie director, has died before the novel opened.
“With the exception of the weirder scenes – including the whole drunken sex and pregnancy storyline – ‘Dollhouse’ makes for a fun, entertaining read,” reads an International Business Times article. “Getting [the Kardashians] in book form – as opposed to watching them on television – makes for a much easier pill to swallow.”
6. Hilary Duff, “Elixir” (2010)
“Elixir”, by former Disney Channel star Hilary Duff, is about a teenager named Clea Raymond who parties around the world until her famous surgeon of a father goes missing while on a South American humanitarian mission. It’s not enough that Clea has to search for her father; she also deals with strange dreams about a mysterious man and gets sucked into a love triangle.
“This entertaining book has a good mix of romance and suspense with a little reincarnation thrown in for good measure,” says a review in the School Library Journal. “The fast-paced story will keep readers turning the pages until the very end, which hints of a sequel. Even those not impressed by the author’s star power will enjoy this tale of love across the ages.”
5. Lauren Conrad, “L.A. Candy” (2009)
“L.A. Candy” follows Jane Roberts, a young woman who moves to Los Angeles with her best friend. Both are soon swept up in Tinseltown glamour as the stars of the new reality show “L.A. Candy”. Former “The Hills” star Lauren Conrad released the two sequels the following year.
Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly graded the novel “C”.
“… it’s a dismal portent of the future of pop culture, disguised as escapist fiction aimed at young-adult LC fans who might like a book-shaped object as a keepsake now that Conrad has left her popular show,” Schwarzbaum writes. “The author (or ”authors,” allowing for the possibility of anonymous assistance) follows that write-what-you-know credo faithfully. And perhaps that’s why the book’s most deeply felt scene involves Jane, a member of her tech crew, and a cordless microphone.”
4. Marlon Brando, “Fan-Tan” (2005)
Three things set “Fan-Tan” apart from other celebrity-penned novels. One is that Marlon Brando and Scottish director Donald Cammell first wrote it as a 165-page screen treatment in 1979. Two is that Brando acted out the scenes while Cammell described them on paper. Three is that the novel was published after Brando and Cammell’s deaths.
“Fan-Tan” is about Annie Doultry, a 1920s South Pacific sailor and smuggler, and his entanglement with an Asian gangster. However wondrous the story is and legendary Brando’s name is, the headline of The (Seattle, W.A. ) Stranger’s book review says it all about “Fan-Tan”: “The Best Worst Novel Ever”.
“The book simultaneously repulses and attracts, groaning under the weight of its pretensions, astounding with Marx Brothers metaphors that can’t possibly be taken seriously, but it never once loses that wide-eyed quality of a vaudeville entertainer who will soft-shoe until you are painfully, and completely, entertained,” writes Paul Constant.
3. Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, “A Shore Thing” (2011)
If you know who Snooki is, you should have already guessed the plot of “A Shore Thing”. If you’re not familiar with her or “Jersey Shore”, here’s the novel’s plot: two Italian-American young women party heavy in Seaside Heights, N.J. Snooki followed up “A Shore Thing” with “Gorilla Beach” in 2012.
Megan Friedman of Time writes, “If anything, ‘A Shore Thing’ is proof that the fist-pumping guidos of Jersey Shore keep stretching their 15 minutes of fame. Pauly D has a spin off, The Situation was on ‘Dancing with the Stars’, and Snooki is taking over the world. Aspiring novelists of the world, take note — have reality show, will get book deal.”
2. Sharon Osbourne, “Revenge” (2010)
Osbourne family matriarch Sharon Osbourne‘s “Revenge” tells the story of two showbiz sisters who clash over fame, family tragedy and a man. Its unforgettable cover literally flashes with glitter and the tagline “Two sisters. One dream. Winner takes all.”
The plot may be out of this world and stereotypes run rampant, critics say, but the novel is an enjoyable read.
“Osbourne’s first novel is a crazy romp through a glamorous world. You’ll wind up wondering just how much is based on scenes seen and experienced in her own starry and dramatic life,” writes Diana Riley for The (U.K.) Daily Express.
Julian Clary of The Observer writes, “It’s all pacy, plot-driven stuff. So what is there to complain about? Nothing really.”
1. Britney Spears, “A Mother’s Gift” (2001)
Co-written by the pop star and her mother Lynne, “A Mother’s Gift” is about Holly Faye Lovel, an aspiring pop star who lives with her mother in the American South. Holly lands an audition at the eminent Haverty School of Music in Hattiesburg and wins a full scholarship. But at Haverty, Holly is the target of wealthy bullies. The novel was adapted into a TV movie “Brave New Heart”, which Britney Spears executive produced.
“The Spearses convey credible feelings of teenage anxiety throughout, and Britney’s fans will surely flock to this title (enticed by a jacket that highlights her name and suggests her likeness),” says the book review from Publishers Weekly. “But ultimately, they will be disappointed that the fictional Holly begs comparison with, but is far less memorable than, the real navel-baring singer.”