Sheathed in a wide-leg black pantsuit embellished with gold studs, oversized tinted sunglasses, and six-inch Brian Atwood heels, celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe sat on an outdoor stage, speaking to a rapt audience of several hundred, at of all unlikely places, a book fair.
The impeccably dressed 42-year-old who rose to fame on five seasons of Bravo's former reality show "The Rachel Zoe Project," didn't exactly blend in with the literary types around her. They wore T-shirts and baseball caps with blue jeans or shorts, and carried tote bags brimming with dystopian and YA novels and non-fiction titles about everything from Cesar Chavez to the evolution of feminism. Zoe mused about fashion, sure, but she also talked business and raising two toddlers. "My sister taught me this: patience is everything, as a parent," she said.
Zoe’s dive into the literary world took place on one of the main stages at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at the University of Southern California this month. The event, which bills itself as "the largest book festival in the country," might have made for an odd pairing a few years ago, but anyone who's been in a bookstore lately knows that's not the case today. Zoe, like many reality stars, is now an author. She's written two non-fiction books, and her literary success is indicative of the good fortune reality stars are finding on the printed page; turning them into mainstays of the struggling publishing industry.
Personalities familiar to audiences from shows such as "Jersey Shore," "The Real Housewives" franchise, and "Duck Dynasty," are penning non-fiction tomes — usually memoirs and how-to books continuing the narrative that they launched on screen; Publishers are snapping them up. The books are in demand because in today's beleaguered book world – in which print sales dropped 22 percent between 2008 and 2013, according to Nielsen BookScan – publishers are in desperate need of authors with built-in fan bases.
The stars themselves, of course, who want to squeeze as much as possible out of their 15 minutes, can earn six and seven-figure deals, and the availability of ghostwriters means that impressive writing skills are not required. The result is Kris Jenner's "… And All Things Kardashian" in which she recounts tales of life as a momager. "My Life," written by former "Bachelor" contestant Melissa Rycroft, reminisces on the humiliation she felt after the show's star, Jason Mesnick, dumped her on live TV in 2009. In June, another former "Bachelor" competitor, Courtney Robertson, will dish "all the details fans want" on topics such as the rose ceremonies, according to the back cover of her upcoming book, "I Didn't Come Here to Make Friends."
The trend has become so big that earlier this month, the father of "Teen Mom 2" star Farrah Abraham announced that he will soon be writing a tell-all. Yep, he's the dad of the one who sold a sex tape last year, soon to be quite possibly a best selling author.
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Wynton Hall, the owner of a celebrity ghostwriting business behind several New York Times bestsellers, told Yahoo that he's "in talks" with a Bravo reality star about doing a memoir.
"We're seeing C-list reality stars who amass sizable Instagram and Facebook fan herds land deals with reputable New York City publishers," Hall said.
As a result, Snooki, Brandi Glanville, Zoe, and many others introduced to audiences via television are now officially best-selling authors. Nielsen BookScan, which tracks retail sales of books and covers 85 percent of the market, notes that Glanville's "Drinking and Tweeting" — a New York Times bestseller — has sold 29,000 copies. The sequel, "Drinking and Dating," that she released in February has sold 10,000. Snooki's "Confessions of a Guidette" from 2011 and last year's "Baby Bumps" have sold approximately 22,500 copies. Four twentysomething daughters in the cast of TLC's "19 Kids and Counting" have sold a cool 10,000 copies of their book, "Growing Up Duggar," just since it was released in March.
New York literary agent Celeste Fine sums up the rationale: "Every time a publisher buys a book, they are making a bet on an author that they will sell books. Publishers are making smart bets on authors who the public already knows and who already have built-in audiences. If an author already has a community who knows him or her, the publisher is one, assuming less risk and two, can focus their resources more effectively on getting the books in stores."
There's no reason to think that the trend will go away anytime soon. In fact, David E. Johnson, the CEO of public relations and branding agency Strategic Vision LLC, believes it's on the upswing.
"We can expect more of this as we have more reality television shows and incidents of people experiencing their 15 minutes of fame," he told Yahoo. "What separates the wheat from the chaff in stardom is, 'Do you have a brand and how many product lines are associated with that brand?'"
Johnson notes that a reality star has more incentive than just a fat check for lending their name to a book.
"They see it as a way to build what they perceive as their brand and branch out beyond just the show," he said. "Many of them begin planning on and trying to acquire a publishing deal before the show has even aired one season."
There are, however, a few requirements for the personality. Michael L. Wilson, the president of Post Hill Press, explained his thinking in agreeing to publish a new book by "Teen Mom 2" star Kailyn Lowry, "Pride Over Pity." The 21-year-old Lowry, who first appeared on MTV's "16 and Pregnant" in 2009, now has 900,000 followers on Twitter and has inspired multiple fan pages on Facebook. The day before it went on sale on April 22, the book was already ranked in the top 150 best-selling books on Amazon; it shot to the top 50 books on the site immediately after its release.
"In Kailyn's case," Wilson said, "it was an easy decision for us, because she's eager to meet with people and she had a pretty interesting story that people wanted to hear about.
"One of the things we like to see is an author that works really hard to sell their book. If you've got somebody who's a big star, they're not necessarily going to want to go out and do signings in Terre Haute, Indiana," Wilson noted. "Somebody who might be a marginal celebrity who is willing to work hard and they can bring out a good crowd in smaller markets to see them at signings and those sort of things, we love to see that."
In other words, a memoir from a solid B- or even a minor A-lister who won't promote their book on social media and won't appear at signings is something few publishers are willing to embrace. The bigger name might mean more press in the short-term, but Wilson said that doesn't always translate into sales.
Lowry is an example of a reality star who's putting everything she's got behind her book. She spent the week before its official April 22 release holding book giveaways on her Twitter account and retweeting fan posts about the upcoming tome.
"I loved being able to write my thoughts and memories down," Lowry told Yahoo. "There were things I had on my mind for a long time and it gave me the ability to write them down and leave them on the paper."
Like most reality stars memoirs, Lowry's book was written with the help of a professional writer.
Hall, the ghostwriter, estimated that it takes as little as four to six weeks for a veteran ghost writer to capture a reality star's story in a manuscript. The short timeframe is a good thing, since fame can be especially fleeting for these lower-profile personalities. In Lowry's case, that meant sharing details about her mom's alcoholism, her prom night, and the realization that she was expecting a baby at 17; subjects that could easily be depressing or cheesy if not written carefully.
"New York publishers aren't in the business of hand-holding," Hall said.
And, regardless of the amount of an author's fame, successful memoirs still need to meet a certain standard of quality, says Fine.
"What publishers and agents like me are looking for are authors, one, who have an established following, and two, who also have something genuinely interesting to share in a book," Fine said. "That's the best-selling formula."
Just as reality TV has become a permanent fixture in our lives, expect its stars — and even those around them — to continue churning out books. For those seeking a Snooki-free zone in their lives, it's best to stay out of bookstores in the years ahead.