Books | James McGreevey | John Amaechi | Mary Cheney | Mike Jones | News | Rupert Everett | Tim Gunn

Looking at the Business of Gay "Celebrity" Books

Citing numbers from Nielsen BookScan, the Washington Blade's Katherine Volin looks at the disappointing sales of gay "celebrity" books and what's behind the numbers.

BooksSays Charles Flowers, executive director of Lambda Literary Foundation: "The publishers are looking for a way for someone to sell the book and that’s part of the attraction of a celeb book, they’ve got this platform. I’m not sure people make the leap to, ‘Do I want to read a whole book about this person, or by this person?’ So I think it’s something to be careful about in acquiring a celebrity book. If they’re over-exposed, people may not buy a book about them or by them. They already have their opinion made or think they know the person."

I was a bit surprised by the low numbers, though I'm not sure why. It seems all the promotion in the world can't do as much for book sales as a single appearance on Oprah.

A few of the notable books and their sales numbers:

38,000 — "The Confession" by James McGreevey

19,000 — "Silent Partner" by Dina Matos McGreevey

15,000 — "A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style" by Tim Gunn and Kate Moloney

14,000 — "Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins" by Rupert Everett

9,000 — "Man in the Middle" by John Amaechi
9,000 — "Now It's My Turn" by Mary Cheney

8,000 — "There's Nothing in this Book That I Meant to Say" by Paula Poundstone

6,000 — "Tab Hunter Confidential" by Tab Hunter and Eddie Muller
6,000 — "Here's What We'll Say" by Reichen Lehmkuhl

3,000 — "Alone in the Trenches" by Esera Tuaolo and John Rosengren
3,000 — "Include Me Out" by Farley Granger and Robert Calhoun

1,000 — "I Had to Say Something" by Mike Jones with Same Gallegos
1,000 — "La Dolce Musto" by Michael Musto

Gay books a bust [washington blade]

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  1. Did anyone ever consider these books don't sell because they're not very good? Why would anyone buy them when there's better stuff to read?

    Posted by: shane | Aug 2, 2007 10:49:32 AM

  2. The only thing these books have in common (besides sexuality) is they are written my minor celebrities. Do you think a biography on Jim Belushi would sell any better?

    Also, when did Paula Poundstone come out?

    Posted by: David | Aug 2, 2007 10:51:25 AM

  3. I guess the McGreevey's prove the mantra: There's no such thing as bad publicity.

    Posted by: Gregg | Aug 2, 2007 10:51:45 AM

  4. Here is why there numbers are low in my opinion. Straight America has no interest in reading these books so there goes a large readership. Then only a portion of the gay community actually are interested in these people which lowers the readership level even more. I mean what gay man wants to read about being discrimnated against, being in the closet, and decorating. Most of our lives have already experianced this first hand.

    Posted by: Matt | Aug 2, 2007 10:53:15 AM

  5. just because you are gay and a semi-lebrity does not mean you can write. I am not surprised at all.

    Posted by: trey | Aug 2, 2007 11:01:03 AM

  6. could it be that none of those minor characters have actually done anything to write about?

    Posted by: A.J. | Aug 2, 2007 11:03:16 AM

  7. Dear Mike Jones:

    Congratulations, honey, on sellin g 1,000 books! My, that's a lot. I hope you sell many more. In the meantime, what should I do with the 997 copies I have here at home?


    Your Mother

    Posted by: Becks07 | Aug 2, 2007 11:03:43 AM

  8. The only one of these books I've read is Rupert Everett's Banana Skins. It was a big disappointment. It was pretty tame, not particularly revealing, and just not very interesting. I'm sure his life hasn't been that boring, but the book certainly was.

    I believe the reason these books haven't sold is nobody's heard of most of these "celebrities." Rupert's career has cooled to the point of frigidity, and he's probably the most famous one on that list. It's been far too long since Amazing Race for anybody outside of the gay ghettos to remember who Reichen is. Mary Cheney has been totally invisible during the Bush years and is the daughter of the most hated man on Earth, so why should anyone want to read her book?

    Posted by: sam | Aug 2, 2007 11:04:31 AM

  9. The thing is, for book sales, anything above 5,000 really isn't considered "low." It's only when you compare it to the print run that it looks that way. Which just means book publishers still don't know how to publish books, not that there's no audience out there. Nothing new.

    Posted by: MattGaymon | Aug 2, 2007 11:05:24 AM

  10. I'll give you another reason. These books are, in fact, not honest, but are used as a marketing tool to shape a celebrity's brand. They're a lot of spin and pitch for brands that already have a narrow market appeal. Consumers see that clearly and don't buy the product.

    Posted by: davitydave | Aug 2, 2007 11:11:22 AM

  11. Yeah, to back up what MattGayMon says, as I have some experience here: The AVERAGE sales for ALL books is about 5000 copies. That's the average, people. They're still selling and promoting books as if it was 1970 and not 2007. Of course there's an audience out there, but half the time a willing reader doesn't even know a book is on the market unless he actively looks around.

    Posted by: Turtle | Aug 2, 2007 11:20:09 AM

  12. The only two books on the list that even remotely interest me are the biography of Tab Hunter and maybe the Mike Jones book - but I haven't purchased either of them and don't plan to anytime soon. None of the other "celebrities" hold any interest for me whatsoever.

    Part of the problem is that book sales, overall, are down. Also, consider how many new books are published each week! There are lots and lots of new titles coming out and books like these just can't compete.

    Matt is right: few people in "straight America" are interested in reading books by gay people and about gay people. Hell, even Mary Cheney couldn't sell many copies of her book - I guess being the daughter of Darth Cheney and marching with him in lockstep politically didn't win her any friends in the gay community, and the fact that she is a lesbian hasn't won her many friends in the conservative side either.

    Posted by: Jonathon | Aug 2, 2007 11:24:55 AM

  13. I agree that some of the books might not be good (have not read any except for Tab Hunter's, which was mildly intriguing but had an annoying, to me, conservative vibe to it), and I agree with Davitydave that several of these are just part of larger PR campaigns by the stars. But those points do not address the conceit of the article—because some crap books by PR-seeking non-gays have sold phenomenally well. Sort of like what Mattgaymon says, I think some of these books have not sold THAT poorly; but in the context of some of their large advances and hype, some of the others have tuh-ANKED. (For example, the McGreeveys' volumes sales are disastrous while Poundstone's at 8,000 isn't the end of the world.) People do believe that all books make money, but many, many books, even ones you've heard of, do not—that's why we don't read about opening-week sales and overall sales of books like we do with CDs and movies, because they're so soft it's unimpressive. I would guess that the real story is book sales suck hard in general, and when you're publishing anything with a limited appeal that for whatever reason fails to break through and get some positive media attention, you're going to have proportionately limited sales.

    Posted by: Matthew Rettenmund | Aug 2, 2007 11:24:57 AM

  14. I'm in agreement with pretty much everything said here. The only one on the list I bought and read was Man in the Middle. I found his story compelling, but the writting was not great. The whole time reading it I was thinking this would have been better as 60 minutes segment or a longform piece in Vanity Fair.
    As for the other stuff, most of it was driving by a desire to increase fading fame and quite frankly who's gonna pay $30 bucks to support that?

    Posted by: hoya86 | Aug 2, 2007 11:29:33 AM

  15. So the world confirms what I always thought was obvious--no one cares what Reichen thinks, and why should they? Good-- now maybe the publishing industry will come off its pervasive celebrity obsession and allow struggling writers to again have a platform.

    Posted by: PJ | Aug 2, 2007 11:34:28 AM

  16. While I'd never rip on anyone who does choose to read these books, because reading is fun-de-mental, I don't have any interest in reading any of this stuff because it's all completely unremarkable. For instance, the Mike Jones story is decently compelling, but what is he really going to say that hasn't been hashed and rehashed in the newspapers and all over the news?

    Everyone has got a story. Not every story translates into a book.

    And don't even get me started on that slag Reichen. If someone were to drop a piano on his head, I wouldn't really mind.

    Posted by: David | Aug 2, 2007 11:37:40 AM

  17. I overheard a conversation between several young (19-24 y.o.'s) gay men at my work the other day, where each were proudly proclaiming their own laziness, particularly in the field of academia. Matthias was convinced that any math higher than a 5th grade level was a waste, because that was "all you needed to survive", Sam said that a Sudoku puzzle "felt like homework". Here's the best part: Jon said he had never finished reading a book, not even in school.

    This made me very sad for the future of our demographic, but there might be an answer to low book sales there too. Much of young gay America can't be bothered with entertainment that isn't spoon-fed to them. So the thought of reading a book for informational purposes doesn't even occur to these geniuses.

    Posted by: invisiboy | Aug 2, 2007 11:45:19 AM

  18. Farley Granger's book is actually interesting for what it has to say about Visconti and the making of "Senso."

    But then that assumes you care about Visconti and know "Senso" to be one of the great masterpieces of world cinema, so that leaves out a lot of people.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Aug 2, 2007 11:51:22 AM

  19. I'm a published writer and have to agree with the above comments. The gay market is a very small one and straight people just aren't interested.

    Posted by: writer | Aug 2, 2007 11:55:44 AM

  20. Oops, I missed that Granger's book was listed. I read that one, too, and liked it quite a bit despite some gaps.

    Posted by: Matthew Rettenmund | Aug 2, 2007 11:56:02 AM

  21. Jonathan wrote:

    [F]ew people in "straight America" are interested in reading books by gay people and about gay people.

    I'd add the people in "gay America" to that statement. Clearly, if 5,000 sales are average, that means most members of the LGBT community are also ignoring books with gay themes.

    Not to make this personal (because it isn't; it's universal), but over the past several months only a dozen or so entries on this blog -- arguably one of the most influential gay blogs out there -- have been tagged 'Books.' And Towleroad is one of the better ones.

    Posted by: Famous Author Rob Byrnes | Aug 2, 2007 11:59:45 AM

  22. Okay -- but seriously: Paula Poundstone?

    (I know, I know: Even Helen Keller knows, but I don't recall her ever coming out. She's Anderson Cooper Gay, as far as I know.)

    Posted by: Mike B. | Aug 2, 2007 12:04:13 PM

  23. Invisiboy,

    That is distressing, but I wouldn't take that focus group too seriously. I'm 24 and always have a book by my side. I'd consider myself fairly academic. I'd have to say the boys I associate with are very similar in their activities.

    Also, don't be too quick to say that it's young gay America with the anti-academia attitude. It's rampant throughout gay, straight, and asexual America as well.

    And to flex all of our brains, here is a little teaser:

    Invisiboy has three sons.

    His eldest son is four years older than his second son.

    The second son is four years older than the youngest son.

    The youngest son is exactly half the age of the eldest.

    What are the sons' ages?

    Posted by: David | Aug 2, 2007 12:14:47 PM

  24. Keep in mind that these are hardcover sales--most books start selling significantly better when they hit hardcover. Price point is a big deal. I work in a bookstore and we sold maybe 3 copies of the Tab Hunter book when it was first released, but when we got it in again as a bargain ($6.98) book, we couldn't keep it in stock--we must have gone through two dozen before we just couldn't get it anymore.

    Distribution is also a factor--we didn't receive any copies of the Everett or Reichen books until I noticed 'em and ordered them in.

    The top two were the McGreevey books? Really? Who cares?

    Posted by: Paul | Aug 2, 2007 12:15:02 PM

  25. I don't know enough about the book industry to guess why people do/don't buy certain books but personally, I don't care what 99.99% of celebrities, gay or straight, have to sayso I have no interest in watching a 2 minute segment of them on Access Hollywood, much less taking the time to read one of their books. I mean, really, what the hell does Dina McGreevey have to say?

    Posted by: Dennis | Aug 2, 2007 12:15:40 PM

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