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]

Comments

  1. David says

    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?

  2. Matt says

    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.

  3. Becks07 says

    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?

    Love,

    Your Mother

  4. sam says

    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?

  5. says

    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.

  6. davitydave says

    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.

  7. Turtle says

    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.

  8. Jonathon says

    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.

  9. says

    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.

  10. hoya86 says

    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?

  11. PJ says

    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.

  12. David says

    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.

  13. invisiboy says

    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.

  14. says

    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.

  15. writer says

    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.

  16. says

    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.

  17. David says

    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?

  18. Paul says

    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?

  19. Dennis says

    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?

  20. Jordan says

    The only book on the list above I read was Rupert’s, which overall was a disappointment, and sometimes felt like a chore to read, since I was looking for a LOT more dirt and celebrity name-dropping. It really was much more badly written than his “Hello Darling, Are You Working?”, which was wonderful.

    The only others on the list I would even consider reading would be Michael Musto’s (love him) or Tab Hunter’s (he was gorgeous back in the day).

    As for Reichen’s & the Nazi child Mary Cheney’s books…I think all unsold copies should be taken to Iraq and passed out to civilians or given in school (just to give them one more reason to hate us…or confuse them even more)

  21. db says

    Quality of the books aside (and let’s be honest–the quality of a book has nothing to do with how well it sells–look at “The Secret”) gay people don’t read any more than straight people–and look at how many straight “celebrity” books don’t do well.

  22. Giovanni says

    I guess I would consider myself to be well read I just find biographies in general to be well… boring – having said that, I thought Ed White’s book was pretty entertaining in a fabulousgayexpat kind of way. I bought Everett’s book but given the poor reviews it seems to be getting here maybe I’ll skip it.

  23. Tom says

    Bet I know what Cheney’s friends and family are getting for Christmas, one of those 9000 books Lynn “sold”. He’ll use the rest when he shoots skeet.

    Who in the hell would buy 9000 copies of that bitches book? Are there that many lesbians that read?

    Oh, and Mike, maybe you didn’t have to say anything, especially to a ghost writer.

  24. phil says

    The only book of the bunch I bought was Rupert Everett’s and it was so dull I began skipping pages faster and faster hoping to find something, anything, interesting. Nada. I threw it away.

  25. Leland says

    Talk about a reading problem. The solution begins at home, or at least Towleroad. It must be frustrating for Andy to spend the time and effort to find, outline, and link to so many interesting articles when it’s repeatedly obvious from so many people’s comments that they haven’t bothered to read the original material before pontificating.

    E.g., with all due respect to the “experts” here, the actual one quoted in the article, Charles Flowers, former book editor of works b Andrew Holleran, E. Lynn Harris, Michelangelo Signorile, Sarah Schulman, et al., and currently executive director of Lambda Literary Foundation, which has been sponsoring the annual Lambda Literary Awards for 18 years across all genres of LGBT literature and publishes a quarterly book review.

    Per Flowers, “Ten or fifteen thousand, that’s about right [for a gay celeb memoir],” so one can understand the thrust of the article when contrasting that average to such inferior sales.

    As the article further notes, release of some of the poorer sellers, e.g., Cheney and Lehmkuhl, coincided with tons of free publicity; she more among “serious” venues, and he more in Celebrity Worship Land itself. His of course totally coincidental affair with Lance Bass resulted in both Bass’s outing and Reichen’s butter mold face and claims of being raped at the USAF Academy appearing on everything from “Access Hollywood” to “Inside Edition” to “Howard Stern” to “Tyra Banks.”

    Yet even Satan’s Daughter, with the help of gay Repugs and soccer fascist moms, sold half as many books as he did. So what’s up with THAT, and his claim of 1,815,935 myspace “friends.”

    Whatever one might say about these two and the others, John Amaechi has “done” quite a bit for our community and his sales, relative to the others and his previous invisibility to all but the most obsessed pro basketball fans, is a bit encouraging.

    What I’m more eager to see are sales figures on LGBT nonfiction books not built around personalities and LGBT fiction books.
    God help us if we are to be judged by how many of us respond to celebrity machinations.

  26. psgoodguy says

    they only “gay author” i’ve ever read consistently over the years has been gore vidal…and his subject matter is seldom if ever “gay”. i used to think that because i was gay i had to read as many gay authors as possible. that was until i got thru about the 25th book and realized that i hadn’t read anything interesting.

    i don’t really like to ghetto-ize my life or my library.

    however, a great gay author is tom spanbauer from portland, oregon. i think “the man who fell in love with the moon” is a must read for every gay man. hilarious and heartfelt.

    he’s also written ‘faraway places’ and “in the city of sky hunters”. both very good books.

    oh and i forgot, armistead maupin was a joy back in the day. i haven’t gotten around to his more recent works, yet.

    books i’ve read written solely for the purpose of celebrity have seldom held my interest. i did, however, enjoy jane fonda’s book. she’s lived a life and had something to say to me.

  27. Leland says

    Should have read: “Yet even Satan’s Daughter, with the help of gay Repugs and soccer fascist moms, sold half as many MORE books as he did.”

    “ghetto-ize” your library? Oh, Helen, please!

  28. says

    @ PSGOODGUY:

    “oh and i forgot, armistead maupin was a joy back in the day. i haven’t gotten around to his more recent works, yet.”

    If you *really* loved the early “Tales of the City” you might want to skip the latest one. It’s just…not good. And it breaks my heart to say that, because those original books got me through My Worst Summer.

    And yeah, this post is about biography, but the state of “gay” literature in general is pretty piss-poor. E. Lynn Harris was mentioned earlier, and he’s quite possibly the worst writer of our generation. Who is writing really good gay novels these days? (Hint: The answer isn’t Michael Cunningham; he’s a hack, too.)

  29. Derrick from Philly says

    Maybe gay people under the age of 70 aint very interesting to be writing books about?

    Well, David, I don’t know, but the youngest son is likely to be gay–according to some scientific shit Andy once posted here.

  30. Giovanni says

    “Who is writing really good gay novels these days?”

    I’d say Allan Hollinghurst for one though I actually like Michael Cunningham ( a Hack? Really?) a lot – Evening nonwithstanding. Specimen Days was challenging and maybe a bit “pulitzeree” (hey, it worked the last time…) but I love Whitman so I appreciated the effort. You also might want to give Mike Albo a try – he’s very perceptive and incredibly funny.

  31. says

    @ GIOVANNI:

    I was completely underwhelmed by “The Hours.” I think that “Mrs Dalloway” is a really good novel; I think that Cunningham’s riff on it was just poorly conceived and executed.

    “Overwritten” I think the kids are calling it these days.

    I have read Michael Albo — and he’s really good. There are a couple of clips on YouTube of his performances that are worth finding. I haven’t heard of Hollinghurst, though. I’ll check him out.

  32. Joshua says

    My Uncle, who is 61 gave me the Tab Hunter book to read as he had known Hunter back in the olden days and I found it not to bad. Someone above said that it came across kind of conservative to them, but when you remember the era it was mostly about, what they considered wild and crazy we mostly think of as a bit conservative.
    The other celeb book he gave me was called….**the man who made Rock Hudson**…about the agent who had Hudson and just about every hot young stud in Hollywood as his clients back in the late 40’s and 50’s. Very good book for name dropping.

    I am a bio freak, but then I’m also a history freak, so they sort of fit together. Mostly I read about famous people of the past, not celeb’s. But I found that gay writers of the 50’s were usually pretty good. I’ve read Maupins early book and Richy’s stuff. Even Isherwood from that era.

  33. db says

    I have read a few of the books and have enjoyed some and not others, but I wouldn’t depend on the opinions of the people on this board any more than I do main stream critic. If a book looks interesting to me I will read it even if I hear it’s not good. We don’t know who the people responding to these stories are–why would I trust thier judgement?

  34. LincolnLounger says

    Rupert Everett’s book was one of the most boring, self-indulgent, and narcissistic books I have ever read. Hours of my life I’ll never get back. John Amaechi’s book was simply boring. The best one I read was Mary Cheney’s.

  35. Daniel says

    I’m a gay writer & I wrote a travel e-book about Oman available at EscapeArtist.com. I’ve sold 6 books in as many months, but I’m neither a hack nor the daughter of Satan. I would be willing to date Lance Bass or even Reichen to raise my sales, though.

  36. Turtle says

    I’m glad to see people mentioning Alan Hollinghurst. Amazing writer. “The Line of Beauty” is one of the best books I’ve read in the last ten years or so. Seriously, if you’re looking for a good gay novel, check him out.

    I just finished Armistead Maupin’s “Michael Tolliver Lives” and it was just okay. It was lovely to spend some time again with Anna Madrigal and to know Mouse is happy. But it’s a creampuff of a book. AM has a painterly eye, as ever, but it evaporates as soon as you turn the last page.

  37. Turtle says

    P.S. Hey, Andy, if you’re reading this, it would be worth checking out a subscription to Nielsen BookScan and regularly updating us on “gay” book sales. It’s next to impossible to find actual book numbers on the internets and you’d have that niche pretty much all to yourself.

  38. Jimbo says

    I read the Rupert Everett book. It won’t interest those looking for star dish, because the most interesting parts of the book are beyond those. I found it astoundingly well written – far better than Dirk Bogarde’s books. Given it got a million pound advance, obviously others did too.

  39. says

    It would be nice if either the original article or Andy mentioned that BookScan, their source for the sales, admits to accounting for only 70% of all book sales. If you add another 30% to these totals, some don’t look as bad. 30% may not sound like much, but it should at least be mentioned. (Anytime BookScan is mentioned in the NY Times or Bookslut.com, this fact is mentioned so people know the truth.)

    And Giovanni, when answering a question about gay novels, you mentioned Cunningham’s “Evening,” only he didn’t write the novel, he only wrote the screenplay. Just a heads up.

  40. Jack says

    I loved the Tab Hunter book, and yes, he was stunning as a young actor…omg.

    I also liked a book called “The Gay Face of God” by an archbishop Bruce simpson.

    Maupin has been a favorite of mine also

  41. invisiboy says

    Hey David!

    My sons would be 16, 12 and 8. (of course I was 10 when i started reproducing!)

    And you’re probably right about my test group, not diverse enough. I was just so shocked at the sense of pride that anyone, much less a group of peers, could take in their own ignorance.

  42. Giovanni says

    “And Giovanni, when answering a question about gay novels, you mentioned Cunningham’s “Evening,” only he didn’t write the novel, he only wrote the screenplay. Just a heads up”

    Yes I know – I was refererring to his over all talents as a story teller but thanks for the heads up anyway : )

  43. Strepsi says

    I agree with many of the reasons above, as well as because the books are exercises in the celeb/author’s brand-building, they are TAME. Potential readers can smell that – I would buy Joan COllins’ new book before any of these “out” celebs because Joan isn’t tamed down by attempts to become popular, she burns her bridges, calls Linda Evans a “demonic, fish-lipped visage” — now that’s JUICE!

    On the gay lit front, I just got Joe Keenan’s third novel in his trilogy, hope it’s as good as his first 2 before he became head writer on FRASIER — if you want door-slamming, high-end, pure Manhattan farce you must read the first 2, “Blue Heaven” and “Putting on the Ritz” — you will LOL.

  44. dan says

    Yea books!!
    i actually got to judge the gay fiction category for the lambda literary awards and i have to say that all the finalists were terrific reads. they were
    suspension by robert westfiels (winner)
    now is the hour by tom spanbauer
    alternatives to sex by stephen mccauley
    izzy and eve by neil drinnon
    every visible thing by lisa carey

    if you are looking for all the finalists in all the categories (and there are lots!) check out http://www.lambdaliterary.org. its a great site for lovers of books, and the organization publishes a quarterly review of books which is fantastic. charles flowers, mentioned in the piece above, is the editor and the director of the foundation. check it out…

  45. mike says

    Maybe it’s simply because the people themselves are not that interesting or haven’t accomplished enough, other than being in a “scandal”. McGreevey, for example, has been nothing less than a buffoon since he came out. The sad thing is that if he hadn’t been “forced” out of his self-created closet by that lying, opportunistic male-whore, McGreevey would still be living “la vida falsa”. Tab Hunter is an interesting man but a decidedly “B” movie actor, who faded from sight and made no significant movies in his later years (unless you wanna count “Polyester” with the divine Divine). The gay basketball player, John Amaechi’s book is very well-written and interesting. I read it twice. Again, it’s just the subjects themselves. They live dull lives with not mutch to show for them. The most interesting bio that will never get written would be by Roddy McDowall–the mnan knew too manh scdretsss

  46. toby says

    Seems only to reflect non fiction, which is an over-saturated market, and a lot of these book imprints are small publishers, not the Random House behemoths that can really distribute titles… I’m sure a title like Alan Holinghurst’s The Line of Beauty sold many many thousands more than these books, and that’s high literature…

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