When I think about how tough the publishing world is out there for all of us writers, I try to stay motivated/focused on the important things like, the writing and the creative process. Big publishing houses want things that sell and so I guess it shouldn't surprise me that American Idol winner, Taylor Hicks has been paid a $750,000 advance to write a memoir about his life as a musician and the struggles he endured prior to becoming the current Idol winner. While I enjoy the American Idol show, not necessarily because I think its quality television (and yes, I do work for FOX) but rather because it's entertaining and I get a lot of laughs out of it. Aside from the Colbert Report and the Daily Show, there are few other television shows that I get that belly laugh from.
Why is Taylor Hicks story as a musician in a small band in Alabama worthy of a memoir? When I think of memoir, I think of a great story that's being told by someone who's truly endured something that is extraordinary or unique to the general population in some way. I have a tough time thinking about how someone who is a singer will be able to write an enticing story when he's not a writer. He's a singer. He's a singer, people. And a singer that was catapulted into this weird category of celebrity that makes advertisers and marketing executives think anything that has his name on it will make them lots of money. Now, I'm sure Taylor Hicks probably passed his English 101 course in college and it's likely he knows how to use subjects, verbs and maybe even adjectives and adverbs correctly, but can he write a memoir? I guess the topic at hand is one that's familiar to him, but my issue is that we all have that story in us. It doesn't mean we all deserve 750K to tell our story.
As a writer, I know plenty of hard-working, talented, experienced writers that deserve an advance like that for a work that truly is remarkable. Winning a contest like American Idol takes talent, just as writing any novel or non-fiction work. It's sad to realize that big publishing houses like Random House (Crown) are only interested in what's going to make them money and not so much about whether or not Taylor Hicks or any other game show winner is talented enough to actually write anything aside from their name on a credit card receipt. I'm troubled, and yet, this scenario seems to play itself out time and time again. (See upcoming interview with Bruce Bauman at Bookslut for September.)
If you really are interested in reading a great book, check out the new Brian Evenson novel, The Open Curtain. You'll be creeped out and intrigued all at the same time. Evenson is the kind of author that deserves a 750K advance, but I doubt the publishing world will change its ways anytime soon.