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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Writer's Bulletin: Survivor Winner John Cochran and Why Almost Every Celebrity "Writes" a Book

     John Cochran, a recent graduate of Harvard Law School, is the new winner of the TV reality show Survivor: Caramoan (Philippines). Last year Cochran, a self-described nerd, came up short as a contestant on Survivor: South Pacific. As a result of his extended media exposure, he currently qualifies as a D-list television celebrity. This means he will probably spend the rest of his life trying to maintain that status. For most people, the taste of even minor fame ends up being a life-long curse.

     Survivor host Jeff Probst, after announcing the winner of the million dollars that comes with the title  "sole survivor", asked Mr. Cochran if he intended to practice law now that season 26 has come to an end. In other words, was he returning to a real-life existence. Cochran, a fan of the show since he was thirteen, predictably answered that he was not entering the field of law. In response to Probst's inquiry as to where the new reality TV star was going from here, Cochran said he'd like to write. The man who  had outplayed, outwitted, and outlasted his reality TV competitors, in explaining why he thought he had the talent to write, said, "I have the gift of gab." Well there you go. If you can talk you can write. But what would a person who has spent his entire life in a classroom write about?

     Because the vast majority of real writers--people who can write and have acquired expertise in a subject or field they can write about--are not famous. And publishers don't have the money to turn them into celebrities through advertising, book-tours, and publicists. For that reason, nobody knows about their books. Most real writers need day jobs to survive and support their writing.

     Publishers love celebrities because they don't have to spend money to make them famous. Celebrity worshipers will come to their book-signing events for photo-ops and autographs. The book on sale is nothing more than a souvenir. Celebrity journalists will invite them to appear on TV shows to talk about and promote their vacuous books.

     The fact that many celebrities can barely read let alone write is not a problem because real writers can be hired to write their books for them. A few celebrities have even published book-length fiction written by professional novelists. In the celebrity drivel genre, the lines between nonfiction and fiction are blurred anyway.

     You don't have to be Sylvia Browne to predict what's coming next for sole survivor Cochran. In a few short months some ghost-writer will crank out  a book with the newly-minted celebrity's name on the cover. The work will probably be marketed as an inspirational memoir encouraging socially awkward geeks to follow their dreams. (I weep for the tree that will die for this one.)

     Mr. Cochran's memoir/inspirational book will come in handy when he joins the celebrity motivational speaker circuit. When that string begins to run out and his fame starts to fade, Cochran will have to come up with an idea for a second ghost-written book. (Maybe the ghost writer will give him the idea.) If Cochran follows the footsteps of other D-celebrities on the decline, his second book will be some kind of tell-all that reveals just enough to rekindle his sagging career as a celebrity. His fans will read about how he struggled and overcame some problem such as drugs, alcohol, fame, self-esteem, binge eating, depression, or some illness. It will be, of course, motivational. If he can help just one person--that kind of book.

     While the last thing we need in America is another lawyer, we need a couple of newly ghost-written celebrity books even less. I would advise Mr. Cochran to exchange reality TV for simple reality. He has a law degree from Harvard that cost someone a lot of money. He should find some way to use it.

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