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Saturday, February 20, 2021

Michelle Obama's Bestseller

     If you want to work hard and make very little money, become a writer. For the vast majority of writers, even very good ones, that is the reality of book publishing and authorship. Another reality is this: in terms of income inequity, nothing tops the profession of book writing where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

     In America, while 95 percent of writers make far below the minimum wage, the top five percent--mostly celebrity memoirists--make the good money. And because they are not real writers, celebrities don't even have to write their own books. Most celebrity-"authored" memoirs are written by ghostwriters. (Believe it or not, celebrities have even published ghostwritten fiction.) This is not to say that all celebrity memoirs are bestsellers, but on the whole, compared to their no-name counterparts, they do quite well. Is this the way book publishing should work? No, but this is how things work in a capitalistic nation where celebrities are worshipped. (For example, while traditional journalism is dead, celebrity "journalism" flourishes.)

      In 2019, 27 percent of the adult population did not open one book. Although America is not a book reading country, it is a book writing country. Every year about 800,000 books are published, half of which are self-published. The average book, in its lifetime, sells less than 250 copies. A hardback book that sells 30.000 copies is considered a publishing success. In 2017, not one hardback book sold more than a million copies.

     And now, the unreality of book publishing. On November 13, 2018, Bertelsmann's Penguin Random House Division published Michelle Obama's memoir, Becoming: A Guided Journal For Discovering Your Voice. Written "with the help" of a ghostwriter, the 448-page celebrity memoir was released in 24 languages. For her efforts, Michelle Obama received a staggering $65 million advance. (The average commercial hardback book advance in the United States is a paltry $5,000. And these people write their own books. Talk about income inequality.) In publishing, the bigger the advance, the more the publisher has to spend promoting the book and its author. For this reason, the vast majority of writers have to promote their books themselves, and never experience a book tour.

     On the first day of its publication, Becoming, in the United States and Canada, sold 725,000 copies. Those sales shot the book to the top of every bestseller list in the country with a half a million copies to spare. Obama's was the second best first-day book launch in U.S. publishing history. (Bob Woodward's 2015 Fear: Trump in the White House, sold 900,000 on its first day.) In reality, there are not enough individual book buyers in the world to bring a publisher enough royalty money to cover a $65 million advance. 

     In America, if you want to become a bestselling memoirist without actually writing the book, become a celebrity loved by the masses and adored by the media. It's especially important to be adored by a media eager to promote you and your ghost-written memoir.


  1. Michelle is hardly the vapid type celebrity.

  2. Many first ladies write memoirs. People are curious about first ladies and their books sell well.
    If it helps the local book store pay the electric bill so be it. You can enjoy going to the book store to look at what you want to look at and walk right by the First Lady display. Everyone wins.