NOT a celebrity author - Katherine Roberts

There has been much media attention lately devoted to celebrities publishing children's books. In many cases they're writing them, too - after all, children's books are short and simple and therefore quick to write, aren't they? (Children's authors: don't answer that!) Many of these celebrity titles are, of course, perfectly decent books loved by their young readers and, more importantly for their publishers, they sell in squillions... at least compared to a perfectly decent book by your average non-celebrity author. In fact, ever since Madonna successfully published English Roses, publishing a children's book with your name on the cover seems to have become an important addition to the celebrity bucket list, along with camping out in a jungle on TV so you can scream "Get me outta here!" or appearing on Strictly Come Dancing.

No problem, you might think. Just because you're a celebrity doesn't mean you're banned from writing a book or two, or even a whole series, if that's what you want to do and you can find the time or a good ghostwriter to write it for you. As far as the publishing business is concerned, a celebrity author is always going to have a head start in the publicity stakes, which means their books will probably sell, unless they miss their market completely and bomb (it has been known to happen... er, anyone remember Black Swan?) Publishers who make a profit are good news for authors in general, since they can commission more books and afford to pay their authors royalties. The trouble occurs when the growing number of celebrity titles hog shelf space, air time, dwindling review column inches, and the lion's share of advances at the expense of books written by less famous authors, who actually need these things in order to survive.

So where does that leave your typical non-celebrity author? Well, you'll find some of us lurking here at Authors Electric. (We don't have many celebrities blogging on this site, but we're not exclusive... any celebrity reading this is most welcome to contact our guest email: guest @ and sprinkle a bit of celebrity magic on our blog. We promise we won't make you wade through any crocodile-infested rivers in return!) Others are busy writing books for their publishers in the hope of generating a bit of Harry Potter style magic and attaining celebrity author status the JK Rowling way. It can happen - like winning the lottery, "it could be you!" Still others are working without a publishing contract, shoehorning their writing between mortgage-paying jobs. Then there are those authors on creative writing courses studying the craft, and authors not on courses who are simply writing their first book and learning as they go along... everyone these days, it seems, is writing something somewhere.

Which brings me to one of those small but important events that keep authors like me going through the dark times. Without the benefit of being a ready-made celebrity, and before the days of creative writing courses, I was one of those authors who just wrote and submitted my stories until publishers stopped saying "not for us, I'm afraid" and started saying "yes". During what I think of as my apprenticeship years back in the 1990s, two of my dark fantasy tales 'The Sin Taker' and 'Rubies' were accepted by a little magazine called Visionary Tongue, edited by some of the most popular dark fantasy authors of that time, among them Storm Constantine and Freda Warrington.

Visionary Tongue in the 1990s (issues 3 and 6)

Roll on twenty years. By this time, my first children's book Song Quest had been plucked off the slush pile by the editor who discovered Harry Potter and gone on to win the inaugural Branford Boase Award, on the strength of which I landed an agent and a seven-book deal with HarperCollins pretty much on the same head-spinning day in London, when I made the journey to the city for the award party. All of those books have now been published, plus a few more, and I have readers all across the world. I suppose that means I'm slightly more of a celebrity now than I was before I'd published a book, even if you might not have heard of me (is there such a thing as the Z-list?), but I will always be grateful to those first publishers who said "yes". So when an email pops into my inbox from Storm, saying she is editing a collection of stories from the Visionary Tongue magazine, and would I allow her to use mine in return for a free copy of the book, it brings a glow of fond memories. This time, it's my turn to say "yes."

The delightfully gothic Visionary Tongue anthology is published by NewCon Press in both paperback and collector's edition hardback, and was launched last month at Fantasycon - the British Fantasy Society's annual celebration of the genre. I'm proud to appear in this collection beside celebrated (as opposed to celebrity) authors such as Tim Lebbon and Justina Robson, among many others. Our writing careers might have taken different paths, but one thing I think we all had in common back in the days of the cardboard-and-stapled magazine was a passion that keeps us creating stories, even when Strictly doesn't call.

In the increasingly commercial world of publishing, writing is a business not personal. I understand that a lot better now than I did at the start of my career. But for authors, writing is always personal, because true creativity comes from the heart and any commercial success follows on from that. That's why I think so many of us here at Authors Electric and elsewhere are making the choice to indie-publish some of our projects that might otherwise never see the light of day amidst all the celebrity glitter.

I've some exciting news regarding my Genghis Khan historical romance for YA readers, which will be the subject of another blog post. In the meantime, since Halloween is on its way, you can read the Kindle editions of my popular witchy title SPELLFALL (originally published in the early 2000s by Chicken House/Scholastic) and its sequel SPELL SPRING (quietly indie published by me last year) for only 99p/99c each until October 31st. Both of these books are also available in paperback, in case anyone is thinking Christmas gifts for teenagers... and don't forget that if you buy the paperback version, you can pick up the ebooks for free via Amazon's matchbook scheme.


Kindle UK / Kindle US



Kindle UK Kindle US


Katherine Roberts won the Branford Boase Award for her debut novel Song Quest. She writes fantasy and historical fiction with a focus on legend and myth for young (and older) readers, and is currently a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Penryn in Cornwall. More details at


Sandra Horn said…
Great post Katharine - I feel cheered by it this morning, as one of the band of extraordinary people known as writers!
Enid Richemont said…
Katharine - can you possibly be in Penryn??? I'm asking because I have very close family connections both in Penryn and Falmouth, and may well be staying in Falmouth for Christmas. You have my details, I think, so get in touch.

Love your post, and disagree with only one thing - there are certain 'celebrities' for whom I would not only retain the crocodile-infested river, but increase the number of crocodiles.
Lynne Garner said…
As usual interesting post - off to share on LinkedIn.
Umberto Tosi said…
... and I as well, Katherine! Another fine post to be shared! Celebrity children's books are a form of child abuse. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

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