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Friday, July 1, 2016
Do Confessional Memoirs Sell?
I’ve come to
represent a fair share of memoirs and I have noticed two patterns: You can get media for the really sensational,
high-profile people but still not sell a ton of books. You can also get shut out on media and sales
even when a book reveals a lot of crazy stuff, provided the author is not a
known entity. In either case, many of these books fall short of sales
It’s easy to know
First, these books
struggle to shock us. Too many books and media reports have exposed how nuts
some people will behave. They will rape,
kill, go to jail, get high, get drunk, beat their kids or spouses, cheat on
their lovers and lie or steal their way through life. It’s well documented how screwed up
musicians, actors, and athletes are. It’s well known that the rich and powerful
Second, when the news
comes out about what’s revealed in a book, people settle for free accounts
rather than plucking down their credit card to read the details in a book. Case
in point: I just read excerpts from House of Nails: A Memoir of Life on the Edge. It’s a memoir confessional by former Mets
World Series hero Lenny Dykstra. It’s
been well-chronicled that he went to prison, went bankrupt a year after being
worth $58 million, did drugs, assaulted women, etc. The book may have new stories of partying
with Charlie “Winning” Sheen and Jack Nicholson, but as much as I love
Met-related books, I don’t see anything to draw me in.
Third, there’s a bit
of a morality factor here. Will people
pay to reward losers who did some really bad shit?
Fourth, some won’t
buy these books because they cut too close to the core. The reader may have struggled with being a victim of abuse, addiction, and abandonment and don’t find it entertaining nor
healthy to read about how his or her heroes are crappy role models.
On the other hand,
these books sell some copies and then get made into movies. People are still curious – at heart – as to
what life was really like for their favorite singer, actress, or
ballplayer. Some take a guilty pleasure
in seeing how these champions crash and burn.
Whatever the reason, people will read these stories and feel their stars
deserve redemption or a second chance.
For these readers, they applaud the confession as if it’s the first of
many healing steps even though we know that most people, like Sheen or Dykstra,
will always tow a troubled line.
Maybe the success
these tell-all books breed whether in media attention or book sales, perversely
encourages others to live recklessly, knowing they too will profit from a
comeback book. Don’t put it past them.
I also wonder, for
all their sharing, what did Dykstra and the like leave out of their books? Even these jailbird cheaters have pride or
other reasons why they can’t share certain stories that could cast them in an
even darker light. It’s one thing to say
you did too many drugs but another to say you violated your underage sister or
tried to poison your dad. They may say
they cheated on their wives but they won’t say they like it when a guy takes a
dump on them. You get where I’m
going. They admit to half of what
they’ve done, though, or wanted to do.
These books of
self-destruction admissions may serve a public need. They continue to warn us
that unchecked fame and stardom can lead to behaviors that destroy lives. Prince, Michael Jackson and others never got
to write their confessionals because their reckless lives took over before an
intervention could save them. Maybe they
did us a favor, sparing us of their confessions. They went out with a bang and fans can now
I do find that
memoirs by powerful people that reveal their vision for success sell in big
numbers. Look at the memoirs of Bill
Clinton, Elie Wiesel, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Maybe books that show how to be on top rather
than how to bottom out are the ones that really sell and deserve our attention.