Penning a hit story in the $2.3 billion children’s book market can grow into a TV or movie series.
Celebrities really are living fairytale lives.
Several stars are drawing from their personal experiences to write children’s books this year. “The Property Brothers” Drew and Jonathan Scott, famous for renovating homes together on HGTV, just announced that they’re co-authoring “Builder Brothers: Big Plans” due out in October, which follows twins designing a deluxe doghouse.
Meanwhile, Oscar winner Viola Davis is writing a sequel to Don Freeman’s 1968 classic picture book “Corduroy,” which was groundbreaking while Davis was growing up for featuring an African American girl as the teddy bear’s best friend. “Corduroy Takes a Bow” hits shelves in September — the same month that “Today” show anchor Savannah Guthrie is publishing the sequel to her empowering tale “Princesses Wear Pants.” And “Black Panther” star Lupita Nyong’o is writing “Sulwe” — inspired by her struggles with the perception of beauty while growing up in Kenya — coming out early next year.
This is actually a tale as old as time. “Mary Poppins” star Julie Andrews Edwards has been writing kids’ stories for more than 35 years, including “Mandy,” which follows an orphan who keeps a secret garden, and the “Little Bo” series about a curious kitten. “Halloween” scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis has also written several picture books, including 1990’s “Today I Feel Silly, and Other Moods That Make My Day,” which was on the New York Times best-seller list for nine weeks.
But now there’s even more incentive for a star — or anyone, really — to try writing picture books. The $2.3 billion children’s book market is expected to grow 0.9% each year through 2022, IBISWorld reports. Even as the publishing industry as a whole is struggling to adapt to the digital age, and Barnes & Noble sales have continued to decline, Nielsen BookScan notes that children’s book sales are growing faster than the overall print books market, with 233 million units sold in 2017, compared to 181 million in 2012.
I am thrilled to share the cover for my first book, and writing for the iconic Corduroy Bear. The book comes out in September and I can’t wait for you all to read it. #CorduroyTakesABow #CorduroyBear https://t.co/Mi60R54WNx pic.twitter.com/HtjK2J4ye0
— Viola Davis (@violadavis) March 14, 2018
“Consumers are always going to purchase books for their kids, even if they’re cutting back on what they’re purchasing for themselves,” Jessica Shoffel, director of publicity at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, told Moneyish. “The importance of children’s literacy can’t be overstated. Parents see kids’ books as entertaining and fun, but also really important to their child’s development. It’s an educational tool.”
Publishers are also willing to take a gamble on untested celebrity children’s book writers because their star power can sell even more copies. “Today” show anchor Hoda Kotb’s “I’ve Loved You Since Forever” has spent eight weeks on The New York Times’ children’s picture books best sellers list since it came out this spring, after all. Her co-anchor Guthrie’s “Princesses Wear Pants” spent nine weeks on the list this past fall. And “Today” contributor and former First Daughter Jenna Bush Hager’s children’s story “Our Great Big Backyard” (which she wrote with her mother, former First Lady Laura Bush) enjoyed four weeks on the same list in 2016.
“You wouldn’t be able to get a regular picture book author on a talk show — but celebrities can get on,” Diane Roback, Children’s Book Editor at Publishers Weekly, told Moneyish. “Barnes & Noble would also probably be more apt to buy a book by a celebrity, because if a parent saw the cover on the shelf, and it was written by a celebrity that they have a positive feeling toward, they’re more likely to pick it up.”
I’m so excited that I’VE LOVED YOU SINCE FOREVER will be read in B&N stores across the country for a special #MothersDay-themed #BNStorytime on Saturday, 5/12 at 11 AM! @BNTrends @jimmyfallon pic.twitter.com/EWDLGAfgHO
— Hoda Kotb (@hodakotb) May 11, 2018
A very young child may have no idea who “The Property Brothers” or Viola Davis are — let alone Madonna, Julianne Moore, Kelly Clarkson or Will Smith (all children’s book authors!) — but they’re not the ones buying the books. Mom and dad are; and book agents know who mom and dad are probably following on Instagram.
Liza Fleissig, founder of the Liza Royce Agency, told Moneyish that if a publisher can only choose one of two similar manuscripts that are both very good, but the author of one can reach 1 million people with a tweet, while the other has only a couple of followers, it makes financial sense to publish the author with the greatest influence. “Celebrity books might do better because you then have the platform to reach more people,” she said. “You don’t really have to worry as much about getting the advance back.”
While book advances vary widely, Shoffel told Moneyish that they can command six figures on the very high end of the scale — although that’s rare.
— Barnes & Noble (@BNBuzz) May 1, 2018
But she also reasoned that many celebrities-turned-children’s-book authors aren’t doing this for the money. “It’s not so much about where the children’s book market is, but rather where these celebrities’ brands are right now, and what feels organic to them,” she said. Her client Neil Patrick Harris has been practicing magic tricks since he was on “Doogie Howser, M.D.” in the 90s, for instance. So his “Magic Misfits” book for 8- to 12-year-olds is a natural extension of his passion for illusion — and his love for his 7-year-old twins.
“You see a lot of celebrities write children’s books once their own family lives become their focus,” Shoffel added. “Savannah Guthrie is also a new mom, and Viola Davis is writing her children’s book in large part as an ode to her daughter.”
Or they’ve got their sights set on the bigger picture. Former “Glee” star Chris Colfer has written himself a second career with his a hit fantasy series “The Land of Stories” for middle-grade children. After writing six main books and five companion novels, the first book in the series is being made into a movie with “Stranger Things” producer Shawn Levy. “A lot of these authors are looking for their children’s books to be the first step in a larger entertainment property,” said Shoffel. “Colfer was an actor, and has transitioned into a prolific author with over 4 million books in print — and now that 21st Century Fox has picked up the first book and is allowing him to write the screenplay and direct the movie, this is a great opportunity for him to move into directing.”
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved