Almost thirty years ago, I attended a science fiction and fantasy convention on the east coast, where a then-popular writer was toastmaster, and he made witty remarks, and was in fact the toast of the convention. Around fifteen years ago I attended a large national convention in the Rocky Mountain area, where, again, another locally popular writer was toastmaster and made witty remarks and was generally fawned over. What I’ve found interesting was that the first writer sold a handful of books, then a few written-for-hire Star Wars books, and then essentially vanished. The second writer sold one book, had a falling out with his editor, switched publishers and his second book flopped miserably, but remained a “celebrity’ for another few years before fading from view.
These two examples represent perhaps the extreme, but their cases are far from rare. There are other authors who sold well for decades and were never “celebrities,” except perhaps to a few hundred fans… and tens of thousands of readers who never thought of them as celebrities, just good writers whose books those readers bought… and bought. And then there are the handful of “rock-star” writers whose few public appearances at signings engender lines around blocks and limits on how many books the author will sign for any one individual.
From what I’ve observed over the years, there’s only a marginal relationship between having a celebrity “personality” or public attractiveness and being a good or popular writer, because I’ve seen poor writers treated as celebrities, and good ones who sell well but not spectacularly almost ignored at conventions and signings. Yes, there are good writers who are celebrities, and some are handsome or beautiful, but some are not.
The most obvious problem with being a celebrity is that it requires time, and in that respect, I’ve been most fortunate to be modestly recognized, but never a celebrity. If celebrities aren’t available to be celebrities their appeal fades quickly. At the same time, if celebrity is based on writing books, the time required to appear takes time away from writing, and fewer books get written… and celebrity fades, unless, of course, it’s fanned by a multi-million dollar television spin-off. Then too, for some writers, adulation and praise goes to their heads, and they become, as one publisher put it, “uneditable,” which usually lowers the quality of what they write.
Over time, though, one way or another, the celebrity fades. It fades more quickly for those writers with less ability, but it fades for all “celebrity” writers… and in the end, the books have to stand on their own, and some do. Most don’t.
So if you have the skill and talent and good luck to become a celebrity writer, enjoy the ride while it lasts, because that part of your writing career always ends before you think it will.