What scares me most about Tyra Banks’s Modelland (2011) is that I think she actually wrote it. Usually, when a celebrity decides to become a novelist, they collaborate with a known author or else a ghostwriter does the job for them. There’s a rash of YA books coming out now from television and movie personalities that take the latter option, leading to mediocre but at least technically competent novels selling based on the star’s name alone that mercifully disappear a few months later.
When I saw Modelland at the library and read the first few pages, however, the writing was so horrifically awful on a sentence level that I don’t think a ghostwriter was involved. If a ghostwriter stooped to that, the ghostwriter would be fired. And the prose was awful in a sincere way, not a knowing or funny way, the kind of awful only achieved by someone basking in his or her own brilliance, someone who thinks, “Yes, I’ll name my protagonist Tookie!” and doesn’t think twice about it (or maybe even once).
What scares me is that Random House accepted this, did only marginal editing, and published it. Because the quality of the prose and the story wouldn’t actually affect sales in any way–the content, in effect, didn’t matter. Whereas if someone without Banks’s name recognition who tried to pass a manuscript like this to an editor or publisher would undoubtedly be laughed out of the room.
What saddens me is that shortly before signing on Banks for Modelland, Random House dropped one of my favourite authors.
I know publishing is a business, that a celebrity release is a quick way to make money. I know the market drives these decisions–not, in this case, people who regularly devour books, but fans of a reality TV show star who will pick up anything related to her and likely not read the book at all. But it still upsets me, because YA authors are still struggling for serious recognition, and stuff like Modelland, or the latest deal with the Kendall and Kylie Jenner for a YA novel (which brought Modelland back to my mind again), isn’t helping.