Book trade sets off on a great national treasure hunt

Publishers have until Thursday to launch celebrity memoirs that they hope will be Christmas bestsellers. Arifa Akbar reports
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The Independent Culture

As the literary world braces itself for the rarefied task of celebrating tonight's Man Booker Prize winner, many bread-and-butter booksellers are focused on a less high-minded contest: the race to fill their shelves with the batch of money-spinning celebrity memoirs that will be delivered to their doors on Thursday.

Publishing houses earn kudos from having a Booker prize-winner on their books, but it is these Christmas tomes, written by actors, television presenters, pop stars and sports personalities, that offer many publishing houses their best hope of stiffening their commercial backbone.

This week's Super Thursday is the publishers' D-Day for bringing out big autumn reads that will they hope will become Christmas bestsellers. It is less feverish than in some previous years. Publishers appear to have learnt from the chaos that results from launching all their celebrity memoirs on the same day, and this year they have drip fed the market with autobiographies. But the main contenders are all out of the stalls now, and publishers have high hopes.

The celebrity autobiography genre has produced some extraordinary successes in recent years, from Sharon Osbourne to Peter Kay, especially over the festive period. But last year saw a drop in autumn celebrity sales: memoirs from comedians including Jack Dee and Justin Lee Collins failed to set the market on fire, as did lacklustre autobiographies from Sheryl Gascoigne and Leona Lewis.

According to industry experts; there were simply too many autobiographies being written by too many C- and D-list celebrities. Julia Kingsford, from Foyles bookshop, said: "What we have felt for some years, in terms of celebrity memoirs, is that they tend to sell if the celebrities have lived a bit of a life."

John Howells, from Waterstone's, which yesterday (with William Hill) released the odds on which title would be the big Christmas bestseller, said that the market is always mercurial, but publishers' publicity machines can make a difference, and many celebrity authors have been appearing at special signings and events at Waterstone's bookshops across the country.

Tom Tivnan, features editor of The Bookseller, said this year's "Super Thursday" offering is striking for the high calibre of its celebrity subjects with some of the most recognisable names in entertainment divulging their "personal" stories. "They are rock-solid people who have been in the public eye for 30 or 40 years. In a sense, a lot of them are safe, middle-of-the-road, popular entertainers. It's more about the safer bets and national treasures."

It certainly seems that memoirs written – or ghost-written – by such "treasures" are going down well with the book-reading public. Stephen Fry's The Fry Chronicles has sold almost 85,000 in less than four weeks, according to Nielsen BookScan; Michael Caine has sold more than 10,000 copies of his autobiography in three days, while Russell Brand's Booky Wook 2, the second instalment of his autobiography, has sold almost 10,000 since 30 September.

For publishers, sales figures like these are a prize scarcely less desirable than the Booker.

Who will be Christmas No 1?

Stephen Fry - The Fry Chronicles

Thirteen years after his first autobiography, Moab is my Washpot, Fry has produced a second, dealing with some of the most turbulent years of his life.

Reviews: Frothing with superlatives.

Ghost-written? No, they are all Fry's own erudite words.

Advance: Unknown.

Christmas No 1 prospects (odds quoted by William Hill): 6/1.

Michael McIntyre - Life and Laughing: My Story

His stand-up DVD was 2009's Christmas No 1. Now he's written his life story, from his move from public to state school, an early gig at Edinburgh which sold just one ticket – and subsequent fame.

Reviews: "Poignant, romantic and above all very, very funny".

Ghost-written? No.

Advance: Unknown.

Christmas No 1 prospects: 8/1.

Paul O'Grady - The Devil Rides Out

Follow-up to 2009's best-selling At My Mother's Knee (And Other Low Joints); this one is described by publishers thus: "Britain's best-loved entertainer tells more of his rollicking adventures". Warm, moving and funny.

Reviews: Rave.

Ghost-written? No.

Advance: Unknown.

Christmas No 1 prospects: 12/1.

Keith Richards - Life

Bill Wyman and Ronnie Wood did it; now the wildest Stone tells his story. (It's a surprise he remembers it.)

Reviews: "All the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll are there."

Ghost-written? Unknown.

Advance: Reported $7m for world rights.

Christmas No 1 prospects: 16/1.

Harry Hill - Livin' The Dreem

An "unexpurgated diary" of a hectic showbiz year, cut with plenty of the day-to-day goings-on in Bexhill, where Harry lives at home with his mother.

Reviews: "Samuel Pepys meets Katie Price".

Ghost-written? No.

Advance: Unknown.

Christmas No 1 prospects: 16/1.

Cheryl Cole - Through My Eyes

An "intimate portrait" of the Girls Aloud star's life in the recording studios in LA and the X Factor studio; padded out with "stunning photos".

Reviews: There has been praise for the pictures.

Ghost-written? Apparently not.

Advance: Unknown.

Christmas No 1 prospects: 16/1.

Michael Caine - The Elephant To Hollywood

Rags-to-riches tale of Maurice Micklewhite's rise from south London poverty to Oscar-winning Hollywood glory.

Reviews: Has been called "unflinching" and "truly incredible".

Ghost-written: No. (He plans to write a novel.)

Advance: Unknown.

Christmas No 1 prospects: 16/1.

The Man In The White Suit - Ben Collins

Reveals – despite the best efforts of the BBC's lawyers – how Collins came to be Top Gear's intrepid racing driver.

Reviews: "An awesome story, told by an amazing man."

Ghost-written? Unknown.

Advance: Unknown.

Christmas No 1 prospects: 20:1.

Russell Brand - Booky Wook 2

A follow-up to My Booky Wook (2007), which detailed his troubled childhood and various addictions, this follows the now sober star on his rise to global fame.

Reviews: Largely good.

Ghost-written? No.

Advance: Said to have a £1.8m two-book deal.

Christmas No 1 prospects: 20/1.

Simon Pegg - Nerd Do Well

Life story of the quirky actor, comedian and star of Shaun of the Dead, including his childhood Star Wars obsession and his stand-up career, which he began aged 12.

Reviews: Promising.

Ghost-written? No.

Advance: rumoured to be a seven-figure sum, for two books.

Christmas No 1 prospects: 20/1.

Judi Dench - And Furthermore

Aptly-titled – the actress has already written one memoir – this one deals with later life, including the loss of her husband to cancer in 2001.

Reviews: "Wonderfully honest, intimate and witty."

Ghost-written? Not as far as we know.

Advance: Unknown.

Christmas No 1 prospects: 20:1.

Alan Sugar - What You See Is What You Get

Another tale of East End rags to showbiz (and other) riches and glory, lasting for 589 pages.

Reviews: Has been described as forthright, and funny.

Ghost-written? "I was never going to get a ghost writer to write a book for me".

Advance: Unknown.

Christmas No 1 prospects: 25/1.

Chris Evans - Memoirs Of A Fruitcake

His first memoir, It's Not What You Think, portrayed Evans at his peak. This one describes the dark turn his life subsequently took.

Reviews: Welcomed as perfect accompaniment to the first memoir.

Ghost-written? No

Advance: Unknown.

Christmas No 1 prospects: 33/1.

Jo Brand - Can't Stand Up For Sitting Down

A follow-up to Look Back In Hunger (2009), which detailed her switch from psychiatric nurse to stand-up comedian, this covers marriage, motherhood and "wild times" on the comedy circuit.

Reviews: fans love it.

Ghost-written? No.

Advance: Unknown.

Christmas No 1 prospects: 33/1.

Susan Boyle - The Woman I Was Born To Be

Middle-aged Scottish spinster becomes YouTube sensation and, later, a superstar whose debut album has so far netted royalties of £4m.

Reviews: Praised for its fortitude and humour.

Ghost-written? Allegedly.

Advance: Unknown.

Christmas No 1 prospects: 50/1.