A couple of weeks ago, a PW staffer returned to the office and announced a pretty good celebrity sighting. He'd seen Lorraine Bracco (a/k/a Dr. Jennifer Melfi, shrink and sometime love interest of Tony Soprano on HBO's The Sopranos) walking into 375 Hudson, the building mostly occupied by the Penguin Group (USA). "Something's up," he said. Maybe, he suggested, the good doctor was peddling a book.
We ignored him. There are lots of reasons Bracco could have been going into that building, we said. Don't be so naïve.
Last week, Putnam—a division of the Penguin Group (USA)—announced that it had signed Bracco to a book deal. She'll publish On the Couch, a "stirring memoir," full of "candid reflections about her life, her career and overcoming personal struggle" in spring 2006.
But it's not only the staffer's sighting that should have tipped us off. There's also the re-emergence of The Sopranos, scheduled for a sixth season on HBO in 2006; and then there are those PSAs that Bracco has been doing about overcoming depression. Most telling of all, though, has been the proliferation, in the past months, of books by and about celebrities. There's Jane Fonda's My Life So Far, selling big for Random House. Earlier this month, Putnam released Goldie Hawn's A Lotus Grows in the Mud, which lands on PW's bestseller list this week. Brooke Shields's Down Came the Rain is just out and selling from Hyperion. Even tony Knopf has been getting in on the act: its Sinatra: The Life, yet another "analysis" of the life of Frank Sinatra, is due on shelves next week.
Publishers pinning their hopes on the public's appetite for books by and about the famous is nothing new. The past decades yield dozens of such titles, from Paul Reiser's Couplehood to Michael J. Fox's Lucky Man. Many of those books were very successful. But it has been a long time since so many titles by so many stars have been crowded at the top of bestseller lists.
So it follows that Putnam would sign up Bracco, who is, by all accounts, a cultivated, smart and interesting woman. Whether it will matter that she is not a star on quite the level of a Fonda or a Hawn remains to be seen. Bracco says in the Putnam press release that she's "not afraid to go deep, to be introspective, revealing and honest."
But the real question is, will enough people care about a cable TV star's life to justify what surely was a substantial advance? Random House discovered the answer the hard way, last year, with the publication of Skywriting by Jane Pauley. In that book, the beloved TV personality—another cultivated, smart and interesting woman—revealed her secret battle with bipolar disease; the book fell short of expectations.
Then, too, there's the question of backlistability, which celebrity autobios rarely have. With this kind of book, the first few months are the thing; like the TV shows and movies the authors come from, if they don't open well, they end up virtually invisible within months. And even if they do succeed at first, the paperbacks usually have short shelf lives.
Still, publishing hasn't completely gone over the edge celebrity-wise, at least not yet. Earlier this week, it was revealed that Corey Clark, the American Idol contestant who claims he had a special relationship with judge Paula Abdul, has indeed written and published a book, but it's a downloadable e-book available only through his Web site. Maybe his is one story publishers can refuse. As for On the Couch, let's hope Tony don't find out Melfi's writin' a book.