Thursday, August 24, 2006

An Insidious Trend

(Above: my daughter at, um, Yale.)

Want to write a bestseller? Write a good book. That used to be the advice given to ambitious new authors, and there was a time it was more or less true. But today? Want to write a bestseller? Go to Harvard or Yale (or Hollywood), lose any extra pounds, get a nose job or cheek implants if required, and then dash off a mediocre manuscript and send it in with your spiffy resume and a photo. Quickly. Before you turn thirty-five.

Something insidious is going on in the publishing industry. It started with marketing departments and the idea that novels are easier to sell if the author has a “platform” and can be “branded.” With this discovery came a shift in the power to decide which manuscripts are bought and which are rejected, with marketing departments trumping editors on the basis of a manuscript’s “salability” or lack thereof.

So what constitutes a platform? Well, being a former Secretary of Defense makes a good one. William Cohen’s new thriller, DRAGON FIRE, is described by Booklist as “leaden” and “clunky.” If anyone other than Cohen had written it, he’d probably have received a form rejection letter. Instead, this leaden clunker is being given a mammoth advertising budget and huge print run.

Cohen’s book at least has one redeeming feature: those willing to wade through that clumsy prose filled with stock characters will be given an accurately rendered peek into the behind-the-scenes workings of our government (at least, I assume so; I haven't read it). But Secretaries of Defense writing lumbering thrillers are (thankfully) rare. So what is a publisher to do? Why, cash in on the nation’s obsession with wealth, youth, beauty, and the elite, of course.

Thus in the last few years we have been subjected to an avalanche of ho-hum books written by young graduates of Ivy League schools (or youngish professors at Ivy League schools). Failing an Ivy League background, an author might still be in the running for bestsellerdom as long as he’s young, relatively attractive, and preferably a doctor or a lawyer (again, the allure of the elite).

Publishers aren’t the only ones responsible for this trend. A popular women’s magazine recently ran an article on six female writers; all were young, attractive, and from elite backgrounds. A coincidence? I don’t think so. Authors are routinely selected for appearances on television talk shows (Oprah being the exception) not because they’ve written a good book but because they look good on television. And then there’s the magazine LUCKY, that actually recently asked NY book publicists to recommend an attractive female author between the ages of 25 and 35 for an upcoming feature. Content or quality of books not important.

I suppose in a sense it was inevitable. In the music industry, the rise of MTV shifted the emphasis away from musical ability, toward appearance and sex appeal. Recording executives realized that untold millions would rather listen to the computer-enhanced breathy twang of a blond bimbo than to a gifted, well-trained singer with a beautiful voice and a plain face. So why should we be surprised that something similar is happening to books?

In the early years of the twentieth century, writers were seen as intellectuals or adventurers or both (think Ernest Hemmingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald). Or they weren’t seen at all, trusting to the strength of their voice and storytelling ability to gain them readers. Today, of course, the number of dedicated readers has plummeted. Only a book that appeals to traditional non-readers can hope to rack up the sales record of something like The Da Vinci Code, and traditional non-readers obviously have much in common with the music-buying public. They might require a “high-concept” to entice them into buying a book, but there is no need for it to be well executed. All that’s needed, evidently, is a photo of a young, relatively photogenic author on the back and a bio testifying to his or her elite status.

The problem with all of this is that while these kinds of tactics can sell a lot of a certain book in the short run, the longterm effects on the publishing industry will be disastrous. Wonderful books are being rejected largely because their writers don’t fit the required image, while the weak, the graceless, the mediocre are being enthusiastically snapped up and rushed into print on the strength of their authors’ platforms.

All too many of these authors are one-book wonders. Either their second book is too hopelessly awful to be saved even by the massive editing that made the first book publishable (as is rumored to have been the case with the second book penned by the authors of The Nanny Diaries), or the book makes it into print only to be shunned by you-won’t-fool-me-again readers.

I remember a former editor telling me about her trials and tribulations with a certain young rockstar’s “novel.” The project went through two ghostwriters, then hit a snag when the rockstar refused to sit still long enough to listen to the book being read to him (he couldn’t read it himself because he was functionally illiterate). The publishers reasoned that the rockstar had to at least have heard the book in order to be able to promote it, so the whole deal fell apart. But the rockstar kept his huge advance.

It occurs to me that if celebrities can hire ghostwriters to write their books, then an overweight, over-the-hill writer from an ordinary background ought to be able to hire a celebrity—or a young, attractive graduate of an elite school—to be his or her public face. At least then we’d all be getting better books.


11 comments:

Janie said...

LOL! OMG! How true. I am going to collaborate with my young gorgeous daughter-in-law!!!!!!! Giggling.

ninest123 said...

ninest123 16.03
oakley sunglasses, longchamp outlet, tory burch outlet, oakley sunglasses, michael kors outlet, louis vuitton, prada outlet, nike air max, ray ban sunglasses, gucci outlet, longchamp outlet, louboutin shoes, michael kors outlet, ray ban sunglasses, oakley sunglasses, michael kors outlet, michael kors, prada handbags, ugg boots, burberry outlet online, ugg boots, tiffany jewelry, louis vuitton, polo ralph lauren outlet, nike outlet, chanel handbags, nike free, louis vuitton outlet, replica watches, ugg boots, oakley sunglasses, louboutin outlet, louis vuitton outlet, nike air max, ray ban sunglasses, ugg boots, michael kors outlet, cheap oakley sunglasses, louboutin, polo ralph lauren outlet, christian louboutin outlet, louis vuitton, tiffany and co, uggs on sale, burberry, replica watches, michael kors outlet, longchamp, jordan shoes

ninest123 said...

tn pas cher, ray ban uk, hollister pas cher, hogan, michael kors, north face, lacoste pas cher, new balance pas cher, air jordan pas cher, converse pas cher, nike huarache, burberry, sac longchamp, nike trainers, nike free, vans pas cher, nike air max, coach outlet, longchamp pas cher, timberland, air max, air force, michael kors, true religion jeans, coach purses, vanessa bruno, nike free run uk, oakley pas cher, true religion jeans, sac guess, mulberry, hollister, nike air max, louboutin pas cher, replica handbags, hermes, nike air max, michael kors, abercrombie and fitch, true religion outlet, ralph lauren uk, north face, nike roshe run, ralph lauren pas cher, lululemon, nike roshe, true religion jeans, michael kors, coach outlet, nike blazer, ray ban pas cher

ninest123 said...

louboutin, gucci, hollister, insanity workout, mcm handbags, north face outlet, lululemon, iphone 6s plus cases, jimmy choo shoes, herve leger, iphone 6s cases, instyler, wedding dresses, p90x workout, iphone 5s cases, nike air max, baseball bats, reebok shoes, asics running shoes, ralph lauren, nike roshe, vans shoes, birkin bag, mac cosmetics, oakley, abercrombie and fitch, ipad cases, beats by dre, soccer shoes, iphone cases, converse, bottega veneta, iphone 6 plus cases, chi flat iron, ghd, new balance, babyliss, celine handbags, s5 cases, valentino shoes, soccer jerseys, giuseppe zanotti, nfl jerseys, ferragamo shoes, nike air max, hollister, hollister, north face outlet, mont blanc, iphone 6 cases, vans, timberland boots

ninest123 said...

louis vuitton, pandora jewelry, barbour jackets, moncler, canada goose uk, swarovski, pandora charms, pandora charms, supra shoes, ugg,uggs,uggs canada, louis vuitton, wedding dresses, canada goose, juicy couture outlet, juicy couture outlet, canada goose outlet, moncler, toms shoes, ugg pas cher, links of london, canada goose, barbour, ugg,ugg australia,ugg italia, montre pas cher, swarovski crystal, lancel, sac louis vuitton pas cher, moncler, doudoune canada goose, canada goose, thomas sabo, moncler, moncler, canada goose outlet, louis vuitton, canada goose, moncler, karen millen, ugg boots uk, coach outlet, hollister, marc jacobs, converse outlet, moncler outlet, louis vuitton, ray ban, bottes ugg, replica watches, pandora jewelry, moncler
ninest123 16.03

Swati Patil said...

Thanks for visiting to this website.Nice post.
Packers and movers Lucknow
Packers movers in Indiranagar
Movers packers Gomatinagar
Packers Movers Hazaratganj
Movers and packers in Aliganj
Packers and movers in Alambagh

Home Shifting Lucknow
Vehicle Shifting Lucknow
Wharehouse Storage Shifting Lucknow
Corporate Shifting Lucknow

Swati Patil said...

Thanks for visiting to this website.Nice post.
Packers and movers Lucknow
Packers movers in Indiranagar
Movers packers Gomatinagar
Packers Movers Hazaratganj
Movers and packers in Aliganj
Packers and movers in Alambagh

Home Shifting Lucknow
Vehicle Shifting Lucknow
Wharehouse Storage Shifting Lucknow
Corporate Shifting Lucknow

Smita Jadhav said...

Thanks for sharing this post.Nice post.
Click Here...

Akshay Sawant said...

Thanks for this post.
Visit Links:
Packers and Movers Mumbai
Packers and Movers Andheri
Packers and Movers Airoli
Packers and Movers Borivali
Packers and Movers Bandra
Packers and Movers Kalyan
Packers and Movers Kharghar
Packers and Movers Kandivali
Packers and Movers Thane

Home Shifting
Vehicle Shifting
Storage
Corporate Shifting

Akshay Sawant said...

Thanks for this post.
Visit Links:
oyecity.com
Beauty Care Shops In Pune
Books Shops In Pune
Self Help Group Shops In Pune
Electronics Shops In Pune
Gifts & Youth Special Shops In Pune
Hardware And Sanitory Shops In Pune
Home Decor Shops In Pune
Jewellery Shops In Pune
Kids & Baby Products Shops In Pune
Kitchen Shops In Pune
Men's Fashion Shops In Pune
Sports Shops In Pune
Sweets & Cakes Shops In Pune
Tools Shops In Pune
Toys Shops In Pune
Women's Fashion Shops In Pune



oye city
Oyecity Blog

Akshay Sawant said...


Thanks for this post.
Visit Links:
removal companies birmingham
removal companies glasgow
removal companies liverpool