Q Los Angeles 2013
Arts + Entertainment
Science + Tech
The Veneer of Media
How hungry authors are manipulating the publishing industry
Editor's Note: This seven-part series explores the "veneer" of each channel of culture. It is inspired by the latest Q book by Jason Locy and TIm Willard:
Veneer: Living Deeply in a Surface Society
If these ideas resonate with you, consider
picking up a copy
and diving deeper into this conversation.
The world I work in is a double-edged sword. One edge of the publishing industry is the romanticized notion of what the life of an author is like. The second is nowhere near as romantic as one hoped it would be.
There are introverted folks who never fit in, but publishing gives them a voice. Once successful, however, they’re no longer allowed to be the introvert because the world loves its celebrities. There are behind the scenes kind of folks who have great ideas, but mourn that those ideas aren’t voiced in public, so they publish in hopes of starting an important conversation. Of course, once that idea takes hold they can no longer be behind the scenes because every idea needs a public figure to champion it.
Then there’s another group that's driven to get their message to the masses and have no problem being a public figure. This group wants notoriety and often has the resources to achieve it. Their starting place is, “How do I reach the
New York Times
Bestseller's List?” An entire industry has emerged to help this group. Unfortunately, this group often finds that after they’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars to reach the bestseller list, it didn’t really deliver. They thought it would bring them a certain level of success or validation in their field. They thought it would mean every book thereafter would be a bestseller. It didn’t. The second edge of any double-edged sword delivers painful cuts.
Success Does Not Equal Bestseller
I was speaking recently with an editor at a major New York publishing house. I had a client make several bestsellers lists. Not just the
New York Times
Wall Street Journal, Washington Post
, ABA, Indiebound, even some regional ones like the
Los Angeles Times
. By all accounts, this client’s book was a serious success, and not because of money spent making it so. The ideas presented actually gained traction. Conversation was stirred; “word of mouth” (that “musthave” and impossible to fake phenomenon) had actually taken root. If you wanted to be part of the conversation, you had to read this book.
Its success ultimately could be measured by its impact and influence on the audience it reached, not by its rank on various, and more subjective than you really want to know, lists.
I wanted to know what the publisher was doing to tell this incredible success story so that the “word of mouth” would spread. His answer? “We don’t really pay attention to bestsellers lists anymore. They don’t really mean much.” Ouch. If “bestseller” doesn’t mean anything then how are we to define success in publishing?
authors Jason Locy and Tim Willard write about Julia Allison who leveraged blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and homemade videos to successfully make herself a "celebrity." Reality television is built on the desire of some to be famous for no good reason, and our collective desire to watch them try. We live in a world of media-generated, or worse, self-generated, celebrity. People are famous, for being famous. It’s not the substance of their being, it’s not the profound nature of their views on life; it’s their willingness, or their will, to simply be famous.
We are all guilty of perpetuating this. But then we bemoan that the real celebrities, the ones that earned it, the ones we could look up to, aren’t around anymore. Where is the next Audrey Hepburn anyway?
Ideas Matter, Not Platforms
In the world of books, you can manufacture the lie that you've "arrived" by buying your way onto the
New York Times
Bestseller's List. But it doesn’t mean what it used to, precisely because you can buy your way on. More and more books hit the
New York Times
Bestseller's List every year, but fewer and fewer books actually stay there. The former standard for importance has become nothing more than a way for some clever people to make money off other people.
Our social media fascination isn’t helping in this area either. Authors have been told they must have a “platform,” and for many the ease and free nature of social media tools has turned "platform" into a clever quip or profound string of 140 characters. A platform used to mean that you had earned the right to speak to a large number of people about a particular area of expertise. Today, in the social media world, it simply means you’ve cajoled enough people to “follow” you, “like” you, “friend” you, or otherwise express a momentary weakness on your behalf that simply does not translate into anything of real importance.
In my world--the publishing world--you do not need to make a bestsellers list to succeed. You do not need to have a platform, though a
one certainly does help. You do not need to have a million friends or followers. You need to create really great content. You need to contribute something new to the conversation; or better yet, start a new one. That’s a tall order, but it’s true.
[READ: Author Margaret Feinberg names the "Ten Most Beautiful Books I Read During The Last Decade."]
Shakespeare is still read today, but not because he had a platform. Mark Twain had a bestselling autobiography one hundred years after his death, but not because he had a lot of Internet friends. You won’t be a publishing success by friending a slew of strangers or buying your way onto a bestseller's list.
Do you want to break into publishing? Say something important, but more importantly, say it well. We don’t need more voices, and we certainly don’t need more celebrities. We need transcendent ideas. We need people that challenge us to see how the world ought to be, and inspire us to make it so. We need people who show us the best of ourselves, and call us to be that version, rather than the veneered version that seems so much easier to sell to our “friends.” Inspire someone, and you just may make a bestsellers list the old-fashioned way. Inspire important conversations and you may just stay there. But if you fake it, if you buy your way on, if you take the shortcut to significance, we’ll know, and we’ll ignore you. And that second cut will hurt.
How does it make you feel to know that you as a consumer are often manipulated by this industry? What do you think makes an idea "transcendent" today?
Excellent insight... thank you. I must first respond that I am personally never manipulated.... perhaps it's purely demonstrative of having obtained a higher education; but I must confess that I am highly analytical and thrive upon research and consistent inquiry- not all questions can be answered...
I am of the opinion (however relevant...?! lol) that perspective carries more weight than "platform." I've only reached this conclusion as I feel that any idea,thought, notion and/or "perspective" is rooted in, of and around the Gospel message (the ultimate 'platform')- "....nothing new under the sun...," "...the world itself would not contain the books..." (Ecclesiastes 1:9, John 21:25).
There is NO doubt that the scriptures are relevant as well as captivating- it is the allure of the various perspectives through the power of the Holy Spirit that gave voice... that same power exists today- the relevance of "voice" is established throughout the validity, depth, multiplicity and measure of the wisdom of love and grace expressed throughout the perspectives and responses of the average, ordinary people whom God so deeply loves- including the disobedient.
The "reality" here, is that "...truth is stranger than fiction..." - people need to be able to connect on so many different levels- we must engage and incite into action/activity- not merely entertain & cajole. We truly miss the mark when we expect the lost, or even various believers, to come to us...(i.e. the vain and broken ideologies expressed via presumed fame and/or notoriety- without and within the "Church") "...Go ye therefore...." (purely illustrative here, stick with me ; )
We are all individually created, essentially charged, to bridge the necessary gaps within so many capacities (arts, education, politics, media etc...)- people will hear the Gospel message, yes; but they should also be able to make logical, pertinent. relevant and applicable decisions and/or life-changes according to the light, perspectives and gifts provided by Him. New ideas...?- Definitely a tall order... New perspectives...?- inevitably productive...
...by the way... it's not always "the best of ourselves" that can change our lives for the better.... it's not the worst of ourselves either... it is the ability to hold up the proverbial mirror- to self first... and then...to others...
Intriguing thoughts. I am looking forward to more threads about Veneer. We do need transcendent ideas, and transformational activities, and people of deep enduring character.
At last, a man who thinks like me. I have a degree in Communication (Journalism) but for ethical reasons decided not to work the news industry. That may change, now my maturity has grown, as a follower of Jesus. But I have always thought I had a book or two inside me to write, however was mindful of the rubbish that has already saturated the bookstores.
In New Zealand, where I live in Hamilton, we don't have enough bookstores, and we certainly don't have enough that have "transcendent" thinking type books, although there is an excellent Christian bookstore. I have a dream to own a bookstore and also publish something that will make people think outside the veneer. this latter word is perfect for understanding 21st century hyper-speed, socially-rushed Internet permeated society - iPhone, iPad, iMac, Facebook, Twitter you name it.
Perhaps I should now consider doing a book about foreign policy from a Christian perspective - for the general market and Christian. Oh yes, by the way, there is a science fiction therein my brain too.
Excellent thoughts, Chris. Here's to more substantive, transcendent ideas...
yes... let's hear those "new," "substantive, transcendent ideas..." Maybe it's just miscommunication or misunderstanding on my behalf; but a bitter taste resonates- exudes upon the palate of intellectual idolatry.
Perhaps I'm merely wading in the proverbial pool of despondence and pessimism here but I personally don't believe that any mortal man possesses the capacity and/or capability to birth "new ideas..." (and for substantive purposes; I do not adhere to the theologies of predestination) At best, we are able to collate a mere fraction of God's provisions and create products, goods, and services etc...that, while beneficial, are fleeting at best- obsolete within moments, days or possibly a few years.
The only "transcendent idea" brought into being orbits the concepts, notions, actions and activities of purest Love... I believe God must take credit for that one... My question-.What does man produce that is truly transcendent, nobly perceived and/or intangible...?
... one last observation... One must remember that "deep, enduring character" is built upon the foundations of trial and error- without failures, flaws and broken hearts we would never recognize the victories and delights of said character...
I'm always careful to avoid setting people (especially in our inherently fallen nature) upon a pedastal. We often expect out of others the endurance that we ourselves have not and/or couldn't possibly obtain... the inevitable end...tragedy.
Encouragement and constructive criticisms are always more productive than fawning over the possibilites. Make it happen and don't expect unfounded levels of perfection... Jesus was the only one who was perfect and look what they did to Him...
This resonates deeply. Thank you for giving language to something long sensed, the veneer. "A platform used to mean that you had earned the right to speak to a large number of people about a particular area of expertise. Today, in the social media world, it simply means you’ve cajoled enough people..." Wonderfully written.
What makes an idea transcendant? When it speaks to felt needs across the board. We don't know what we are looking for, but we know it when we hear it or see it. It satisfies.
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