Saturday, September 23, 2006

Hey, everybody knows that presidents sometimes invade countries under false pretenses... Get over it!

No matter how long I work in writing and publishing, I never quite lose my astonishment at the cynical way some of (make that many of) my colleagues look at our own craft. The other day I posted an item on Mediabistro about Stedman Graham and his book, and I think it's fair to say that the tenor of the (handful of) posts in reply could be summarized in the following line used by one commenter: "You'd give your left nut to be able to promote your blog on [Oprah's] show..."* See the implication? It's the marketing, stupid! They looked right past my comments about Graham's ability to bring the Winfrey War Machine to bear in hawking the same warmed-over Empowerment spiel...because content doesn't matter. If you can make your book into a best-seller somehow, then quality is irrelevant and it's all good! My former boss at Rodale Books epitomized this mentality. In evaluating a promising new piece of material, he would not say it was "lyrically written" or "wonderfully thought-out" or any such thing...he'd say it was a "beautiful piece of business!"

I'm reminded of my struggles last winter to generate interest in a piece (or at least a major forum topic for somebody) about the strange events on the Amazon review page for Phil McGraw's Love Smart. The response I got was on the order of, "Look, everybody knows online reviews are rigged if not downright crooked. They're just doing what everybody does. Get over it." Oh, I see. I guess that means it's OK, then, huh? It's OK if--just IF--Amazon's in bed with publishers to promote some books and bury others.... What's funny is, writers and journalists never take that attitude towards the rest of life; give them an Enron to investigate, or a politician to expose or embarrass in any way (financially, sexually, whatever) and they're relentless in dogging the story. They'll cover a senator who's cheating on his wife or vacationing on the public dime as if he's the only politician who ever cheated on his wife or vacationed on the public dime. How come they don't say, "Look, everybody knows how politicians get over it"?

* I could be wrong, of course, but I strongly suspect this is the same individual who anonymously posted the "you're just jealous" comment on this blog.


Anonymous said...

Now you're REALLY losing me (I just posted another comment in response to a Stedman Graham post). The invasion of Iraq is equalivant to some kooky posts on a message board supporting a Dr. Phil book??

And yes, I understand the point you think you're making--that it's all part of a culture of cynacism where lying is considered OK, etc. etc. I just don't think that point holds a lick of water--it sounds me to me more that you're trying to drum up support for the "importance" of your book about self-help gurus.

Cosmic Connie said...

The big problem you're facing, Steve, is that the measure of an author's success these days is "getting on Oprah" and/or getting on the bestseller lists -- including Amazon's bestseller list. These are the things that every author supposedly wants. So if you haven't achieved them, and you dare to question or criticize the system, people are going to automatically assume your main motive is jealousy or envy.

In my own case, I freely admit there is some degree of "wealth envy" when I criticize (or, more accurately, lampoon) the new-age and self-help gurus. But so what? That in no way negates my message, or the points with which I take issue, such as the superficiality, lack of originality and downright phoniness of many of these folks.

So...even if Steve would secretly like to be on Oprah, or would love it if SHAM rose to the top ten on Amazon, so what? None of this makes Dr. Phil a dispenser of profound wisdom. Or any number of other gurus anything except expert self-promoters.

And as for journalists and other writers just accepting the corruption in the system...some may argue that the problem is not on the same level as, say, a president invading a country under false pretenses. But it may very well be part of the same problem, because, after all, the Iraq war was fueled at least in part by false information and duplicity.

Steve Salerno said...

No. The invasion of Iraq is not "equivalent to some kooky post on a message board." And yes, I admit in front of God and the world that I wouldn't protest if SHAM rose to No. 1 on the NYT best-seller list. I have admitted as much right here in this blog, before. You know why I feel that way? Because my book DESERVES a wide audience. Because a lot of care and thought and preparation and actual research--imagine that!--went into SHAM. Because SHAM is--in my opinion--a good, even valuable book, one that debunks the facile mythology that allows Americans to live in a world of perpetual self-deception. Because if you read a book like SHAM, you may be less inclined to waste your money (and your time, and yes, your life) on that other "be all you can be" crap that's out there.

The point is that you can make a lot of money in this society--a TON of money; $10 billion, as per the latest (conservative) figure on the size of the self-help industry--by churning out banal nonsense that simply tells people what they want to hear. My point is that if you imbue your book with certain salable, culturally appealing labels and buzzwords, you will be embraced by Oprah and the (non-thinking) masses in such a way that actually stunts personal growth. These books are, IMHO, harmful. (I spent some 251 pages in my own book describing how.) They tend to encourage and promote the very phenomena they claim to want to cure. And no one cares. No one gives a damn. But if you rise up in opposition to that mentality, you then have to deal with allegations of "jealousy" and even "racism."

That is my point. Sorry for the vituperation, but it's been that kind of week.

Anonymous said...

Is somebody feeling a little defensive today? Do you realize how arrogant and self-important you sound here ? How is your attitude any different from a blowhard like your friend Dr. Phil!

RevRon's Rants said...

Connie (and Steve) -
While being motivated (in part) by jealousy over another's success doesn't negate the essence of a message, it does tend to negate the credibility of the messenger. It is human nature to assume that statements belittling another come from an attitude of sour grapes, and it's also human nature to discount the words of someone who seems to have a personal axe to grind.

I'm as fed up as the next person with false promises and hocus-pocus "cures" for things that aren't even really diseases. That doesn't carry so far as to make me see an evil ulterior motive behind everything... as would a new-age conspiracy theorist. As I frequently go back to, there needs to be a point of balance, where we expose the hucksters and charlatans, yet not get too upset about those who are actually trying to help, and happen to become famous in the process.

I think that the core problem we face is not a culture of cynicism, per se, but rather a culture of laziness. We accept whatever is presented to us on the prettiest (or most familiar) plate, regardless of its inherent worth. We can rail all we want at the hucksters, but so long as people are willing to be seduced by empty promises, the hucksters will thrive.

Steve Salerno said...

In this case I think RevRon may have said it as eloquently as it could be said--and a lot more calmly/dispassionately than I'm capable of saying it, today.

RevRon's Rants said...

Think "Bran Muffins," Steve. :-)

Steve Salerno said...

RevRon, if it were only that easy, I'd happily change the name of this thing to FIBERblog or, God help us, REGULARITYblog....

RevRon's Rants said...

How about NoClogBlog?

Never m ind... it's all downhill from here! :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Agree, Ron. We don't want to take the low road. So to speak. Now, we could take the high road--being more scientifically rigorous about it--but somehow I don't think PERISTALSISblog is sufficiently catchy.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame you let your silliness get the best of you at the end there b/c this was a serious topic with serious implications. I've noticed in reading your Shamblog from time to time that when you get backed into a corner you start with the jokes and the sarcasm. THat's always the telltale tipoff of somebody who knows he's on uncertain ground, Steve!

Steve Salerno said...

To the latest "anonymous," who perhaps is the same anonymous who's been with us throughout this thread: I thought we'd dealt with the topic in substantial and sufficient form, with RevRon nicely punctuating things at the end. At which point, yes, we weakened and decided to lighten things up--just a bit of banter among cyber-pals, which is often good for the soul. Now, if you have a specific argument you'd like to raise, or a specific area that you feel we need to explore further (I'm quite sure there are many of them), by all means add your two cents. Or as many cents as you care to...and also feel free to be as didactic and pointedly un-humorous as you wish. :) (Lord knows *I* usually am.)

RevRon's Rants said...

Hmmm... Uncertain ground. Frankly, it's the only place I ever want to be. If I'm on "certain ground," it's because I think I have all the answers, and it's only a matter of time before the universe hits me with an "Oh, yeah?"

As to anonymous' objection to lightening up a bit, I would suggest that he/she pull the bough out of the burro, and pick up some of those bran muffins we spoke about. Life's too short to be constantly morose... take it from one who's been there, done that, and worn out the t-shirt. :-)

Cosmic Connie said...

I agree that the topic has already been discussed with all due seriousness, and the fact that Steve is willing to read -- and print -- other folks' perspectives doesn't constitute being "backed into a corner." And I can't speak for everyone here, but I will choose silliness over rancor any day. In fact, I thrive on silliness.

Rodger Johnson said...

As many of you may know, I left journalist and defected to the dark side. I become a PR professional. Because areas of Marketing and PR overlap, I can speak about the proliferation of BS in the industry.

At a recent luncheon with my colleagues, we discussed the difference between BS marketing and that practiced in an ethical and fair manner. When we talk about SHAM – the movement, not the book – the authors are peddling empty promises and unsubstantiated advice that is unprofessional. And they serve that with a disregard for the truth, the scientific facts, the REAL help that is available for people to change their lives in whatever fashion.

In the luncheon with my colleagues and I, learned the difference between BS marketing and that of substantial marketing, which is ethical, fact-based, and responsible. The difference is that bull shit marketing – which is what I see Shammers doing – disregards truth, fact, the well-being of others. They are only concerned with themselves, their profits, their success. Bull shit marketing is dangerous as is the cotton-candy advice these so-called “experts” peddle. Unfortunately, we live a world in which its people are more incline to live in a happy state of perpetual potential, regardless of its dangerous implications. Many people, and the number is growing every day, want to “live” in their “happy place.” They are becoming more self-absorbed. They want to leave the lessons we learned from the Enlightenment. Reason, thinking critically, understanding and introspective study as well as factual, scientific pursue of knowledge as a better way of life is too hard. Many – and I’ve seen this as a teacher and to my astonishment in graduate school (where you’d think reason and critical thinking flourishes) – prefer something else. Which leads me back to the BS marketing.

It’s easy to tell tale fish stories, but to factually, scientifically, and responsibility do the right thing is too hard for many of us. That’s why I always remember two things two people told me many years ago.

1. Run with the best, hell with the rest.
2. Everything is the same, even if it’s different.

The second may throw some for a mental loop, but let me explain. Whether we do good or bad marketing, good or bad writing – it’s marketing and writing. When we die, who gives a shit? What matters is that we do the good thing.

So, Steve, if you’re doing all that you can do to market you book, get out the word that SHAM
the movement, not the book — is bull shit, then f**ck, McGraw, f**ck the marketers that they employ. Although you taking the high road seems to be lonely and no one seems to be listening, I remind you of Robert Frost -- “Somewhere ages and ages hence; two roads diverged in a wood, and [you] – [you] took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Anonymous said...

silliness: 1
Anonymous: 0



Steve Salerno said...


Well, I'm glad this blog is inspiring such warmth in people--even those who aren't fans of h'onoponoponioa'anfodobodopono...

Anonymous said...

yes, love. i'm being sincere.


Anonymous #2