Wednesday, September 27, 2006

If it's such a good sign...why don't I have any money?

I'm told it's a good sign that people are buying the hardcover even though the softbound version of SHAM is now officially out (as of yesterday). I'd take greater comfort in that knowledge if (a) the sales figures for the hardcover were scintillating, which they're not, or (b) at least somebody, somewhere, even if by mistake, had ordered the softcover, which still lolls at an Amazon number you normally associate with books that remain a month or two from release.* I remember what my (then) agent told me when we first developed this project: "I have high hopes for it...but you have to realize that a book like this goes against the grain. Even if everything you say is true, people don't want it to be true..." And when I think of that, in turn, I'm reminded of the book idea that I facetiously suggested to my (then then) agent back in the late 80s, over too many drinks (and I don't drink) at a Sunset Boulevard cafe: The How-to-Stay-Forever-Young-By-Losing-That-Ugly-Cellulite-in-Three-Weeks-Plus-I-Slept-with-Elvis Diet!

I shoulda written it. It woulda sold.

A P.S.--of particular interest to RevRon? This morning, someone with whom I was discussing our previous topic used the phrase moral fiber. And my first thought was, "Is that something you get from a bran muffin you buy in a Christian bakery...?" (Now, let's all groan in unison....) That's when you know you've been at this too long.

* Of course, this does not apply to series-type books at the Harry Potter level, which often sell out, and thus necessitate further printings, during the pre-order phase.


Anonymous said...

Maybe you should know the sales will increase tomorrow or hope I decide to become less convinced they won't.

Cosmic Connie said...

Yeah, just an affirmation or two should do wonders for sales. Or maybe sales will increase when the movie comes out...they are making a movie of SHAM, aren't they?

RevRon's Rants said...

Perhaps when Elvis woke up, you shoulda shared the cellulite-elimination secret with him.:-)

Keep eating the muffins, Steve. It'll take them a few days to work. And pass a few over to our "anonymous" friend while you're at it!

Anonymous said...

You don't have any money because books like yours that tear down peoples hopes are not what our society needs or wants. You claim to doing a service by "exposing" well meaning people who are trying to help others make headway in life. Well that is not a service and its not up to you anyway to do the exposing, if people need that, then where do you come off tearing it down?? You want your book to sell just like the writers you attack, the only difference being that their books give hope and yours takes it away. Which way do you expect people to spend their hard earned money?

Steve Salerno said...

I could get cranky about comments like those made by our most recent Anon, but I won't. Instead, I will try as patiently and succinctly as I can to address this latest observation.

1. If your logic is that you find consolation in the absurd--and that you're willing to pay people outlandish sums of money to do nothing for you (and even, ironically, to keep you locked into the very behaviors that have never led to satisfaction for you)--then I'm sorry, I can't and won't apologize for my endeavors to break you of that habit.

2. Just for the record, it's not that I have made "no money" from the book. When I say such things, I am being, for want of a better word, cute. I am writing it for effect. What it really means is, the book did not become a best-seller--yes, in marked constrast to the sorts of books it critiques. And yes, that is somewhat galling to me, at some level, not because I am greedy, but because I think my book is WORTH MORE (to people, to society) than a lot of that other stuff that generates all the serious royalty money.

3. To answer your closing question, which I choose not to interpret as rhetorical: I expect people to spend their money on things that work. I expect people--whenever possible--to avoid scams and con games. I expect people to want to make REAL progress in their lives, not commit increasing percentages of their budget to a kind of faux, imagined progress.

Does that clarify things at all?

Steve Salerno said...

And I expect people, above all, to THINK. Use their heads. So sue me...

RevRon's Rants said...

In keeping with the latest anon's suggestions, perhaps we should keep alive the old story about babies being brought by the stork, the better to eliminate premaritial sex and STD's. And perhaps we should have given Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, et al big bonuses instead of convictions. After all, they were giving their employees & stockholders hope by painting a rosy picture of Enron's books. Everything was fine until those negative whistleblowers got all uppity and hungry for attention.

Reality is a bitch, isn't it, anon?

Cosmic Connie said...

I will admit that on occasion, the sense of hope and the sheer excitement generated by a professional motivator can be helpful in getting someone out of a rut, a "slump," or a state of mild depression. In other words, sometimes "motivation" works the way it's supposed to. Now, whether the effects are short- or long-term is another story. The point is that out of all the millions of books and tapes and DVDs and CDs and live seminars available today, some of the advice offered by some self-help gurus is useful, at least to some people.

But it seems to me that for the most part, the people Steve criticizes are far more adept at "selling the sizzle" (to use an ancient sales/marketing metaphor) than at actually producing a steak.

Granted, some of these folks are master marketers, and the tactics they use to generate excitement are, if not ingenious, then at least highly creative. They really have to work at it, and it seems that many of them put more effort into marketing than they do to their actual "product" (whether it's a book, seminar or "powerful new 'technology'").

Despite our jaded and cynical society, thousands of people still can and do get excited about just about anything. It kind of puts me in mind of the Rev's and my dogs. We can speak to them in excited, enthusiastic voices, and no matter what we say, they'll jump up and down, wagging their tails and smiling. Even if we say something like, "We're going to send you to some awful developing country in the East where you will almost certainly end up as doggie steaks!" Obviously they're responding to our tone of voice and body language.

But they're a little smarter with the "fake fetch" trick. I've done this with lots of dogs, and most of y'all probably have too -- you know, where you pretend you have something interesting in your hand, get the dog all excited about it, and then pretend to throw it. In my experience, the first few times this happens, the unsuspecting canine bounds off in the general direction of the phantom object, and eventually comes back with what I can only interpret as a disappointed expression on his/her face.

But almost every dog I've ever done this to learns, after only a very few times, that my hand is empty. And they stop running when I "throw." Instead they just park their butts and glower at me. In that regard, dogs and other animals seem to have a jump on some people.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Salerno, I'm in the industry you take such delight in attacking daily. Part of me feels that I shouldn't even dignify your blog with a response. That's because every day I see the positive results that accrue from keeping people in an upbeat state of mind. For you to assert otherwise is not only foolish, but almost sacrilegious. It is an insult to the thousands of dedicated people, in corporate America particularly, who know that technical competence is not the same as the "winning attitude" that I've heard you treat with such sarcasm and contempt.

Anyone who has seriously studied the American experience knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that success in any area is seldom a matter of sheer competency. One's attitudinal approach is EVERYTHING, in almost every walk of life. And I have to feel, reading the posts from some of your apologists (puppets is more like it) here on this blog, that even they know that, and that when they rouse to your defense as they've done again here, it's with a grudging nod to the utility of motivational training and related tactics.

At the very least, and being charitable about it, your approach to this entire topic is far too pat, too cut-and-dried. By dismissing all of self-help in whole-cloth fashion, you are being just as ridiculous as you allege that my peers and I are (and as noted I maintain that we are anything but ridiculous). If you're going to be fair about it and not just speak "for publication," you'd concede that the picture is not nearly as black and white as you make it out ot be. Perhaps on either side. In any case, I don't expect you to print this, but if nothing else you'll have to read it when it comes through and admit at least to yourself that I've got the truth on my side. That, by the way, is why you're not making the money you should make. It's not that there's any conspiracy against the truth. It's that you're WRONG.

One last point. I opened by calling you "Mr. Salerno." That is far more respect than you give to any of us who are sincerely trying to make a difference in people's lives. I find it hard to believe that you get away with much of what you say, which I consider offensive and even defamatory.

Steve Salerno said...

I admire the eloquence of your argument. I can only offer, in my defense, my book, since the scope of your criticism calls for an omnibus rebuttal. Keep in mind that I wrote "SHAM" as a counterpoint to everything else that's out there in the culture, which praises even the most outrageous self-help elements to the skies--while offering little evidence (in most cases no evidence at all) of effectiveness.

Had you identified yourself, I would've been more than happy to look at your particular area of expertise and evaluate it in a fair manner. If you could demonstrate to me the efficacy of what you do, I'd be the first to give you credit for it. That's the basic problem here. I went into "SHAM" seeking proof that self-help does what it says it does--enough proof to justify the $10 billion collective investment. No one was able to provide that.

Finally, I think it's unfair of you to attack the people who frequent SHAMblog and, yes, on occasion, "defend" me. If you read back through the archives, you'll find many cases where my regulars have taken substantive issue with me. This is a blog for people who think for themselves. If we all did that, society would be a lot better off--and the self-help movement would be a lot smaller and less fraudulent.

RevRon's Rants said...

Dear anonymous,

I am not surprised at your response, as anything which encourages an intelligent, objective evaluation of the majority of self-help programs would inevitably diminish their potential for income.

While there are certainly benefits to maintaining a positive attitude, what Steve and us "puppets" object to is the preponderance of alleged self-help programs which perpetuate false promises, based upon "technologies" that are not only impossible to prove, but rely upon the suspension of rudimentary intelligence in order to have any effect at all. Ironically, many offer "guarantees" that are not guarantees at all, such as replacement of materials purchased (at the seller's discretion, of course).

I strongly encourage you to identify yourself, rather than hide behind a veil of anonymity, so that we can look for ourselves at the methodology you use. What better way to prove that you aren't merely one of the hucksters we have discussed? If you endorse a program that offers individuals the tools to genuinely improve their lives, we're all for you. We only take exception to those programs that are deceitful and offer false hope through empty promises and ludicrous faux technologies.

As to your statement that, "One's attitudinal approach is EVERYTHING, in almost every walk of life," I shudder to consider a world where competence is considered secondary to attitude. I'd hate to place my well-being in the hands of a physician, for example, who simply exuded charm and confidence, yet didn't know a tibia from a timpanic membrane. Sure, we need confidence, but substituting attitude for ability is just downright foolish. How would you feel if you discovered that a "doctor" whose counsel you had been following had gotten his accreditation via some obscure organization that required only monetary compensation, with no required course work or competency examinations? I, for one, would be livid, no matter how confident and cocky the individual.

Finally, if you honestly believe that anyone here has dismissed all of self-help, you obviously haven't been reading much of what we've had to say - a fact reinforced by your assertion that all contributors to this blog are mindless puppets who blindly agree with all that Steve posits. Perhaps you are simply too familiar with such individuals, and assume that they exist everywhere...

Perhaps you might ask yourself - honestly - why you take such offense at what has appeared on this blog. If you were not mentioned by name, perhaps there is a compelling and valid reason for your hypersensitivity, which only you can know. Of course, if you were mentioned by name, perhaps the discussions are hitting a bit close to home. Just a thought...slgpgj

a/good/lysstener said...

You go, Steve and Ron!

Cosmic Connie said...

Well, anon, if you don't mind another two-cents' worth from one of the "puppets" on this blog (you can call me The Reverend Cosmic Connie, because I am an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church)...

I don't think any of us here are dismissing the self-help movement as being completely useless. But, for all of the reasons already argued far more eloquently by Mr. Salerno and Mr. RevRon, we reject what we see as the hype and deceptiveness so common in the industry.

I do, however, wish to address one small point made in your comment. I've done my time in corporate America, where the self-help culture is often manifested in its most ludicrous forms. How has the average employee (or stockholder, for that matter) benefited from all of those trendy, expensive motivational seminars / processes / workshops, etc.? The bosses attend these pricy seminars, where they learn the newest buzzwords and come away with a feeling that they've reached some sort of breakthrough. Then they come back and inflict their new knowledge on everyone in the office.

And even if some of the principles taught in these seminars are sound ones, they're very often not implemented properly or at all, and they're forgotten as soon as the next trendy workshop emerges. Meanwhile, it's "business as usual" at the office.

So, obviously, something isn't working. I would say that the self-help industry has been very, very good to overpriced consultants and smirking mid- or high-level managers who plaster their office walls with motivational posters. But for the average worker...well, surely you've read the comic strip, "Dilbert." Where do you think Scott Adams gets his ideas?

Cosmic Connie said...

OMT, Anon: I came by my disillusionment with the self-help movement (and corporate America) honestly. I was this way YEARS before I even heard of Mr. Salerno.

PS -- Hi, Alyssa! :-)

Trish Ryan said...

I was part of the SH & A industry, too - not to mention one of it's most devoted consumers for more than a decade. My experience differed from Anon's in that the complete lack of results drove me out. Isn't there some saying about how the definition of insanity is buying the same book over and over again, expecting the advice to be different?

On a lighter note - Steve, I think you should PRAY for sales. Ask Jesus, he'd love to help :) Keep careful statistics about before/after sales levels, then write a book called, "BAM! How the Bible Actually Makes life better"

Okay, I may have gotten a little carried away there :)

Cosmic Connie said...

Well, as my mom always says about prayer, "Even if it doesn't help, it probably won't hurt." However, I would caution Steve about using BAM! for a book title. Emeril might sue. :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Trish and CosCon, you'd be amazed (or maybe you wouldn't) at the informal brainstorming sessions my agent and I actually had, with an eye toward devising the *next* fiendishly clever acronym that (1) had the makings of a good book title, and (2) would echo SHAM in some way. We took all sorts of familiar words--SCAM, SCRAM, SLAM, etc.; as I recall, somebody even suggested CLAM--and tried to figure out what the letters would ideally stand for, and which topic or industry they'd represent. Do I even need to say that this endeavor got quite silly at times?

RevRon's Rants said...

Washing down those muffins with tequila again, aren't you, Steve? :-)