Monday, February 18, 2013

Waiting for Godot, or to Know?

Seems like Americans don't have opinions of their own anymore. Before going to a restaurant, movie, or buying a book, we want to know what so and so (the critic) said about it. We don't want to take a chance that our money/time will be wasted on entertainment we won't enjoy.

Have you ever wondered how one gets anointed a critic? What is it about their education or world experience that qualifies them for this influential position? How is it that a person attains the power--with a simple shake of his head--to close a play, bankrupt a restaurant, or cause a book to be relegated to the remainder pile?

I was amused when, after 9-11, a crop of "terrorism experts" popped up on TV talk shows. Give me a break! I thought in order to be a terrorism expert you had to actually perpetrate terrorist acts, or train others to do so.

You may like the ovine system we've developed, except that it's not all on the up and up. It would be foolish to assume that all worthwhile writing will somehow find its way to a reputable publisher. Or that all meaningful movie projects will soon hit the screen. The same is true for music and other art forms. A lot of really good work never sees the light of day. One of the reasons for this is that the chain of command that has been developed for selecting and publicizing works of art is rigged. No system yet devised has not been subjected to charlatans trying to game it their advantage.

Take, as an example, the bestselling, supposedly non-fiction book Three cups of Tea. A non-profit, author-affiliated, charity has been accused of buying copies of the book to the tune of $3 million. Now, that's how to create a bestseller! Any author should be so lucky.

Publishing used to be all about the writing but now it's all about marketability. Publishers are not in the game to produce great literature. There's no profit in that. To them a great book is one that sells a million copies or more. And, the way to do that is to manage the publicity game.

How do you suppose those authors get gigs on all the TV talk shows? If you watch closely, you'll see the same authors making the rounds on Good Morning America, The View, Morning Joe, The Daily Show, etc. It's not because these shows are interested in promoting good reading--of that you can be sure. It's all about economic ties, exchanging favors, and one hand washing the other. Sorry authors, it's not a level playing field.

Publishers and their authors spend a lot of time gaming the system to create the illusion of a bestseller. Why do they do it? Because it works! And you the reader have been duped into thinking if a book is a bestseller, it must be a good read and therefore worth buying. In other words can a million readers be wrong? But, how many bestsellers have you read that you thought stunk? I could name a few.

So, seize the day! Be your own critic. Read some off brand authors and their books. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Raff is an author who took early retirement from a career in the computer industry to pursue a writing career. He has two non-fiction books in print. Information about him and his work may be found at

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