It’s all well and good that people want to take advantage of the internet as a means of displaying their home-made arts and crafts, but as any veteran of any industry will tell you, there’s a big, big difference between being an amateur and meeting an industry’s standards of professionalism. For example, in the publishing industry professional authors and big-name publishing houses sift, vet, analyze, check, double-check, fact-check, double-fact-check and otherwise proof every single word on every single page. Editors scrutinize each line as to factual truth, house style, and grammatical validity, both as a service to readers and as a means of protecting the stature of the author’s and publisher’s names. To be sure, not everyone gets equal treatment, but as the price of a book goes up, you can bet more and more assets are thrown at the text to make sure it lives up to the names associated with it.
This is what it means to be professional, and it’s rightly why professionals look down on amateurs who think they know anything about publishing something important or good. For example, former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin recently published a memoir titled Going Rogue, for which HarperCollins paid her millions of dollars — which she in turn paid someone else a lot less money to actually write. Because publishing is a serious business, and because editors are serious people, and because the difference between amateur-hour and professionalism is always in the details, Going Rogue received the kind of professional, nitty-gritty scrutiny that your average amateur author (or fake author) could only dream of.
All of which, at first blush, would seem to make this gaffe surprising:
In her new book, “Going Rogue,” former vice presidential nominee attributes a quote to UCLA basketball coaching legend John Wooden.
The only problem is that he didn’t say it.
“Our land is everything to us…I will tell you one of the things we remember on our land. We remember our grandfathers paid for it — with their lives.”
It’s a nice quote, but it really doesn’t sound like something that Wooden would say. It was actually written by Native American activist John Wooden Legs in his essay “Back on the War Ponies.”
To the uninitiated it undoubtedly seems as if this kind of mistake undercuts the claim that professionals and amateurs are differentiated by the quality of their output. Unfortunately, this is the kind of uninformed opinion that defines amateurism.
It’s well known in the publishing industry that when a major publisher shells out millions of dollars in order to exploit the celebrity of a rapidly-burning cultural candle, it’s only doing so as a public service so it can steer some of the resulting revenue toward serious books by serious people. HarperCollins was really only patronizing Sarah Palin and her followers as a means of leveraging cash that could be used to fund the publication of cutting-edge literary fiction and nonfiction of cultural significance. What the amateur eye sees as hypocrisy, the professional understands as a savvy in-joke.
So remember: this kind of egregious, high-profile embarrassment does nothing to change the fact that you’re not worthy of professional status in the publishing industry. When you inevitably include a typo or a bad fact in something you ‘publish’ on the internet, you have defined yourself as a failure, a pretender, an amateur. And the publishing professionals will be the first ones to tell you so.
— Mark Barrett
Levi Montgomery says
I hope that distant drip I hear is from the sarcasm tap.
Brad J. Murray says
Perhaps as a work of fiction the editors chose not to second-guess the facts in her world. I wonder if they gave it a look for internal consistency though, because that always bugs me in bad fantasy.
In all seriousness, I don’t mind differences of opinion about political noise — or even outright lies serving as propaganda. Anyone who spends five minutes around the political sausage machine knows full well that it’s almost all a fraud perpetrated on the public.
What galls me is that this was not a matter of opinion. It was sloppy research and sloppy fact checking in a book as high in profile as any I can think of lately. Did anybody really look at the text? Did anybody actually care? Did anyone at the respected publishing house suspect that a great big book bashed out in four months and rushed into production might contain errors?
Seriously — did anybody actually say, “We need to make sure this book does not make us look stupid?”
I tend to think not. I also think that attitude says something about the level of cynicism the author, the purported author, and the publisher have about the consumer.
I don’t have that attitude. And if that’s the working definition of professionalism, I don’t want it.
Henry Baum says
With Sarah Palin, lying is part of her mystique, it’s part of her strength. That she can lie repeatedly and get away with it. Some people love this. So maybe Harper Collins were savvy enough about this to let the inaccuracies slide, which means they’re complicit in the rise of this demagogue.
Not to get political here, but…yes, I’ll get political here: Sarah Palin’s book is not just poorly constructed, it’s dangerous. Lies cannot become facts.
Moriah Jovan says
O.M.G. I just simply don’t believe it! *aghast*
It was quite shocking to me as well.
P.S. I mentioned you in the previous post, in the updated/links section after the jump.
If you felt taller yesterday, now you know why. 🙂
Will Entrekin says
Heh. Nice tone struck there. And ah, Sarah Palin. The Sarahs (Palin and Silverman) have become a sort of nemesis for me; so untalented and yet so well compensated for their schtick.
As for the professionalism note . . . well. You know, I started out, in college, as pre-med. I planned to become a doctor. Which demands a lot of skill and training, long hours of study and work. A degree conferred by an accredited institution. So it’s probably not altogether surprising that, when I got to my wit’s end at trying to ‘make it’ in the publishing world, I finally sat back and realized that the best I could do myself wasn’t actually all that great, at which point I went to USC for a master’s degree in professional writing. And am now completing an MBA.
Of course, such degrees and training and education aren’t required for writing. Because, of course, writing is an art and a vocation and a higher calling, and one probably shouldn’t go to school for it because who knows if the muse will visit when one does and all that, right?
You’ve hit on one of the more interesting aspects of this whole problem.
It would be one thing if the industry — and here I’m thinking giant skyscrapers clad in black steel and guarded by machine gun turrets — had a rigorous set of standards for authorship or professionalism, leaving would-be authors to decide whether to play imperial ball or join the rebel alliance. But the industry itself is constantly touting the new discovery, the slush-pile miracle, the author-next-door-bestseller — effectively eroding any distinction between apprentice and master.
To paraphrase the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket, the industry’s view is that inside every American there’s a bestselling author trying to get out. But until those people are validated with publication, they’re all hacks.
Will Entrekin says
“But the industry itself is constantly touting the new discovery, the slush-pile miracle, the author-next-door-bestseller — effectively eroding any distinction between apprentice and master.”
Well, yes, true. But consider the old journalism maxim: dog bites man is not a story, but man bites dog is. The examples you mention might well be the industry itself touting the exceptions to the rule of long, hard work and dedication. As for apprentices and masters, I’ve studied with Syd Field, Sid Stebel, Irvin Kershner, and Rachel Resnick–I know I am not a master, but I put in my apprenticeship, and their collective hope is that I will one day surpass even their skills.
I don’t think I’m advocating the necessity that all writers should earn an MFA. But I will note that the experience of an apprenticeship is absolutely invaluable.