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