Sunday, December 20, 2009

Proverbs 2

You can't judge a book by its cover. Your teachers warned you -- stand guard against snap judgments and superficiality. A good manager understands that there is more going on than meets the eye. Right? Yet how often did you find yourself interviewing a prospective employee and after thirty seconds having made up your mind, judging the candidate, whether fairly or unfairly, an impossible hire, thinking how she would be a poor fit, considering the rest of the team. The remaining twenty-nine and a half minutes of the conversation nothing but a shameful and boring pas de deux -- the eager candidate proffering her experience and enthusiasm, you feigning interest, both of you instinctively aware that you were engaged in a vain exercise, that somehow the decision had been made in those first few moments. It's all about chemistry, poot, it's all about one's immediate reaction. But what of those interminable meetings with the whole publishing team sitting around a table looking at the proposed cover art for an upcoming title? It's too red, too feminine, too chilly, too blue, it lacks oomph, it's too commercial, it needs to pop, the head's cut off, it's too literary, how will it read online, even the finance guys who didn't read and had no taste chimed in. Hard to believe the designers put up with it. After all, they were actually trained to do this for a living. Think of all the man-hours spent in getting it right. Listen, you've only got a couple of seconds to entice the consumer -- it's critical you grab them right from the get-go. And still so many of the same lousy covers! Even if there's a good book inside.

A wager is a fool's argument. Every Tuesday you rolled the dice anew. Another crop of titles went on sale. The more delusional among your colleagues who worked for big-time publishers likened it to Hollywood's Friday movie releases. That first weekend is all important. You gotta ride the publicity machine. As though America's reading public was eagerly awaiting the latest mid-list literary or genre title! Emboldened by the astronomical numbers for J. K. Rowling, Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer, even some old-timers who should've known better foolishly allowed themselves to believe in a publishing god capable of granting bestsellerdom to any old property if only positioned properly. Up at Harvard Business School, word got out that publishing bestsellers is a replicable feat. All it takes is will and a million dollar marketing budget. Listen, poot, there are fourteen million people out there we're not reaching. Let's go get 'em. You watched and did little, if anything, to feed their delusion. You thought they wouldn't notice. You were betting on their indifference, the indifference of the employer who owns your hide but doesn't know what you do, the god of big payroll, good benefits, and everlasting job security. That effin god fell asleep sometime in the late eighties. Times were good. Money grew on trees. No worries about recycling back then. Then things went south and the stinking sonofabitch woke up. You got your just desserts. Now you can tell everybody how it feels to be a fool.

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