Ah, human nature.
I just came across this post by Irene Watson, owner of Reader Views, a long-time and well-regarded source for book reviews in the publishing industry. In it, Irene describes how she was taken aback by an author’s accusation that her staff was not professional for offering an objective opinion about the book:
Don’t feel bad, Irene. Welcome to the club. The same thing happened to us last month.
We were hired to design a book cover. It was to be the first in a series, so naturally we wanted to make sure this first book was as strong as it could be to establish interest in future titles.
As always, we began the job by asking the author for his thoughts. After all, we want to design in the right direction from the start, and nobody can know a book better than the author, right? Well, in this case, not so much.
The author’s first mistake was a misleading title. It had nothing to do with the content of the book, and it contained a word that any reasonable person would associate with the offerings of a very large company. Perhaps not a trademark in the legal sense, but certainly an association that could pose a problem. When I brought this up, his response was, “It will be good publicity for my book if a big company goes after a little author like me.” Hmm.
The author’s second mistake was to choose a cover graphic that had nothing whatever to do with the subject. And I mean nothing. We’ve seen a lot of strange choices in cover graphics over the years, but this was beyond the pale.
Shortly after our conversation, I received an email from the author’s business partner. “Tell us what you really think,” he wrote. “We’re new at this, and we want to be sure we’re heading in the right direction.”
Silly me, I believed him.
I wrote back that we had discussed his title and cover graphic and we didn’t get the connection between the two. We were promptly fired, with the accusation “Well, if you don’t get it, we’ll need to work with someone who does.” Hmm.
I won’t tell you the name of the book, because the author is an attorney, and I’ve got better things to do with my time than defend against a lawsuit. But really, was this response even remotely sensible? Why did he ask for an honest opinion, if he didn’t really want one? And further, why did he hire us if he planned to tell us what to do?
When I was growing up, my parents were in awe of experts: doctors, lawyers, priests. They never would have questioned, let alone argued with, the advice of someone far more educated than themselves.
Today, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Self-esteem has become so inflated that many people won’t believe the advice of others who really do know more. Like authors who write their own titles, choose their own cover graphics, design their own book covers, and insist that laying out a book in Word is sufficient. A curious blindness sets in, and the amateur results are judged to be “as good as” professional work.
I’m not saying we should go back to the days when experts were all-powerful people who regularly intimidated their clients. But can we take just a few steps back in time, and recognize that we all have different areas of expertise? I think Irene would agree, and I hope you do, too.
As to the author of the above book, you can bet I’ll be watching Amazon to see what happened.
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