Friday, October 26, 2007

The Power of Platform

There’s a new debate raging in publishing and one that I find more than just a little interesting. It concerns two books that give advice on getting kids to eat their vegetables (and other foods). The first book, The Sneaky Chef, was published in April and written by Missy Chase Lapine, the former publisher of Eating Well magazine. The second book, Deceptively Delicious, was written by Jessica Seinfeld, the wife of Jerry Seinfeld and published on October 5. The debate, according to the New York Times, concerns whether or not material was stolen from the Lapine book to publish the Seinfeld title. I’ll let you read the story yourself because that’s not really what I find interesting about this whole thing. What I find interesting is Oprah.

On October 8 Jessica Seinfeld appeared on Oprah to pitch her new book and of course sell millions of copies (which she seems to be doing, according to the Wall Street Journal). Why? Other than being the wife of Jerry Seinfeld, who is Jessica Seinfeld? What really makes her qualified to write a cookbook guiding us to feed our kids better? As far as I can tell, nothing. According to the bio on her Web site, Jessica Seinfeld has no cooking experience (beyond what I have anyway), no nutrition experience, and no expertise in the food industry. She’s a mom. That’s fabulous, but I see book proposals from moms all the time. I turn them down all the time. Why? Platform. Missy Chase Lapine (according to her bio), on the other hand, has years of experience as publisher of Eating Well magazine. So why is it that Seinfeld is getting all of the media attention and selling the books? Duh! She’s Jerry’s wife.

I’m flabbergasted! I’m astonished that this has happened on such a large scale, and of course I’m not surprised at all. Unlike speculation in the media and on message boards, I do not think Harper or Seinfeld stole anything from Lapine’s proposal. I don’t even think they stole the idea. Almost every day I get a proposal similar to something I received the day before. Remember, few ideas are original, it’s the execution (or the platform in this case) that makes the difference. What I’m flabbergasted by (but shouldn’t be) is the celebrity sucking-up that the media does so obviously and that the public follows along with. Let’s be honest. If you are looking for a better way to feed your child vegetables, would you go to a comedian’s wife or someone with a food background? I would go with the food background. However, it seems I’m not on par with most of America. Most of America is going to go with whomever Oprah suggests they go with.

Clearly I’m ranting now and probably making little sense. So what is my point besides that I’m disgusted with Oprah and the entire media world? This is why platform is so dang important and, when it comes to nonfiction, why platform is critical. Why it’s often the very first thing an editor looks at and asks for. Media is crucial. Media sells books. Platform equals media. If you have any sort of connections that are guaranteed to get you in Oprah’s door, a publisher is going to snag you, no matter how small your credentials may be. The truth of the matter is that it does make a difference. Before you start ranting on the stupidity of agents and editors, remember, you can only blame us so much. It’s our job to buy and sell books that sell and it’s the public who makes the final decision as to what book sells and what doesn’t.

Jessica

49 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ms. Lapine is very fortunate to may have been plagiarized because now she’ll make so much more money from the media exposure….that’s the logic of many folks, who don’t even know Ms. Lapine. Yeh, she’ll even be more happy when her greedy lawyers start deposing the Seinfeld’s entire HarperCollins book prep team in 3-4 weeks to see who leaked Ms. Lapine’s manuscript (which was eventually auctioned successfully to another publishing house). HarperCollins even had to change the artwork on Seinfeld’s book cover (a winking lady with carrots nearby) because Ms. Lapine’s publisher complained when they noticed a flyer on the book. You see, Ms. Lapine didn’t use an agent when she first presented her manuscript to HarperCollins so the book staff could possibly have just said, ” Heh, look here, a free manuscript to steal. Nobody will ever know.”

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, Jessica, that it is pretty sad how many people blindly follow the recommendations of a celebrity. There are too many people who simply can't think for themselves. They are the ones who buy into ridiculous claims based on no solid research merely because a person they perceive as having authority or fame said so.

If I was chosing a book to help me feed the kids better, I too would go with the one written by someone with the better credentials. Then again, I don't need a book to figure it out.

When I read non-fiction, I always want to know the credentials of the author(s), and what their information is based on.

It's too bad the media is so willing to promote anything done by a celebrity, and shame on the public for being so willing to lap it up.

Chris Redding said...

We are a pathetic society.

Anonymous said...

I think this whole thing is about exposure. How many women actually sat around thinking, Hmm, I wish I could get a cookbook that would have healthy, delicious meals for my kids. Probably not too many. They struggle every day putting the vegetables on the plate and pray their kids can be coaxed, threatened or manipulated into eating it. Fast forward, Oprah's show comes on and you have someone telling you how she does it. Gives the recipes and the audience gets to sample them. Regular people are saying, I don't taste the chick peas, or broccoli, or whatever. Wow, you think, never thought there was any other way to feed my kids and these ordinary people seem to think the food taste good, and gee look at the kids, they're gobbling the stuff up. Hmmm, might be something I might like to try as I have a 4 yr old who is as picky as hell.

Now who knew Ms. Lapine even had a book. Not many. Why? Of course, exposure. Why is it we can't get better candidates running for office? Cause it costs millions of dollars to campaign and get ads on television.

We are bombarded with marketing all day long. Is this different? Nope. Do we check to make sure the stuff coming from China for our kids isn't lead-based? Nope. We see the cute little toy and our child cries out for it and we buy it because the commercial plays a billion times a day on Disney Channel.

If all books had the kind of exposure an Oprah would give them, maybe more people would read a heck lot more than do now.

Anonymous said...

Let's face it publishers are out there to make money. End of story. If people are willing to fork out the money to read about celebrity memoirs and autobiographies, they'll take it. If Oprah loved one of your client's books and wanted to have her on the show, what sane person wouldn't jump at the opportunity for that kind of media exposure.

beverley said...

Hey, controversy is every. Before this debate I'd never even heard about Ms. Lapine. I have a child who doesn't like his vegetables too much, so I think I'll check out the book. Mothers sometimes just get desperate that way, and if someone else has found a way to get them to eat them...well more power to them!

Anonymous said...

Why such surprise? This is the way it is.

Hopefully the public will recognize how the system works and not be so naive.

But probably not.

December/Stacia said...

*applause*

I remember thinking when I saw Seinfeld's book, "Um...that's not a new idea." (In fact, after I read about it in Vicki Iovine's Girlfriend's Guide to Toddlers several years ago, I found out my own Mom used to do it.)

I find the whole thing sad and squick-making...not least of which because, I have to admit, I find it sad that we know so little about food these days that we need a cookbook to tell us how to best slip some vegetable puree into recipes. I love to cook, and I cook a lot. It isn't hard for me to make casual little substitutions here and there to get more healthy foods into my kids, because I know what I'm working with and how things should taste and what texture they should be. I cook dinner pretty much every night and have for years. (That was my little push for the Slow Food movement, there.)

I agree though, I doubt the idea was stolen. I think Seinfeld got it from another Mom (possibly her own) or a magazine, or a book, or thought of it herself, and rushed off to get it published by virtue of the fact that the child she's feeding these foods to is Jerry Seinfeld's. (And ten to one, the recipes belong to whatever chef she worked with and not herself anyway.)

Celebrity culture is so depressing.

Don Martin said...

This is a great example to demonstrate why "platform" is so important and how the lack of platform is a non-starter for agents and publishers.

I'd still like to see you write a piece on how an unpublished author with expertise in a given field might go about developing their platform.

Zany Mom said...

My kids prefer vegetables to sweets and snacks. Who'd a thunk it?

I'm not the world's best cook (read: I hate cooking!) so a cookbook might help me.

I'm not a huge fan of celebrity and I always wonder about those who take the advice of a celebrity on things like parenting and nutrition, etc. I mean, who are *they*? Famous? Big whoop.

Yes, a nutritionist would be more informational.

But what I don't get is why the credentials of the expert aren't enough. Why another great nutritionist who didn't happen to edit a magazine or have a chef tv show etc. can't get a book published.

I have credentials in a non-fiction area and would love to write a book on the topic that would be informational, practical, and humorous. But other than my credentials, I'm an introvert single mom with zero platform. Basically why bother because no one (agent/publisher) would look at me because I have zero platform.

I find that kind of sad (not for me personally but that lots of good books will never get written for that reason).

Kimber An said...

One question - is Ms. Lapine a mother? If not, I'm all for Jerry's wife! I'm a mom and I know that it doesn't matter how much you know about nutrition or how delicious the food is that you make. If you can't get the kid to eat it, all that's irrelevent. Only a mom who actually feeds her own (as opposed to daycare, nanny, or McDonald's) children or a childcare provider will know how to get children to eat their vegetables.

Besides, do you know how hard it is to be a wife? My husband has a crazy schedule. Mrs. Seinfield's husband is also a celebrity.

Oh, no. I'm a mom with children who aren't crazy about vegetables and I'm a wife. I won't be discounting Jerry Seinfeld's wife. And I've never even seen any of his shows. I have zero interest in him as an entertainer. If Ms. Lapine is not a mother, I would buy Mrs. Seinfeld's book instead without even checking any of her other qualifications.
;)

Timmy Mac said...

I am a comedian by trade, and I strongly urge everyone to avoid any cookbooks written by my wife.

Laura Kramarsky said...

My sister-in-law (who has a book coming out on wedding etiquette, a book she could not have sold, no matter how well written, without platform) wrote a little blurb about Deceptively Delicious on her blog a while back which sent me over to Amazon to look at it.

Now, I find the whole idea of both of these books offensive; they basically tell you it's ok to lie to your children instead of getting them accustomed to veggies in their natural state, to underdevelop your children's palates, and to make it so kids will think brownies are *supposed* to taste the way they do when they have spinach in them. My nieces and nephews (all under 7 years old) eat vegetables quite happily and have since they got onto solid food. Some veggies they don't like, it's true, but then, some veggies I don't like, either!

Did Seinfeld steal the idea? Probably. Not so much the idea of mushing food beyond recognition (and, quite possibly, beyond health benefit) and stuffing it into food for children, but the idea of making a cookbook out of it. Did she steal the recipes? Probably not. (See the reveiw on Amazon written by mothers who tried both.)

But what I find so fascinating about all this uproar is not the question of platform--which, perhaps because I know quite a few non-fiction writers, I have always known was a necessity--but because it so clearly highlights the difference between platform and celebrity.

Clearly, Lapine has more ethos when it comes to food issues. Readers *should* trust her more. Her platform *should* be stronger. But it's not. Lapine's platform won't be enough to entice people who buy Seinfeld's book first and find their kids hate the recipes to try again with hers.

Celebrity trumps platform. Oprah's own celebrity status illustrated this for years with her "book club". At the height of the craze, people weren't even reading the cover copy to see whether they found the story remotely interesting. They just bought the book because she said to. (Someone did a survey years ago that said something over half the people who bought those books never read them.)

It's not just in the book world that celebrity trumps talent, but it is, perhaps, only in the book world that it trumps platform. Could Seinfeld have gotten a regular column on food and health in a magazine? Probably not; her name might be big enough to sell a book (with a big marketing campaign) but it wouldn't keep readers coming back month after month.

Of course, I am a bit defensive about platform because I am counting on it in some ways myself!

Tammie said...

This bugs me just like the line of celebrities who write moral children's books.

But it's as they say - what sells.

Erik said...

I don't mean to disagree with you entirely. Media does sell books. However, media sells books quickly. Where will Ms. Seinfeld's book be a few weeks from now?

The bestseller lists, Oprah, and other mechanisms of hype can definately spike book sales in the short run. I have two questions:

1) Books which take longer and have more staying power could also sell as many copies. It's a comparison between a sprinter and a marathon runner - both are great athletes, and both have their followings. Are we certain that books which spike on the NY Times Bestseller List for a few weeks ultimately sell more copies than books that build a following through their quality?

2) Even if any one book sells more when the hype machine is smokin', what are the costs of the hype machine and the net return on the book? I know, Oprah is free, but not all of it is. And there are a lot of staff handling Ms. Seinfeld's publicity at this point - people who aren't cheap. Even if the gross is bigger, is the net?

Beyond those two, I wonder about hype and the eternal search for the One Big Hit(tm) that seems to drive books. Publishers must run on a "feast or famine" kind of cycle. That's a recipe for disaster in the long run. Any good bartender knows that you want a tight group of regulars - people whose drinking habits pay the bills every month. Penguin has this with their classics, but Harper seems to be running from one big promo to the next. Bars like that eventually hit a dry period and die.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if I should take umbrage to this or not. I watch Oprah, not regular, but enough. Have I ever bought anything she's recommended on her show? Nope. Why? Because most of the stuff I couldn't use or don't want, and I find her book selections absolutely depressing. I want to read romance and HEA. She does not. But when I saw the show with Jessica Seinfeld and people saying that the food tasted good I was ecstatic. I thought, perhaps this will help me to get my children to eat MORE vegetables. They like a number of them but not enough for me. And if they're going to eat a brownie or cake, wouldn't it better if it had even the smallest bit of nutrition in it than not. So I bought the book. Didn't even know about Ms. Lapino. If she'd been the one on Oprah, I would have bought it because it's a area I struggle with my kids, and if there is a better way to feed them, I'll take it. If I have to sneak some vegetables into their food they won't eat, I'm all for that. You know why, because guilt never stops when you're a mother!!!

Anonymous said...

Why are we surprised?

2 things are at work here:

1. For years Oprah has been an author "star-maker" through her book of the month selection. Remember the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval"? It's the Oprah seal of approval.

2. Oprah reaches millions of people in 1 hour. What better form of advertising?

Kathryn Lilley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathryn Lilley said...

I so agree with you, Jessica, when you said, "Remember, few ideas are original, it’s the execution (or the platform in this case) that makes the difference."

The idea of making vegetable appealing to tots is probably one that has occured to every Mom/would-be cookbook writer in the universe. The difference is in execution. One author had a strong "platform," the other did not. Quality of writing, quality of execution, may have taken a back seat to platform in this case (I don't know, because I hate to cook and haven't seen the books, lol!)

One time, a writer took offense when I said that there are few original ideas in the world; the difference lies in their unique execution and style. But I really think that's true. Think how many times the Cinderella story has been retold in wildly different ways, and also Romeo and Juliet.

As for "platform," I think it's a reality we simply have to account for in the celebrity-obsessed culture. We'll buy a cookbook faster from a celebrity (or even from a wife of a celebrity), the same way we may buy a lipstick or purse faster if we see it worn by a famous actress. Best, Kathryn

Erik said...

Kathryn, Jessica, et al:

While it may be true that "few ideas are original", there are a lot of new ideas out there which are simply never going to make it into popular culture. What it comes down to is whether someone is writing because they have something to say or because they want to be a (famous) writer.

Ms. Seinfeld is probably in the latter camp. I have no problem getting my kids to eat broccoli or spinach because they always have (and I do all the cooking). Methods for making this happen are well known, and have been for a long time. A cookbook on the topic is not anything new, and anyone writing one must know this.

I never write anything that has been done before, and when I catch myself going for the trite, simple plot device I stop and erase it. This makes it very unlikely that I will ever be picked up by a publisher because such work is very hard to market. Popular media such as books are a business, after all. They don't really want something new because it is more difficult.

A celebrity doing something very well known is an easy sell. You can get on Oprah with it. Of course that gets picked up and amplified.

While there may be little that is new, it's not as though there is nothing new. You simply will never read about it in the New York Times or see it on Oprah. These media vehicles are largely one and the same thing in the end because they are both fed by PR machines. That is how the business is run.

You find the original stuff hanging out in bars in out of the way places in the Midwest, one story at a time. It takes a while, but when it works it's gold. Beats the crap out of Oprah any day.

Anonymous said...

What should an author do to build strong platform? It feels like, How do you get a job without experience and how do you get experience without a job?

jlboduch said...

Amen to that! I guess I'm not on par with the rest of America, either. I'd rather get my foodie know-how tips from someone in the industry--the cooking industry, that is. What's next, a picture book by Maddox Pitt-Jolie? (And somewhere in the publishing industry, a lightbulb goes off and a call is made to Brangelina's publicist . . .)

Adrienne said...

It also helps that Oprah just recently voiced a character for Jerry's much much MUCH advertised BEE MOVIE (I don't think I've seen such buzz about a movie in ages - get it? Buzz?!). She did a whole show dedicated to the film and I couldn't for the life of me figure out why . . . and then they cut to her standing at a mic being a voice.

Probably bonded a bit with Jerry. Jerry mentions his wife has this book . . .

Ah ha! It all makes sense now.

Heather said...

Thanks for this post, Jessica. It means a lot. It's refreshing to read an agent's thoughts on the unspoken rules of publishing (are there any more you can share?)

Sarah said...

I appreciate your point of view...I never even knew about Lapine's book until now. But seriously, what's so wrong with someone writing a book about something they're passionate about, whether or not they have the "credentials"? Maybe she loves research (like myself)? I know she's got to be passionate about her kids. It's not a rocket science idea for a book, so why would it take a rocket scientist to write it? Or even nutritionist. We all know vegetables=good. I don't think she should be slammed down because she wrote a book without being an expert in her field. She had a good idea and she ran with it. Now the alleged stealing is another issue altogether, if it is even an issue.

I don't think most Americans (knew that they) had the opportunity to look at the two books side by side and compare them before making a purchasing decision. Regular folks do not know the minute a new book comes out. We hear about the books we read through word of mouth and advertising, and frankly, the other book just didn't get promoted enough. We didn't even know about it.

So Seinfeld has built-in publicity because she has a well-known husband. Does that mean she should ban herself from any type of endeavor so as to level the playing field for other folks? I don't think so.

Just stretching my brain on this issue! It's definitely not an easy one.

Josephine Damian said...

Kimber An: I'm with you on this one, sort of. Being a mom is "platform" enough for me in terms of being qualified to write a get-your-kids-to-eat-healthy book like this, but does anyone believe Jerry Seinfeld's wife actually COOKS?

I read that her agent pitched her as "stunning." Imagine if Jerry had married his former girlfriend, the buxom Shoshana Lowenstein (a smart gal who wanted to pursue her own ambitions and not just be known as "the wife of..."). Would the agent have pitched her as "stunning with big knockers?"

Seems the message of being telegenic is a big part of platform as well.

What also bothered me is how Seinfeld got on the phone himself with his wife when she was first contacted about the possibility she stole someone's idea. He ranted that his Mrs. would never steal someone's idea SOLELY because she "didn't need the money," as if a writer, or someone looking to make a name for themself (and not just be known as "the wife of...") would have a motivation for personal validation, acclaim and being a household name besides money.

Jerry Seinfeld comes across as controlling. Maybe that's his wife's motivation for wanting to have opportunities of "her own."

Anonymous said...

I had an interesting thought regarding Erik's comments considering this is an agent's blog. The hype machine costs money, yes. Didn't Trump just pay out something like $25K to about 1000 people standing in line waiting to buy his book and have it autographed? Who bears the cost of promotion? Authors and, sometimes, publishers.

Do agents pick up the promotion tab, or do they simply reap the benefit of author and publisher promo? If the latter, then those NYT Bestseller spikes don't cost agents anything, and, in the long run, it's the agents that net out better than either the author or the publisher.

Merry Jelinek said...

Interesting topic - I'm not quite convinced there was any stealing involved (as many of you have commented, it's an old idea), so I'm going to lay that end of the debate to the side because it would, at this point, be conjecture.

Mrs. Seinfeld obviously has the better platform here. Regardless of credentials in nutrition, most moms will buy these things because the book strikes them in the isle or because they're having a particular problem getting their child to eat veggies... seeing that same topic discussed in a book on Oprah will stick with them, and will likely be an easier book to find because booksellers stock and market accordingly.

On a personal level, I'm more insulted that a nutritionist would push a book that essentially teaches children NOT to eat veggies, the recipes are geared to trick them into eating healthier food, but as a parent (and any pediatrician will tell you this) you build lifelong eating habits in childhood... if you're hiding the veggies in a brownie, junior will eventually feed himself and he's not going to order spinach brownies.

Mothers, however, have been pulling these tricks for years, same with hiding medicine in juice or food... well, that's my two cents on the worth of those type of recipe books, but I'm obviously not the key market here.

I have heard a lot of people, writers especially, snipe about Mrs. Seinfeld riding on her husband's name rather than her own merit - and I think it comes off as catty. She has a platform, she can use it. Inferring that she's not a real mother or probably doesn't even know how to cook because of her income or position, well, it still strikes me as catty. Having enough money to not have to raise your own children doesn't necessarily mean that she's leaving them in a nanny's care full time... and inferring it without basis in fact simply strikes me as jealousy.

If it were proven to be a stolen idea or out and out plagiarism that would be one thing. But I don't hold it against her that she's more marketable than someone else writing a similiar recipe book.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

People, Build Your Platform!

All Seinfeld's wife is doing is piggybacking on the platform her husband already established. That is the power of platforms - if it's big enough, a whole lot of other people can jump up on it too.

Now, how did Seinfeld build HIS platform? He was a big "nobody" when he started out. Answer: The same way we writers who are not married to "celebrities" build our platform - the "old fashioned" way - talent, cleverness, winning things, networking, etc.

Building a platform is, applying the creativity that usually goes into your writing, to promotion. Promotion is not a punishment for being creative! It is (in my opinion) just another avenue for creative expression.

Melanie Avila said...

Your timing is excellent. I'm planning to start up my own blog today so I can baby-step my way to building a platform. As a new writer this is an understandable, yet daunting, part of the publishing process.

Oprah's book club drives me crazy because while I know she's getting people to read who might not otherwise pick up a book, I hate the fact that her stamp declares a book worthy. For years I've managed to buy books BEFORE she picks them and I love my clean, Oprah-free, covers.

Thanks for highlighting the need for a platform and how it helps if you're not a celebrity's wife.

Marina said...

I'm flabbergasted too, but I'm also wondering why you're surprised? Agents and publishers constantly push celebrities for their "platforms," and this is the result. Yay for Jessica and her publisher, and I guess it's good for Missy too (a bonus), but since when does celeb and celeb-wife=author? Since that's what agents, editors and publishers have been pushing on to the public. I agree that we are pathetic for buying into it. Would Jenna Bush have snagged a book-deal if she was, say, Jenna Jones? Nope. You, as an agent, at least have some power, some influence, to help change this 21st century phenom of billionaire's wives getting book deals and publicity because of who they are; we do not. (I'm not sure if Oprah is to blame, either.) We just have to suck it up, and are. I know I am, but it still cheapens the publishing industry in this country. I guess that's just the way it is, but I do not have to like it; and I will not buy ANY celebrity's book based on name alone.

Anonymous said...

If I took a potential Number 1 hit song, change some lyics around slightly, maybe change a few musical notes around, and call it my own, then is that plagiarism?

Ms. Lapine's problem was that she didn't have an author agent when she initially gave her manuscript to HarperCollins. Basically, somehow, Ms. Seinfeld's book prep team must have gotten the manuscript and said, "WTF, use it."

phammonds said...

Possibly the only media news more preposterous is this: Britney's mom has a deal to write a parenting book. I'm assuming it's a how-not-to.


http://omg.yahoo.com/yes-its-true:-lynne-spears-to-write-parenting-book/news/3427

Michele Lee said...

I agree, Jessica. The problem that I have isn't the dueling books (though as a writer, that would have to be frustrating). The biggest suck in this mess is that miss O-word, who started out with "hooray for spreading the word about books!" is now a snob and something of a bully and more importantly all the people who blindly follow, all the authors who are summarily ignored because they don't get the nod and all the publishers who leech onto anything with a hint of "it might be on Oprah" also ignoring writers and works that are just as good, but not as attention getting.

My husband asked me, "Do you really think that the publisher didn't just take the idea then pay off the celebrity to put her name on it?"

And I had to be honest and say "If I let myself think like that I couldn't keep sending my stories out. And I need to keep sending my stories out."

Anonymous said...

Authors have managed to sell their books without Oprah (isn't the figure something like over 50% of books sold are romance novels--and we know she doesn't read those) and they'll continue to do so when she's gone.

Didn't Skinny Bitch hit the NYT list because it was seen in some celebrity's hand?

BookEnds, LLC said...

Usually I like to sit quiet and let discussions happen on the comment boards and I've really enjoyed watching what all of you had to say, but today I have more to say so I will. Are you sick of me yet?

My thought on whether the material was sold: I just can't imagine it. I worked at two publishers and at no time did someone get a proposal, reject it, but hold on to it so that they could pass it on to someone else. However. There are plenty of times where a proposal might come in and someone likes the idea, but feels it needs a new take. They might start looking for something like that (especially if the book gets sold out from under them). Stealing ideas is very common in publishing. Why do you think there are so many Davinci Code rip-offs right now. Stealing actual material is not.

I do think Seinfeld came to them with the idea as hers. I just think they bought her book because of her name. Let's face it, as many of you have said, this is not a book that would normally hit a bestseller list. It's a small niche book. That's why Harper originally rejected it (I assume).

The cover argument. Cover ideas are also stolen everyday. When an editor conferences with the art department for a new cover often she'll bring in examples of other covers she likes. Why do you think so many book covers look alike?

The Oprah issue. I just think it's lame that when pitched two different books she chooses the one that is clearly from a buddy. If she didn't think Lapine's book was worth doing a show about why would Seinfeld's? We all know the answer to that.

Okay, I should stop now. I'm cooking a delicious tomoto soup (homemade) with grated carrots. Sneaky I know, but it gives great taste ;)

--jhf

BookEnds, LLC said...

Spelling error, typos and grammar mistakes. All the product of a glass of delicious red wine and the fact that I'm typing from my kitchen counter. It's Friday folks!

--jhf

ethel moo cow said...

I, for one, couldn't be happier to see the publishing community striving to get your young children to eat more vegetables. Large quantities of fruit, vegetables, and grains are key to instilling healthy, life-long eating habits with your children.

And fish. Seafood is a wonderful source of low-fat protein for your children.

Oh, and chicken, too. Plus pork, that's the other white meat, you know?

Yes, fruit, vegetables, grains, fish, chicken, and pork. There's really nothing else you'd want to serve your young children.

No, nothing at all.

Moo.

spyscribbler said...

TGIF, Jessica!

I need to buy a bottle of wine. I always forget to do the small things, like enjoy a glass of wine at the end of the week.

Maude said...

Remember the fake memoir that was first shopped around as a novel?
Oprah got away with it.
I despise "self-help" books.
They are shallow bits of BS.
I'd write about what not to do, I know about that.
LLC, a writer should know if he or she "has a book".
This goes for fiction as well. Some books that I read, I wonder who thought that the writer could write?
I am happy when after I've written a lot on a ms, I go back and make nasty comments to myself about my own ineptitude and idiocy.
We are in the narcissistic age.
Anything for attention.

Anonymous said...

Okay, after reading the NY Times article, HarperCollins is not looking very good. These are some serious coincidences in that small window of time, even the artwork issue.

Anonymous said...

Basing this question strictly on your reaction to the situation, completely ignoring the NYT, because you don’t think Harper or Seinfeld stole anything from Lapine’s proposal, I don’t understand why you’re upset that Seinfeld’s platform is better than Lapine’s. I think you’re pointing out why platform is important, but you seem to be resentful that your money was on the wrong horse. Shouldn’t Lapine suck it up, just like the hundreds of other authors who either don’t have a platform, or have one that’s just not good enough? Should Seinfeld be chastised because she’s able to produce the equivalent of every agent’s wet dream? If Seinfeld were your client, would you still be flabbergasted?

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

The entire argument aside,

Could someone please write a cookbook on how to get my husband to eat his veggies?

Chessie

Laura Kramarsky said...

Chessie -

Two words: butter, garlic.

You don't even need a lot of butter.

Heather B. Moore said...

Celebrity status sells, unfortunately for the rest of us "real" writers.

But as a mom, trying to get my kids to eat healthy is always a battle--like telling my kids that Cream of Mushroom soup is really Chocolate Chip soup.

Just because 2 women wrote a cookbook that's similiar shouldn't be made into such a big deal. I wonder how many such cookbooks were "submitted" and weren't published.

Anonymous said...

This should not surprise anyone.

Celebrity sells and sells and sells. Why else are we bombarded with "news" stories about Brittany's hair/children/rehab or TomKat or Paris Hilton? Because the public wants entertainment, and the media want to sell it to us.

"Celebrity trumps platform."

And we now elect politician by how good they look on camera, not their platform. It started back in 1960 with the televised debate of Nixon and Kennedy.

And so we choose cookbooks by who wrote and endorsed the book, not by the quality of the content.

Erik said...

Back to my original point:

We all understand that a celebrity cookbook will outsell a cookbook written by an expert in the first few weeks, regardless of quality.

Do we know for a fact that the celebrity cookbook outsells the expert's in the first year? The first two years? While the initial spike is large for the celeb, we don't know the staying power.

Even if the gross is larger overall for the celeb, is the net larger? The expenses of pushing the platform might well be higher when operating in the hollyweird stratosphere.

In short, I don't think we can support this statement:

"Celebrity sells and sells and sells. Why else are we bombarded with "news" stories about Brittany's hair/children/rehab or TomKat or Paris Hilton? Because the public wants entertainment, and the media want to sell it to us."

The people in the media may go for this stuff because they are judged by short-term hits, and judged by the gross and not the net. I know of no people - and I mean NO PEOPLE AT ALL - who care about celebrities. Fully 90% of Americans have said that they are tired of celeb scandal nooze:
http://www.abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/wireStory?id=3445828

There is no doubt that there is a big industry paid by advertisers to hunt down "The Latest(tm)". These advertisers believe that this is essential in order to generate sales, but their goals are not necessarily the same as a publisher, an agent, or especially an author.

In short, following the lemmings does not necessarily make sense to other industries. No one has answered two very simple questions on the relevance of it. Poorly understood market dynamics may have led to horribly designed incentive systems and a play to the vanity of being one of the "cool kids".

Just because everyone does it doesn't mean it's remotely smart. This industry has shown itself to be incredibly stupid in some rather fundamental ways.

Christine Lee said...

I truly love your blog Jessica, and when the weekend comes around I truly miss it. I am absolutely greedy for the inside information and advice you offer us all. And I can see that there are many of us. It must be good and bad to be so much in demand.

I can also see that your blog could give you access to good manuscripts, does it give you access to anything else that is valuable to you.


You turn it over to us for comment, and I wondered if any responses have struck a particular chord with you and altered how you think or do things?

I know for myself, that when it comes time to find an agent, yours would be the first I would turn to. Might as well start at the top. And by that I mean an agent that seems to have some integrity, as well as contacts.