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.