what Meghan McCain can teach publishers (NO SERIOUSLY)

today, a friend of mine forwarded me this article, and (completely unintentionally, especially since said friend is not even on Twitter) set me off on a Twitter rant of large (and possibly obnoxious) proportions. and i thought, lest i be misunderstood or the point be lost or anyone who wasn’t on at 11:30pm on a Thursday night after a tornado (!) in Brooklyn wanted to know what the hell happened, i’d put this into a slightly more formal and contained post.

let’s take it as given that this reviewer is an ass with an ax to grind, and i in no way condone this review, ESPECIALLY the opening paragraph which is pretty much an unforgivable use of snark. for those of you who don’t want to click through (and i don’t blame you), the guy trashes the hell out of Meghan McCain and her memoir DIRTY SEXY POLITICS, citing egregious misuse of punctuation, lack of grammar, blatant falsehoods that a little Googling could correct, etc. and he’s nasty about it. but that’s not what is interesting, or soapbox-worthy here.

what is important to me is to note that the reviewer asks: where was her editor?

indeed. where WAS her editor? now, some of you argued that Meghan McCain is a blogger, with a specific voice — one that, apparently (i have not fact-checked this, nor will i, thank you very much), involves misuse of punctuation and grammar, and no fact-checking or logical reasoned thought. fine. blogging by nature is an informal medium. (witness my lack of standard capitalization.) but to say that the book is “in her voice” and that the polish good editing, copy-editing, and fact-checking would have given it would be deceptive or dishonest or just plain unnecessary is disingenuous. [addendum: and it’s just as disingenuous to place all the blame on her. the point is not that she is a bad/sloppy/poorly informed writer, though she may be those things — the point is that she is those things in a book that is MEANT to be a valid expression of her viewpoint, which is embarrassing for her, surely, but MORE SO for her publisher.]

the fact of the matter is that a publishing house — a MAJOR publishing house — paid for, accepted, packaged, published, and is actively marketing and selling a book which contains gratuitous errors of grammar, punctuation, and basic fact. what does this say to us about the state of publishing? does it say that publishers, editors, publicists, and all the people in between are necessary? does it say to us (us meaning the reading public) that books are worth paying full-price for? does it say to us that big publishing houses, with their agents-required and their labyrinthine contracts and (comparatively) high-priced books, are worthy of surviving in these times of self-publishing and piracy and DIY everything?

no. no it does not. what it says to us is this: you want us to care that times are tough, and that you are struggling to survive, but you don’t want to give us proof of your importance.

the argument was made to me that all this book is supposed to do is ride the wave of McCain’s high profile until that wave is gone, and then the book too will be gone.

i ask you: is that really what we’re all working for?

i said it on Twitter, and i’ll say it here: i believe in publishing. i believe in big publishers and small publishers, i believe in DIY zines and fancy-pants french-flapped deckled-edge collectible editions. i believe that there are things about the traditional model that work, that are right and good and important to the survival of books and literature, the same way i believe that new models offer new opportunities.

i also believe, however, that you have to earn your keep. and if publishers want us to continue to believe in them, to believe that they serve an important purpose and that they can and do give us better books than any other model, then they need to GIVE US THOSE BETTER BOOKS.

that is not what has happened here. not in the least. and this is not an isolated case.

so, my dear darling publishers (and this goes beyond the house responsible for this particular project — this goes for each and every one of you, whatever your size and track record): be more convincing. if your job is to give us quality, then GIVE US quality. if you want us to pay more for quality books, and be happy about it, then GIVE US books that are copy-edited, fact-checked, proofed.

i know that you’re better than a poorly written series of blog posts slapped together in a well-designed cardboard package. i know it, and you know it. so, please: prove us both right. earn your keep. be relevant. be gatekeepers. be tastemakers. be fun, intelligent, unique, thought-provoking, scandalous, whimsical, fluffy, deep, insightful, blasphemous. WHATEVER IT IS that you want to do, that it is your house’s goal to do, do that. but do it WELL.

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what Meghan McCain can teach publishers (NO SERIOUSLY)

5 thoughts on “what Meghan McCain can teach publishers (NO SERIOUSLY)

  1. Agreed (and I was on twitter for the “rant” 🙂 ).
    You’ve got a point. Meghan’s voice is still Meghan’s voice if you do a bit of fact checking and make her revise her manuscript.

  2. I am clapping enthusiastically at my computer. Well said. Even without following standard capitalization rules. 😛

    I often hear this argument against indie authors that there’s a reason why the traditional publishing model is traditional: to crawl through the slush and pull out the awesome. But when I hear that millions of dollars are spent for books by McCain and Palin, the truth rears its head. Traditional publishing is about making money. I know this, you know this, anyone who has read the history of the current “traditional” publishing model knows this. So that whole crawling through the slush pile in order to showcase the awesome? I take it with a grain of salt and hope that no matter the model, good writing will prevail.

  3. There seems to be a real trend in publishing at the moment in taking shortcuts. Shortcuts in marketing, shortcuts in selling and shortcuts in publishing. What happened to building an author or a book?
    The price of books is often justified by the in-house costs of publishing but when they simply cut-and-paste a, blog publishers are short-changing readers, booksellers and other authors alike

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