Friday, January 06, 2017

Book 2: This is a seriously brilliant idea. Also I invented a tongue twister!

So I'm going to start a publishing company. It's going to be called "F.A.M.E.-US". The acronym stands for "Famous Actors Making...something something something". I'm not good at acronyms. I'll get marketing to come up with something.

Here is how "FAME-US Publishing" will work: aspiring authors who want a wider audience than they may otherwise get will submit their work to me. I will then locate an actor, athlete, rock star, or other famous person who wants to be known as a literary-type person -- an author.  "FAME-US" will then publish the book under that well-known person's name, as if he or she had actually written it.

The author gets the bulk of the profits, and the ability to write for a living, but no notoriety. The celebrity gets a bit of literary credibility. I get rich, too, of course.

I haven't yet worked out how to keep the public from knowing the celebrity didn't actually write the book, but I also haven't yet worked out whether the public cares.  This is, after all, only the next step in celebrity endorsements, right? If we are more likely to buy something because someone famous said to buy it, does it matter if we think the someone famous actually uses or wrote that thing?

I got started thinking this way, of course, because of Book 2, Holy Cow. Holy Cow has a 3.3-star average on Goodreads, translating into something between liked it and really liked it. Averages can be misleading but in this case they're not: 80% of the Goodreads reviews are favorable. On the other hand, NPR's book reviewer called it a "bizarre disaster."  It's not really that bad, but it's also not good, either.

The basic plot is that animals are as intelligent as humans, but can't talk. The main character, Elsie Bovary, is a cow. When she learns that cows are slaughtered for meat, she decides to escape the farm and go to India, where cows are worshipped. She's joined by a turkey (who wants to go to Turkey) and a pig (who wants to go to Israel.) They fly to Turkey then steal a plane and fly to Israel before eventually making it to India and then getting back home.

That might have been enjoyable, but the book suffers from a lack of internal consistency, among other major flaws.  A book doesn't have to be realistic, but a book's system -- or any story's system -- has to be consistent for the story to not suck.  Here, the system fails because Duchovny didn't think it through or didn't care or both.  Probably both.

For example: Elsie calls the TV the "box god," implying that she doesn't understand technology. But she knows about cell phones, airplanes, ticket kiosks, and the like. It's never explained if Elsie is merely being hyperbolic in referring to TV as the 'box god.'

For example, 2: the animals are smart enough to use cell phones, read maps, order airline tickets, learn about Turkey on Wikipedia, and the like, but not smart enough to determine that, for example, Turkey is not a great place necessarily for turkeys to live.

For example, 3: Duchovny, when it's important, makes clear that animals do not speak English and cannot talk to humans. Then he has a camel in the mideast make a speech to Israelis and Palestinians about all getting along (the camel is the former Joe Camel, because that is the level of creativity Duchovny is displaying here) and the humans all understand it and eventually we are told the camel and the pig are up for a Nobel Peace Prize. The speech, by the way, was a speech about how the Israelis and Palestinians should all realize that they hate the same things (the pig) and therefore should get along in their hatred of that common thing. Even for a camel and a pig that is a dubious sentiment.

Along the way, there are numerous terrible jokes, a slapdash ending to get the animals back to America for no reason whatsoever (they get high with some cows in India and the cows want Elsie to say she is a god but she won't so they all leave India) and otherwise a bunch of junk that buries the otherwise-interesting, otherwise-clever parts of the book.

There is a lot of potential in the book, if it were subjected to some second-drafting and critical thinking and editing. But that's all there is: potential.

So that's what got me thinking: Would Holy Cow have been published at all if it were not written by David Duchovny?  The answer to me is obviously no.  It would be nearly impossible to market a comic novel of talking animals with dull points to make about ethical treatment of animals, religion, and pop culture. It's not a kid's book. It's not an adult's book. It's not a particularly good book.

And yet, it's not David Duchovny's only book, either. He's got "Bucky F*cking Dent" published, too. It's apparently a book about a would-be writer -- all would-be writers eventually write a book about would-be writers. (How many writers would a would-be writer write if a would-be writer would be writing books?) It's also about Bucky Dent, and so hits on one of the more basic sports cliches of the world, and is no doubt a coming-of-age tale in which someone becomes wiser by either meeting or comparing himself to Bucky Dent. No, I didn't read the description of the book yet when I wrote that. I will do so now. *Checks* I was right.

84% of the reviews of Bucky F*cking Dent are positive on Amazon. Duchovny is said to be a "New York Times Best Selling Author."

Books are products, like cereal and toasters and orange juice (sorry, I'm writing this at breakfast.)  As I've pointed out repeatedly, the goal of many authors and all publishers is not to make sure you enjoy reading a book, or even finish a book. The goal is to sell you the book.  After you pay for the book, the burger (looking forward to lunch now), the blue jeans, the manufacturer -- publishers are manufacturers -- don't really care what you do with them. If you buy books to use as ballast in a boat (a littering of alliteration!) they don't care. They just want to sell you the book.

It's impossible for me to know how many people bought or read Holy Cow because it was by David Duchovny. It's why I listened to it, for free, from the library, and I imagine a significant number of people made that same choice: Hmm, Duchovny? All right, I'll give it a shot.  We confuse celebrities with our friends because we see them and imagine they are the people we see on TV: Jennifer Aniston must be Rachel, right? David Duchovny is cool Fox Mulder, or that weirdo on the sex show on HBO, whichever, plus he's famous and you don't get famous without being something good, is the American way of thinking.

Just like putting your story in the Star Wars universe helps jack the sales of a mediocre-to-good scifi story up to the stratosphere, putting a celebrity's name on a book will help pump the sales.  After I finished this book, I wondered if I could re-issue Codes only this time have it be written by Mark Hamill or George Takei; cut them in for 50% of the profits and retire, or at least get to make a living ghost-writing books for Mark Hamill.  (Hamill is listed as the co-writer on a comic book miniseries, The Black Pearl. I am now going to put that on my list to read.)

We are not as immune to marketing as we think. There is a direct correlation between advertising dollars and opening-weekend box office. Critical reviews of movies add relatively little to box office; sequels with built-in audiences have six times the effect.  If you want to ensure a big opening weekend, don't worry about critics: make a sequel to an action movie. A good critical review adds $1-2 million. Being an action movie adds $4 million. Being a sequel adds $13 million, and now you know why there have been a zillion Fast & Furious movies.

Putting a celebrity's name on a book -- whether a cookbook, novel, book of poetry, or some other book -- is advertising and marketing. It instantly conveys a brand. I only ever watched one episode of X-Files and otherwise have never seen a David Duchovny movie or TV show, but I know his brand, and his brand was on this book. If it had been Holy Cow by Mindy Kaling, or by Arnold Schwarzenegger, or by Brett Favre, each of those names would have conveyed a different sort of brand, the way Coke and McDonald's and Ford convey an image, as well.

 But being a brand doesn't mean you're any good. It just means you can fool people.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, you've got a successful marketing campaign.  Look for books by "FAME-US" to hit the shelves around Xmas.

1 comment:

Andrew Leon said...

I have The Black Pearl. I don't remember it being any good. Or maybe I never read it.
I can't actually remember.