It has been my experience that books written by political figures or celebrities are rarely, if ever, full of anything substantive. Instead, most are a lesson in positive platitudes, negative rants and accusations, political theory, and a to-do list for any potential power-broker. Moreover, it is the far more rare work which is actually written by the politician or celeb themselves. Instead, ghostwriters are often used and, in most instances, given marching orders by both “author” and publisher to make the work read the way it does.
Who is in the crosshairs of this particular missive? None other than the former Secretary-of-State and alleged heir-apparent to the Oval Office whose ascension seemed a foregone conclusion back in the Winter of 2008 before it was snatched at the hour of victory by an upstart Senator from Chicago.
Hillary Rodham Clinton’s most recent book, “Hard Choices,” is an example of exactly what is wrong with the publishing world today. Writing it was hardly a hard choice, and publishing it was about as close to a “no brainer” as one could find.
The simple fact is, Hillary Rodman Clinton’s book will be a bestseller simply on the basis that she is a former Secretary of State, First Lady, rumored Supreme Court nominee, Presidential candidate and about two dozen other things most of us probably don’t even know about. That doesn’t mean she isn’t deserving of praise if this is, indeed, a good literary-analytical work; it simply means Hillary is part of a long list of celebrities who have managed to bypass the dues tollbooth and hop into the highway of publishing success without so much as a moving violation. Still, the fact remains that Clinton’s name alone sells books; that is the primary reason she commands a seven-figure advance. Both friends and foes alike will buy and read this piece, and it will influence the political landscape in the near term.
Why this is indicative of what is wrong the publishing world actually has nothing to do with the fact it is Clinton’s name on the work. Rather, this is a symptom of the “quick hit” mentality which has infected publishing; instead of a genuine franchise being constructed using solid marketing principles and the assumption of real risk as part of a business model, instant gratification is demanded to placate stakeholders. The danger of this is a mentality which eschews the creation of a long term beneficial product line which can produce dependable revenue streams for both publisher and author alike.
Of course, there are many celebrities who have actually written substantive works and entertaining stories. These, sadly, tend to be the exception instead of the rule. What writers who are working diligently would do well to remember is that, regardless of one’s celebrity, a book is only as good as its actual writer and, to that point, there is an “elephant graveyard” strewn with the literary corpses of those well-known figures who dared to work “outside their wheelhouse.” As always, the cream rises to the top, and time eventually reveals those best and brightest.