Many thanks to David Streitfeld. And you should absorb his entire article -- which provides the set-up for this commentary…
I stopped using Amazon “reviews” at least 10 years ago
and, mostly, just go to the library and flip through any new nonfiction book
that looks interesting.
Endorsements on the back are moderately helpful but -- believe it or not -- the "validation" I most value in a nonfiction book is how many pages of footnotes it has. (That's the quickest way to see how much real work and thought have gone into a new book.)
As for the writing style, it can be checked very quickly
in a library, and sometimes that part of the decision -- "will I be
happy reading this?" -- is also check-able online, thanks to digital
If you are a new author, though, and don't have the Random House PR machine behind you, how do you get past the wall of skepticism? How can you self-promote while avoiding all flim-flam?
First, do what Hartley Goldstone of Denver (a friend and recent client) is doing with TrustWorthy -- obtain a blizzard of testimonials, from key players in your sector or specialty, and use them to lead the book.
Second, abandon the notion that your book can pay for
Note how everyone in that New York Times piece is trying to make money selling books, including by paying others to generate phony "reviews." The latter practice is corrupt, and the former goal is almost always a fantasy.
As this site confirms, I have no experience with novels. I
do believe that -- given the hundreds of hours that go into generating even a
semi-serious nonfiction work -- you will be lucky if the direct revenues
coming back factor out to minimum wage for all the time and energy you put in.
What's the alternative? Use your first and second nonfiction books to help you sell yourself and your services. Never think of yourself as "a writer," because all a writer does is serve "readers." Not focused enough.
Esther Dyson had the right strategy in 1996, just as digital duplication was threatening to unravel copyright protection for music and text. In a famous Wired magazine piece that used the Grateful Dead as an example, she advised: Get paid for performances. That means: A solid book gets you invited in -- to either talk about what you have written, or more likely to carry out (in a customized way, of course) some of what you covered in the book.
When it comes to self-employed craftspeople, what matters is the number of satisfied clients and credible endorsers. In fact -- if the preceding premise is right -- it makes more sense to design a book that serves your network, rather than aiming to persuade or entertain 50,000 nameless and faceless on-liners. That network will then be able help you "get paid for performances."
November 5, 2012
SOME BACKGROUND on Mr. Streitfeld (from Wikipedia, October 2012):
<< David Streitfeld is an American journalist. During his tenure as book reporter at the Washington Post, he definitively identified Joe Klein as the "Anonymous" author of the 1996 novel Primary Colors, upon which Klein admitted authorship, despite earlier denials. Streitfeld was book reporter at the Washington Post from 1987 until 1998, after which he switched beats and covered Silicon Valley and technology for the Post out of San Francisco... In 2007, Streitfeld joined the New York Times as Chicago business reporter. >>