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Peoples Press

The Word is Out

Navigating the ocean of mass media

Posted in Blog by People's Press on September 7, 2011

If nice guys finish last, what happens to the little guy?

By Alison Berkley

I’ll admit it: When it comes to choosing which books to buy, I’m clueless.

For every attempt to read an inside-jacket flap description or even the first paragraph of the first page, whenever I try to select books for myself, I rarely end up liking what I’ve chosen. In the aisles of a bookstore (despite that wonderful, distinct smell of new paper), I’m lost.

If I see a book review in The New York Times or (hell, who am I kidding?), Elle or even People, I might be more inclined—my expectations might change. If Oprah likes it, I’ll probably like it too, right? There has to be a reason it made the best-seller list/was made into a major motion picture/the author was interviewed on Letterman.

But more often than not, I can’t stand those books. I hate them even more than the ones I chose (badly) for myself. I resent them because, more often than not, they’re just not that great. So, why all the hype?

I know a guy whose autobiographical account of a horrible tragedy he’d survived was published by Atria, a subsidiary of Simon & Schuster. While the story was riveting, the book was okay. It was so-so. It was readable, but in the same way a term paper might be. It came off to me as a little pretentious and a little academic, like he was using big words to make up for his apparent lack of natural writing ability.

That might sound harsh, but his book became a New York Times best seller and went on to become a major motion picture. Why? Some say it’s because his publisher paid for a full-page ad in The New York Times. Let’s just say it didn’t hurt his cause.

So where does that leave the independent publisher who might not have a monster marketing budget or name recognition? How are we supposed to get the word out, so to speak? What do we do in a culture where people put their money where someone else’s mouth is? The sad thing for people like me, who need to be told what books to read, is that we’re missing out.

Sandy Munro, author of Finding Uri, would probably say you can find the best writing in your own attic: the stories hidden in boxes in envelopes that have been sealed for fifty years. Aimee White Beazley found it at an archeological dig in her own backyard and turned it into a story for her children to share with their generation in Snowmastadon! DJ Watkins literally had to scour the country to piece together the story of an artist’s life and portfolio in Tom Benton: Artist / Activist.

The best stories are sometimes the ones that might be harder to find. But like a treasure, the value goes way beyond the smoke and mirrors of a book whose hype is inflated by a fat marketing budget.

Tell Us: How do you choose what books to buy? What’s the most effective resource for reliable reviews?



Word of mouth, or knowing the writer. If one reads, you’ll find new authors by ‘trying’ a book, sometimes you find one that you, personally, like the way he/she writes. Every now and then I find a new author that I enjoy reading. But my first loyalty is following many authors that I know I enjoy reading. Yet, even they can throw out a book that is wishy washy at times….and then I resent spending the money on it. That happened too much in recent years, so now I order from the library first if possible. If I like it I purchase it for a return read in the middle of the winter months.

Posted by: Bert on 9/19/2011 at 2:44 pm

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