A Liberal Author's Defense of Sarah Palin's Book Sales
Dropping the royal we for the moment. Hey everybody, it's Jef.
A recurring theme on various left-wing websites and cable news shows is that Sarah Palin's second book, America by Heart, is bombing. Apparently there are literally stacks of it gathering dust on tables across the nation, despite the fact that it hit number 2 on the Best-seller List. Granted, she bought $64,000 worth of them herself (at wholesale price, not retail), but she made the list regardless. Still, various pundits are reporting that the book may be selling as little as 15% of it's run.
Despite those "facts," I for one would like to go on record in total defense of Sarah Palin's work in selling the copies she has sold.
Not that I have any love of her as an author. Personally I think her writings have all the intrigue of a wart removal kit's instruction pamphlet and a point of view so bass-ackwards that I'm surprised you don't need a mirror to read her typing. No, I admire what's she's done to spread the work around...and may even try some of it myself.
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I for one have been shilling my own book for almost a year now, appearing in every newspaper, on every radio station, and in every bookstore that'll have me. I've bugged my friends, my enemies, and total strangers to buy copies, and I freely admit that I've extorted promotion of it through some of the bands I've covered over on Rocks Off (Thanks Hyperbubble!). Believe me, if I could get away with political activist groups buying copies of my book to inflate the sales, I would. And if I could buy a bunch of my own books, sign them, and them re-sell them for $100, I would! Maybe these tricks cheapen the book trade, but it's a cutthroat industry, and I can't fault Palin for doing what she can. After all, this is only her second book. It's not like she's some kind of established literary producer or anything. She's got to make those sales go up if she's going to have any future as an author. Sure, it would be nice to succeed on artistic merit and conventional marketing, but would you like to go to your grave knowing you didn't try every trick you could when you had "New York Times Best-selling Author" next to your name?
Besides that, the only reason she's being called a flop is because her book sold "below expectations." Personally, I fail to see how that's her fault. I've read enough of Going Rogue and America By Heart while waiting in line at the grocery store to tell you there's no significant difference in style, tone, or writing ability in the two books. It's not like she said, "OK, this next book is about a demon knight fighting Obama clones in a post-apocalypse where chainsaws grow on trees and run on the tears of immigrants." Though that would have been far superior to the folksy diarrhea that is her combined literary output, she has instead remained very consistent and true to her style.
Maybe America is growing away from hardcore partisan rhetoric. Between the aftermath of Congresswoman Gifford's shooting and the sharp decline in ratings for both Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck, there's a good indication America may be drawing towards the middle. You can't blame Palin for a shift in public opinion knocking down the numbers of units moved on her product. One day the vampire thing will be over again, and someone who wrote a kick ass vampire novel will be left in the dust simply because the public got sick of it.
The "below expectations" label, by the way, translates to, "the publisher bet a lot of money that this would be as big as the first book." Again, not Palin's fault. Going Rogue sold over 800,000 copies. That's a lot of books, and a lot to live up to. Maybe, just maybe, Palin's publisher should have considered the consequences of going double-or-nothing on a highly controversial figure without a history of political-theory writing in a very volatile time.
Even if Palin didn't sell another 800,000 books, she still sold over 10,000! Speaking as someone who has, again, been begging and swallowing for a year to move 100 copies, that sounds pretty nice. I don't know if I'd sell my soul to move 10,000 units, but I'd definitely sell yours. Hopefully this will be a lesson for publishers of political material. You can always print more, you can't un-print what you send out.
I remember an interview with Paula Abdul, who said she couldn't understand why her record label was upset that Spellbound was only triple platinum after Forever Your Girl went septuple platinum. She sold a huge amount of records, and the label was mad at her for not living up to a set of ridiculous expectations. It's teen dance music, guys. Do you think it's going to be popular forever? It's the same thing with Palin. Did they honestly expect her to be the ever-fruitful golden goose of right-wing literature? Even with that nigh-unreachable goal, she gave it her best shot.
No one is happier that Palin's popularity is apparently on the wane than I am. I do not want to live in her vision of America. I do not like her books, Sam-I-Am. However, she's done pretty well, and if she's a true author, she won't let this color her desire to keep writing. She shouldn't let her work be defined by the parameters of others, and I wish her luck in the regard. I will admit to not trying as hard as she has to sell her book and her vision. My advice, Ms. Palin? Publish your next work print-on-demand yourself, keep all the money, and tell 'em to fuck off.
P.S. I otherwise still hate you.
Jef With One F is the author of The Bible Spelled Backwards Does Not Change the Fact That You Cannot Kill David Arquette and Other Things I Learned In the Black Math Experiment, available now.
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