Creating a Life: Why Bad Publicity Wasn't Good Publicity
I really enjoyed Sylvia Hewlett’s Creating a Life, but feminists were outraged. (Check out all the 1-star reviews on Amazon).
Normally, I’d expect all this negative publicity to be great for sales. All publicity is good publicity, right? But Hewlett’s sales were disappointing: A year ago, combined hardback plus paperback sales were only 13,000, despite lots of media coverage. What gives?
My best guess: Despite some contrarian views on feminism, Hewlett is a typical liberal intellectual. (She even co-authored a book with Cornel West). The upshot is that she didn’t have the social connections to cash in on the outrage of her feminist critics.
If Hewlett had been part of the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” she would have had prominent allies to jump to her defense, and help her sell copies. But not only did she lack these social ties; her book included a detailed wish list of leftist labor market regulations, and ended with a dismissive remark about “conservative ideologues.” Say goodbye to a plug from Rush Limbaugh, even if the “feminazis” do hate you.
Hewlett’s problem, in short, was stepping on the toes of people on her side of the fence. When they cried foul, she was on her own.
The lesson: If you want to get all the publicity you deserve, make sure you’re friendly with the enemies of your enemies. Almost all publicity can be transformed into good publicity, but you can’t do it alone.
Apr 20 2008 at 11:40pm
“She didn’t have the social connections to cash in on the outrage of her feminist critics.”
“The lesson: If you want to get all the publicity you deserve, make sure you’re friendly with the enemies of your enemies. Almost all publicity can be transformed into good publicity, but you can’t do it alone.”
This post brought a tear to my eye… It’s so… so… sociological!!
Apr 21 2008 at 6:29am
Are you saying its who you know, not what you know?
Apr 21 2008 at 8:20am
So was it a lucky coincidence that your book did not step on toes of right-wing powers, or did you purposely refrain from saying things that you thought true and relevant but would have offended them?
Apr 21 2008 at 11:34am
Clearly, a quick way for someone kind of well-known is to join a partisan fight with a very well articulated and one-sided attack, but, alas, you have to sell your soul to do this. Or you caricature your opponents in some self-flattering way, so that rubes buying your book feel superior. But there are successes of kind of wonkish tomes that are not blatant partisanship, by say, Dawkins, Pinker, Judith Rich Harris, or Robert Wright, who don’t take the 60-Minutes approach to rhetoric.
I think the bottom line is that a sober look at the labor/leisure choice of women is not a big market. It’s relevant to every household, but its not really that fun to ruminate upon for hours, compared to the subjects addressed by Dawkins et al.
Apr 21 2008 at 12:38pm
Actually, I think of economists, not right-wingers, as the natural allies of my book. And I did deliberately step on economists’ toes on a number of issues – especially economists’ rational expectations view of politics.
Admittedly, when I step on toes of people I respect, I try to do so in a friendly way. I see this as primarily an issue of manners, not intellectual honesty. Yes, we can disagree without being disagreeable. 🙂
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