Monday, February 07, 2005

Celebrity Best-Selling Authors OR Is Larry King the Devil?

This is an article I wrote as one of those sample pieces you send off to newspaper syndicates so they can send you back lovely, impersonalised correspondence wishing you the very best in finding a home for your work, with another syndicate. Perhaps the subject matter wasn't really that attractive to those actually in the publishing business. I prefer to think it simply hit too close to home. It helps me sleep at night.


Is Larry King the Devil?

Just the other day I was pondering the type of question that typically crosses my mind when I’ve had too much Pepsi-Cola™ to drink. After mulling this about in my brain and deciding that yes, everyone in the room would hear that particular noise, another question shimmied into my brain like quicksilver: “Is Larry King the Devil?”

Before I answer this important question I should note that Larry King, in addition to being a nationally syndicated radio and television talk show host, used to have a column in USA Today on Mondays in which, to put it kindly, he rambled on like a senile auctioneer. Many writers, comedians, political commentators, and approximately 80 percent of the English speaking world have already commented derisively on this column, so I will spare you my own sarcastic example of how the thing reads. (Oh, all right... “Hey kids, I just saw ‘Lost in Space’ and it’s the kookiest thing. William Hurt, say hello to another Oscar, and that Matt LeBlanc is something else! Isn’t he related to Mel Blanc? I hear his favorite food is pizza, hold those anchovies!” ). Apparently he had to recently give up the column because it was too taxing. Perhaps it was taking away from his suspender-shopping time?

Nonetheless, the column raises certain questions (beyond the theological one described above), such as, “What on earth were the editors at USA Today smoking, rock or powder?” I mean, what was it about the column that led USA Today’s editorial staff to believe that Larry would say, have won the Pulitzer for commentary anytime in the next 10,000 years, much less the Life Section award for column of the day. No personal offense meant to Mr. King, who is a talented radio bloke, but if it theoretically takes an infinite number of chimpanzees with typewriters to produce Hamlet, one of his USA Today columns could be produced by a single rhesus monkey with a broken pencil .

The reason USA Today printed the article is simple of course. Let me spell it out for you: “$$$$$$$$$$”. Larry King is a celebrity. USA Today could put his picture over a column of gibberish... all right, different gibberish... and someone would read it simply because their brains would reflexively respond (making a telltale clickity-clack sound, like the Tube on the Victoria Line): “I know him! He’s the radio guy on TV! Wow, in this day and age radio guys can even do TV! Isn’t that against the law?!? And he writes too! My head is swimming!! Marge pass me an asprin!” This is one of the peculiarly western phenomena explaining how William Shatner was able to cut a rock album.

Now I really don’t mean to pick on the likeable King (unless he surprisingly turns out to actually BE the devil, in which case I will abandon all remorse in this regard) or the colorful simpletons at USA Today. There are plenty of other people who deserve ridicule for getting a byline or a book deal simply because they are famous. The first lady, Hillary "Rodman" Clinton (No relation to Dennis), wrote a book called “It Takes a Village” and her groupies went berserk, propelling it to the bestseller lists, until they found out it was not actually about the Village People. Congressmen, such as Newt Gingrich, have written incredibly dull and popular bestsellers. Comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld, and Tim Allen (“My Stand-up Routine in Print”), sports figures (they generally resemble children’s books but with expletives included) and actors (although all of these books are actually ghost written by Chris Kreski of course) have all taken their turn churning out a quick page-turner, ready for the rough and tumble, cutthroat world of print profitability...and made millions doing so.

The idea is that if you’re famous, people will be interested in what you have to say, even if it is obnoxiously boring, trite, self-indulgent, semi-literate, and occasionally rude (Like this particular column). The interest jettisons upwards if your work involves personal revelations damaging to your reputation, or your husband’s in the case of Mrs. Clinton’s newest opus. This deeply important civic duty to probe the minds of celebrities is really just a symptom of the publishing industry's attempts to collect enough money to collapse itself into a black hole.

Of course this makes things extremely difficult for the obsessed, crackpot loners who actually choose professional writing as a career, competing as we are with celebrities whose book selling ability may have as much to do with their rumored relationship with Frank Sinatra or Madonna as it does the inexorable power of their prose, or lack thereof. Prose, I mean. One can almost sense the steady flow of volumes from “Survivor” castaways and ex-“Price is Right” models. It’s a miracle Kato Katelin hasn’t written a novel yet. (Please, no.)

Now back to the original question, that is the one after the question involving bodily noises, “Is Larry King the Devil?” Of course not, he’s just an experienced radio personality with a penchant for suspenders. However, you read all this way to find out didn’t you? That’s yet another currency-vacuuming publishing strategy, strategy number one being the addition of the words “Harry Potter” into the title of your book. When in doubt, name-drop with a strong hint of controversy regardless of the relative innocuity of the piece.

With a name like Earl Fando I can’t count on celebrity sales can I? Now where did I put that rhesus monkey?

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