Why Authors Rarely Give Each Other Bad Reviews

I was a rather shocked when I read Malcolm Gladwell’s scathing review of Chris Anderson’s new book “Free: The Future of a Radical Price”, by way of Seth Godin’s defense of Chris. It’s not because Chris Anderson’s position is beyond reproach and isn’t open to debate, but because I’ve never seen a fellow author slam one of his own. When I tweeted this bewilderment, my friend Duane Brown reminded that “authors aren’t part of a gang”. For some reason, I remembered seeing a lot of quid pro quo among the writing community, particularly on the back covers of each others’ books. I wasn’t entirely right.

Looking through my library, I didn’t see a direct “You’re great, no you’re great” mutual gushes on each other’s back covers. There was, however, some quid pro quo on each other’s blogs and definitely a lot of gushing amongst best selling authors.

First, the quid pro quo:

Jeff Jarvis on Seth Godin on his blog Buzz Machine
Back in June, I wrote, inspired by some posts by Seth Godin, that small is the new big. Seth was similarly inspired by his own posts and wrote that small is the new big. Seth liked the line so much he used it as the title of his new book (and was nice enough to acknowledge the synchronicity). But now we both get beat to print by Inc magazine’s cover this month.

Seth Godin on Jeff Jarvis’ What Would Google Do?
Wait. Stop. In your hands you hold a rare thing, the work of a genuine visionary, someone willing to regularly and aggressively challenge the status quo. Five years from now, many people are going to regret the fact that they didn’t read this book today, when they had the chance. Don’t make that mistake. Google wouldn’t.”

Now all these books are great reads, but here comes the gushing:

Seth Godin on Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff’s Groundswell
Groundswell is jammed with big ideas, useful stories, and quotable stats. This is the new industrial revolution. Are you on board?”

Seth on Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness with another Malcolm compliment
“This is a brilliant book, a useful book, and a book that could quite possibly change the way you look at just about everything. And as a bonus, Gilbert writes like a cross between Malcolm Gladwell and David Sedaris.”

Malcolm Gladwell on Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s Freakonomics
Steven Levitt has the most interesting mind in America, and reading Freakonomics is like going for a leisurely walk with him on a sunny summer day, as he waves his fingers in the air and turns everything you once thought to be true inside out. Prepare to be dazzled.

Malcolm Gladwell on James Surowieki’s The Wisdom of Crowds
The Wisdom of Crowds” is dazzling. It is one of those books that will turn your world upside down. It’s an adventure story, a manifesto, and the most brilliant book on business, society, and everyday life that I’ve read in years.

I think if I had one more use of the word “dazzled”, I’d have a Jon Stewart bit.

Alan Cross mentioned on his show that the Beatles and Rolling Stones never released albums at the same time. I can’t remember the last time two blockbuster movies went head to head on opening weekend nor can I remember the last time two bestselling authors released a book at the same time. In the content industry, there’s always room for one more movie, book, album, play, etc. so it’s simply good business to space out release dates. It’s also probably also good for business to talk up your fellow artists; wouldn’t want to miss a potential collaborative opportunity.

So why the public spat between Malcolm, Seth, and Chris Anderson? Hmmm, maybe when you’re all guaranteed bestsellers, a little semi-scandalous debate is needed to generate hype. Works for Hollywood.

3 comments so far

  1. Hiten on

    I think your last paragraph clears things up. When your audience is guaranteed, you can afford to be a little less PC. Plus Gladwell just had a smashing success with Outliers,will probably coast for 2 years, and hence he’s not going to need the writing community’s blessings in the immediate future.

    Godin, etc. keep coming out with these wee-books and so they need constant community nurturing and mollycoddling. So they have to play nice.

  2. Jason Dojc on

    That post was the inspiration for this post.

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