Thursday, August 28, 2008

Richard Laermer can kiss my young ass

So Richard Laermer wrote this post on HuffPo which he'll have you believe is a missive on what's wrong with publishing (and how he can fix it, despite the fact that it's more a missive about how publishing doesn't work for him). Now, I'm not going to take umbrage with most of what Mr. Laermer says. Having worked in publishing, he has some valid criticisms. But it's this passage that irks the ever loving hell out of me and cannot be left unanswered:

Who's in charge here? How can a 22-year-old editor bid on a book? What does a post-graduate $32,000-a-year fresh-out know what will hit with the public? Why does this frequently appear to be a case of the nuthouse leaving the inmates to decide! People in publishing (except those that are up top and doing well) are not really supervised, but there are tons a folks who say, "I have to make sure they are in charge of these decisions." Adorable when they were six and playing with the Easy Bake Oven.

Let's set the record straight here, Rich. I'm not sure you're aware of this but 22 year olds are members of the freaking public. Their age group drives media and entertainment more than just about any demographic. I was 23 when I bought my first book as an editor. Know why I wanted to buy it? Three simple reasons: 1) I love movies, 2) I love unintentional comedy, 3) as a member of the public, I thought other people (i.e. other members of the public) might enjoy a book about unintentionally hilarious movies. And the very first book I acquired at the ripe old age of twenty three--THE OFFICIAL RAZZIE MOVIE GUIDE--hit the Los Angeles Times bestseller list.

And I don't know who exactly you think is unsupervised, but unless you run your own imprint, every editor has to run their submissions by half a dozen people or more. Now, those people don't all need to love what you have in, but they have to understand why you love it. And if those young editors can show their superiors why they believe in a book and why it will appeal to others, they'll have the chance to buy it. And rightfully so.

Young editors buy books that will appeal to their generation, people who think like them and enjoy what they do. Who should buy these kind of books that appeal to the Judd Apatow crowd? Middle aged marketers? Yeah, they're a great judge of what the public really wants. Oh, and newsflash, young people read. Maybe not the same books you read (I guess somebody needs to keep the 'Business Books' section in airports thriving), but most young people have pretty eclectic tastes and can tell a good book from a bad book. What, you need a PhD to say, "ooh, I like this book and I think other people might too"? You can argue that twenty two year olds might not have the same tools to edit a book as someone with twenty years of experience, but whether you like something or not doesn't depend on how long your 401k has been active. Good young editors read a book they like and let their colleagues know about it. Sometimes they're right, sometimes they're wrong. Just like those "up top and doing well," only perhaps on a smaller scale.

Now, let's look at a couple of these "inmates" who, according to you, should be playing with E-Z Bake Ovens until their social security kicks in:

Shawn Fanning: Invented Napster at the ripe old age of 19. Changed the music business forever.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page: Invented Google at 25 (maybe by 25 they could have graduated to Tonka Trucks).

Mark Zuckerberg: Launched Facebook from his Harvard dorm room at the age of 19. Changed the face of social networking.

Again, I'm not criticizing your entire post (aside from the fact that every one of your points has been stated by people with much more proactive solutions to the problems). Many of the points are valid, and publishers will be forced to deal with many of them over the next decade.

But let's also be honest--your post is not so much a criticism of the publishing industry as a thinly veiled plug for your book(s) and defense of your marketing genius. Again not necessarily a criticism (you're more than entitled to plug your work), but don't fly it under a different flag. You know what most young people have a pretty developed sense of? B.S. And Richard, calling a book PUNK MARTKETING shows how out of touch you are since using the word "Punk" to describe anything rebellious is about thirty years too late.

And what does the starting salary of an editorial assistant have to do with anything? According to your website bio, you started working as a newspaper reporter in 1979. I may be wrong, but I'm guessing you weren't exactly rolling in dough at that point. Know what? I'm also willing to bet you were pretty darn happy. I'd rather be a twenty two year old making $32,000 a year with my whole life ahead of me than a bitter man who forgot what it was like to be young, idealistic and passionate.

And by the way, my starting salary as an editorial assistant was $30,000.
Jason Pinter


Blogger Alex Bash said...

You are my hero.

2:11 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I nominate you for "Official Voice of Young People Everywhere."

2:13 AM  
Blogger Dave White said...

Throw down! Throw down!

7:24 AM  
Blogger Alex Bash said...

You know, when Michael Ian Black challenged Tucker Max to a fight the promo DID put his book from number 3 to 2 in humor (over Sedaris, no less)…hmmmm…

12:32 PM  
Blogger Josephine Damian said...

Dude, back in June I seriously though your were done with blogging!

Kinda like Pacino in Godfather 3: Just when you thought you were out... lol

3:16 PM  
Blogger ssas said...

30K!! You cost a ransom!

Good points all.

4:20 PM  
Blogger Katherine Hazen said...

I seriously <3 you. :D

6:21 PM  
Blogger Valintine Pawson said...

*standing O*

7:27 PM  
Blogger Rachel Vincent said...

My starting salary as a 9th grade English teacher was $27,000, and I was 23. If they trust "young" adults to teach children for so little money, why on earth shouldn't they be trusted to buy books? That makes no sense.

8:20 PM  
Blogger Suzan Harden said...

LOL - Jason, I'm old enough to be your mom, and I STILL get that kind of crap from folks in their sixties and seventies.

Great post!

10:12 PM  
Blogger Jason Pinter said...

Thanks for all the comments folks. I just truly believe that innovation doesn't have an age restriction, and passion doesn't have an annual salary requirement.

Actually more often than not, it's quite the opposite--just ask Ms. J.K. Rowling.

10:33 PM  
Blogger Ray Banks said...

Jason, I hope you didn't waste too much time getting angry or anything, because you're totally right - the entire piece is an ad for his own damn book. And besides, you might call me old-fashioned at 31, but I made a point early on of not taking any kind of business advice from someone who uses that many exclamation marks. Especially when a question mark would do it.

4:08 AM  
Blogger Stacia said...

Um, anyone claiming "the kids shouldn't be in charge" has absolutely no business even using the word "punk", much less relating it in any way to himself.

9:58 AM  
Blogger Mike Cane said...

Laermer has stirred up a lot of people. He's not exactly an old man needing help crossing the street, however. Here is a picture (with link to a video)

7:01 PM  
Blogger Mike Cane said...

Oh, sorry. That link is JPEG. here it is clickable.

7:03 PM  
Blogger Chris Eldin said...

I wish I were in my early 20s... so unencumbered with mortgage, children, and WTF old age stuff that middle-agers suffer from.

*raises a glass to toast you*

9:30 PM  
Anonymous custom writing said...

Very interesting post. Thanks.

8:42 AM  

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