The Talk of the Book World Still Can't Sell
May 20, 2002 10:35 AM   Subscribe

The Talk of the Book World Still Can't Sell (NY Times link) About two months ago, a new book about women putting careers before babies, and risking going childless, got a lot of publicity and was expected to be a huge seller. Wrong. Did it scare women? Did it sadden women? Was the coverage unfair (most of it highlighted the 'infertility after late 30's' angle, instead of balancing/choosing between career and family)? Or, did the massive publicity subvert sales by summing up the story and findings?
posted by msacheson (27 comments total)
I think it's the last possibility. All I needed to know about this subject I learned from the coverage on '60 Minutes', 'Time', 'CNN', etc. Maybe it would have been better to let the book build slowly, via word-of-mouth, and let readers seek it out. Anyway, I am laughing at the book's publisher, Talk Miramax, for seeing what all the 'free' publicity of news coverage cost them.
posted by msacheson at 10:39 AM on May 20, 2002

I'd say high-achieving, intelligent women have read the articles, understand the problem and don't need a long book to spell it out for them page by page with horror story after horror story.

Ms. Graham said that at her store, books about getting pregnant after 35 are outselling "Creating a Life."

Perhaps, if Hewlett's book had been more prescriptive.
posted by vacapinta at 10:46 AM on May 20, 2002

Maybe everyone just held on to their copies of A Lesser Life from the 80's, knowing that infertility and "man-shortage" scaremongering would come back. Next: shoulder pads.
posted by transona5 at 10:48 AM on May 20, 2002

Yeah it's a bit funny watching the book industry saying "wow, we pimped this book up to high heaven which should have put more dollars in our pockets and yet the public is making decisions based on something other than our relentless hypemachine???" And of course, this article is just one more last gasp attempt to right these terrible wrongs. "Hey Ladies, do we have a book for you!" After reading that article now I don't even need to go read the book reviews to determine I don't need to buy that book.
posted by jessamyn at 10:51 AM on May 20, 2002

I love how they cite "the failure of the news media to appreciate the nuances of Ms. Hewlett's research" as a reason the book isn't selling well. Becuase if there's one thing that sells, it's nuanced research.
posted by transona5 at 11:01 AM on May 20, 2002

Here's a photo of the cover of the book, since it's mentioned in the article several times one of the possible reasons the book isn't selling. It doesn't seem at all ambiguous to me. There's a baby, there's a satchel.

And I love this quote from the author: "I don't know what to make of this absence of huge sales."
posted by iconomy at 11:05 AM on May 20, 2002

I think the article hit the nail on the head tersely and succinctly:
"...women are just not interested in shelling out $22 for a load of depressing news about their biological clocks."
Indeed, if conversely a fetching new book about the shocking revelations that men get fatter and lose their hair as they get older were also to hit the stands with the same amount of fanfare as this one did, my gut instinct is that sales results on that partiular book would also be the same.
posted by rowell at 11:20 AM on May 20, 2002

The best reaction to this so far was Tina Fey's monologue on "Saturday Night Live" last week. One quote: "So supposedly I should have had a baby at 27. When I was living in Chicago, above a biker bar, pulling down a cool 12 grand a year."
posted by GaelFC at 11:22 AM on May 20, 2002 get fatter and lose their hair as they get older...? Oh no!
posted by timeistight at 11:34 AM on May 20, 2002

GaelFC: thanks..that's funny! side question, sorry for derailing my own thread for a second, but is 'Weekend Update' on SNL any good these days? I don't think I like Jimmy fallon and Tina Fey. For my money, nobody did the fake newscast better than Chevy Chase, and nobody did biting sarcastic commentary than Dennis Miller. GaelFC, please reply, and as for the rest of you: back to making babies!
posted by msacheson at 11:54 AM on May 20, 2002

I think the problem is that a book like this has no target audience. Really, there's no point in telling older women they screwed up, and no point in telling young adults to throw out their ambitions in exchange for better fertility. So who's left? Teenagers? Yeah, right.
posted by plaino at 12:09 PM on May 20, 2002

I suspect that it is an example of a case where the news media have a mistaken idea about what the nonfiction book buying audience wants. For example The Natural History of Rape created a huge buzz within the news media but produced mediocre sales. And perhaps one of the big problems is that if the article is correct, the book just isn't that good.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:56 PM on May 20, 2002

Can anything more really be said? Derail away!

I don't think the Fey/Fallon WU is as biting as its predecessors, but they certainly seem to be having more fun than anyone else ever did. It's the energy high point of most shows.

Another line from the other SNL gals who finished it up with her: Guys, the Jennifer Garner chick from Alias is not going to show up. So just put the baby here {gesturing at crotches}.
posted by dhartung at 3:48 PM on May 20, 2002

It probably doesn't help that the book sports one damn ugly cover. What's up with that random red rectangle jutting in on the left side?
posted by poseur at 8:15 PM on May 20, 2002

In other news, Jerry Bruckheimer is convinced that the best way to improve Pearl Harbor would have been to advertise it on bigger billboards.
posted by bingo at 10:59 PM on May 20, 2002

I am a successful career woman, single, no children who will be 40 in July. Myself and my girl friends who also have successful careers did not choose career OVER family. We chose to be successful at our life in spite of not finding Mr. Right. The fact is, with screwed up families and the divorce rate so high, there are a lot less good quality guys to choose from now-a-days. Because women can take care of themselves monetarily, they are less willing to put up with antics that a stay-at-home woman without a career was willing to put up with years ago. She put up with a jerk and a guy who had affairs because she couldn't take care of herself outside the home. This is not the case anymore. Women have chosen to be alone than be stuck with some jerk. It takes much longer now-a-days to find a good quality guy. I finally found one....but to find one who also is not intimidated by the success and intelligence of a woman is even more rare. They are out there, but it's like finding a needle in a haystack.

The author's facts are offbase and her assumption is wrong and that is why we didn't buy the book. If Mr. Right comes along, great, if not, we aren't crying on the couch at home...we are being happy and successful anyway. Why would women like us want to buy a book that just focuses on the negative?
posted by Sonserae at 7:53 AM on May 21, 2002

Sonserae: I'm sorry to hear that you haven't gotten laid in a while, but it's not my fault. This bizarre vision of whatever era you think came before "now-a-days" sounds like a warped version of 1950s middle America. And you make it sound like those housewives were all just poor little geldlings trapped in those guilded cages of matrimony, never having affairs or getting drunk themselves. Women who grew up into that period, and most eras in western civilization in the 2000 years that came before it, were raised to believe that they should seek a provider/protector husband, and men were raised to believe that they should seek a mother/cook wife. Now the situation is more complicated for both genders. It's better, but it's also more complicated. I don't want a woman whose goal is to find a provider/protector; really, the prospect makes me sick. But when I hear this sort of hyper-entitlement rhetoric suggesting that my pairing is at the discretion of self-actualized career women picking me from a lineup, I'm equally disgusted.
posted by bingo at 10:23 AM on May 21, 2002

Don't fool yourself. You pick women from a line-up as well. We are humans. No use in settling. You want the best person for you and they want the best person for them...plain and simple. No one should be slighted for that.
posted by Sonserae at 11:11 AM on May 21, 2002

You're right, but my issue with your comment was with the implication (or my inference, perhaps) that you think the women have a harder time picking from the lineup than the men do. There is an easy way and a hard way to go for all of us.
posted by bingo at 11:41 AM on May 21, 2002

nope....there's just as many dopey women out there...and for those who have a lot to offer someone, it's only fair to desire the same.
posted by Sonserae at 12:10 PM on May 21, 2002

Cool. You free Friday night?
posted by bingo at 12:35 PM on May 21, 2002

sorry...I finally found a good guy...5 years my junior...but he doesn't care...
posted by Sonserae at 1:59 PM on May 21, 2002

there are a lot less good quality guys to choose from now-a-days.

Do you really think there was a higher quality product at some point in the past :) ?
posted by mdn at 2:15 PM on May 21, 2002

At least some had some morals, values and some solid foundation of a family.
posted by Sonserae at 8:15 PM on May 21, 2002

At least some had some morals, values and some solid foundation of a family.

Ugh...never mind, I was busy anyway...
posted by bingo at 11:19 PM on May 21, 2002

The author's facts are offbase and her assumption is wrong and that is why we didn't buy the book.

Which facts are offbase? Which assumption is wrong? Have you even read the book?

The basic premise is simple -- women have been operating under the erroneous assumption that they can put off having a family, but statistics don't bear out the ease with which they seem to be expecting to have children if they wait. It doesn't cast judgment on women who choose to work on attaining a career before a family, it just seeks to inform them of the risk that they may be taking in the quest to "have it all." It's not targeted to the 40-something audience, it's really meant for the early 20-somethings who are just getting established, more as a clarion call for the youth than an elders' lament.
posted by Dreama at 11:55 PM on May 21, 2002

When I say the author's assumptions are wrong...I was speaking of her assuming that women intentionally put off a family to concentrate on their careers. I've talked at length with my single, professional, female friends and we didn't "put off having a family to work on our careers"....we became successful "in spite" of not finding Mr. Right. Big difference. If you talk to many women you will find that many of us wanted to have children earlier but Mr. Right didn't come along and we didn't want to go down the road of "having a baby on our own". She seems to not address the fact that it's more difficult to find quality people to hook up with....and when that finally happens, it comes later than you think. There is not much we can do about this scenario and to write a book with the assumption that women have intentionally "put it off" is not going to sit well with many women and purchasing the book is the last thing that they will do.
posted by Sonserae at 6:17 AM on May 22, 2002

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