f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Blink – Expert Opinion

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Blink – Expert Opinion

The last section I’m going to talk about in our conversation on Blink is Malcolm Gladwell’s take on how the first impression of an expert is very different from the first impression of the rest of us.

His examples in this chapter are fairly wide ranging involving everything from eclectic music to Pepsi vs. Coke. The larger question for debate is when do we listen to the “experts” and when do we listen to the “masses.”

The conversation strikes close to home because in his description of an “unknown” musician who wowed countless industry insiders but failed to ever gain widespread appeal because radio market testing on his songs was weak, I think we see a mirror image of the publishing world. Time after time, books that editors love and critics love will fail to gain “popular” success. You’ve heard my song and dance on that one.

Gladwell’s point is fairly obscure here because, in the end, enjoyment of music is so subjective. The artist who wowed people, often did so in person. But his songs seemed not to translate to recorded listening as well. I admit to tracking this dude down online and listening myself. I, apparently, am one of the great unwashed masses when it comes to Kenna, because the music did little for me.

Gladwell’s other point involves an interesting retelling of the genesis of New Coke and the world of taste. He interviews two “expert” tasters and in the book, and essentially the take home message is that these people taste differently than you and I.

This isn’t Gladwell’s strongest chapter because I think he’s talking about something other than “first impressions.” I think he’s talking about the notion of complexity…which is a theory dear to my heart. So we’ll talk about that theory next week.

The question for publishing is “Who is the expert voice?” The easiest answer is me…mostly because I’m being paid to find books to publish. But I balk at the term a little. I bring some level of expertise, I hope, but expert sounds a bit too heady.

Instead, I like to think of our publisher as a whole standing in as the “expert.” The books we publish, we feel, are books worth reading—to at least some segment of the market. The combined understanding and opinions of the folks here take us, on average, to books with a better-than-average shot at succeeding.

I think this goes against the “too many chefs” principle many of us believe. But reading, like music, is too idiosyncratic to be left to only one opinion.

Tomorrow, links. Next week, complexity theory.