Designed by Committee

At some point you have all heard or uttered the following:

An elephant is a mouse built to government specifications.

A camel is a dog designed by committee.

Duck Billed PlatypusThe Duck Billed Platypus is an animal designed by a committee which accepted corporate lobbyist dollars.

The publishing industry is pushing designed by committee works onto consumers at a furious pace. When a very small committee is involved which allows a single author to express their vision we get “Harry Potter.” When a larger committee is directing a team of writers we get yet another television show about zombies. When that committee wants to cut costs and the number of writers they employ, they give us fake reality TV. This lead to our first fake reality President.

Even the education industry surrounding the writing profession pushes this designed by committee concept on us. All of these early reading groups you are taught to seek out to get feedback are in place to design your book by committee. True, one can make a good living churning out oatmeal for the masses, if they manage to find a job in writing, but is it what you really want to do?

My brain is almost as useless as google today. Back in the late 1970s when I was in school we were told in English Lit class about the only book ever written by committee to make the New York Times best seller list. A group of friends at a party, (most likely in New York because only people in New York would consider talking about writing a book together a party) decided they should try writing a book. They discussed the general concept and plot then dolled out chapter assignments. Some weeks later they had another party where everyone brought their chapters. (It might have been two parties.) They coordinated character names and subplots and general put the work into final form. Somehow they then got it published. Can’t remember the title for the life of me.

This set the trend for the publishing industry. The lone author chasing purity of message was replaced by a committee which decided what would be in the book. The feedback from my author friends who have made recent forays into traditional publishing is that an author is now viewed as a typing monkey who will spend 3000 hours per year marketing a book to make them money. On rare occasions we get a “Harry Potter.” The rest of the time we get more the same.

As much as I liked the “Harry Potter” films and find the “Fantastic Beasts” films both quaint and entertaining, that whole line is getting to be “more the same.” Keep the formula going and the cash register ringing. I understand J.K. Rowling wishing to keep traveling the road. True ground breaking work is, at best, a twice in a lifetime kind of thing. Most people never achieve it the first time.

Just take a look at this short list of Zombie books. Even “Game of Thrones” has brought in the zombies. (Oh? What would you call the army of the dead?) Do your own searches for “child wizard” published since the “Harry Potter” books went to film. Every publisher wants to cash in.

Even an indie author cannot completely get away from the committee. True, you can labor alone until you feel your work is complete, but then you have to hire editors. On the plus side you can reign in the editors. Instead of deciding what, if any, of your own content survives, you can limit them to fixing grammar, spelling, broken plot and character names changing part way through the book. (Work on any book long enough with big enough gaps and that character name thing will happen to you.)

Happy Meal imageA lone author can produce a true work of art (it just needs editing.) A committee with outside influences will always produce a platypus. A committee in isolation, following a strict formula will produce a Happy Meal. You may sell a lot of copies, but it is not something people will treasure.

It all boils down to one question:

Why do you want to be an author?


Thank you Jonathan Brookes! The title was “Naked Came the Stranger” written as a literary hoax.



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