Part 2 in the series: “Beware the ‘False Consensus’ Endorsement”
The woman put her self-published book in front of me. After I read the cutesy-pie endorsements on the back cover, I asked how I could help her, pretty much knowing what she was about to say.
“People have always told me I’m funny,” she began. “I’m the life of the party everywhere I go. So, three years ago I started speaking at mother-daughter banquets, PTA meetings, and Girl Scout retreats. I never charged anything because I was just getting started. My goal, however, was to become another Erma Bombeck, traveling around the country giving talks at conventions, conferences, and women’s gatherings. Make some TV appearances, too.”
“Erma’s been dead for more than a decade,” I pointed out.
“All the more reason for someone new to come along,” she countered, totally undeterred. “Anyway, I wrote up all my funny stories, but no one would publish my book because I didn’t have a national platform as yet. So, my husband and I borrowed $7,000 and we self-published this book. Now, I have a garage filled with unsold books, and, unfortunately for me, requests for personal appearances are not pouring in. So, where’d I go wrong? I mean, I know I’m funny. Everyone says so.”
This woman was a victim of what is known as “false consensus syndrome.” For example, people will say, “Let’s eat at that café. Look at all the trucks parked outside of it.” To that, I’d be one to ask, “And who, may I inquire, ever said truckers were any kind of judges of what qualifies as gourmet food?”
Here was the problem with Bonnie, the unsuccessful comic. She liked to tell jokes. People would always give a courtesy laugh, even if they thought her jokes were lame. Also, she liked to speak in front of groups. The groups would give her a round of applause, mostly because the folks listening were thinking better her than me since most people hate public speaking. Furthermore, she gave her typed book manuscript to her mom, her husband, her best friends, her sister, and her neighbors, and she asked for “honest feedback.” Because these folks loved her, they refused to be cruel, so they responded with what they imagined she wanted to hear: “It sounds just like you.” “It’s really amusing.” “I enjoyed it.” “Thanks for sharing this with me. It was quite entertaining.”
And so, with these “enthusiastic” endorsements, Bonnie concluded she was ready for the big-time. She wasn’t, of course. Nevertheless, she spent borrowed money to print her book and then found herself in the wilderness of would-be comics and would-be authors. It proved to be a very, very lonely place.
Next week, part 3: “Avoid Being Condemned by Faint Praise”
Dennis E. Hensley, PhD, is the author of 52 books, including Teach Yourself Grammar and Style in 24 Hours (Macmillan) and How to Write What You Love and Make a Living at It (Random House). His 3,000 freelance articles have appeared in Success, Reader’s Digest, People, The Detroit Free Press, Cincinnati Enquirer, and The Indianapolis Star, among numerous others. He is director of the Professional Writing Program at Taylor University. © 2012 by Dennis E. Hensley. All rights reserved.