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Posted at 11:01 AM ET, 11/29/2010

Want to sell books to Americans? Eliminate all traces of self-doubt.

By Ezra Klein

Gillian Tett describes the difference between packaging a book for the American and British markets:

Initially I planned to start the book by admitting that I was not a true expert on high finance: instead I crashed into this world in 2005, after a background spent in journalism-cum-social anthropology – making me a well-intentioned amateur, but without complete knowledge.

My friends in the British publishing world loved that honesty; in the UK, self-deprecation sells, particularly for “well-meaning amateurs” such as the writer Bill Bryson. But my American friends hated it. In New York, I was sternly told, absolutely nobody wants to listen to self-doubt. If you are going to write a book – let alone stand on a political platform or run a company – you must act as if you are an expert, filled with complete conviction. For the US version, the preface was removed entirely.


By Ezra Klein  | November 29, 2010; 11:01 AM ET
Categories:  Books  
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Comments

Ezra:

I laughed when I read this post, wondering if you even thought about all the Freudian implications of your writing it.

Posted by: 54465446 | November 29, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

54465446, of course, I think the takeaway is that informed amateurs can present information and interesting ideas without being experts themselves, and that many people pretending to be experts here only do so because it sells. Ezra is a very well informed amateur (as compared with your average person) on a number of topics, and on topics on which is he less informed, he's upfront about it. In the parlance of the post, he's taking the British way, which actually seems to have worked out for him ok, despite his mostly American audience.

Posted by: MosBen | November 29, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

I don't think this is true. In "Liar's Poker," Michael Lewis presents himself as totally unqualified for the job of a trader, and he got hired and put in charge of millions of other people's dollars. That's the crux of the story.

Posted by: nickthap | November 29, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

MosBen:

Thanks for the reply. I think we might disagree about Ezra's own opinion of his level of expertise, but that's what make a horse race. While it is peculiarly British to think that amateurs are charming, it is peculiarly American to believe that all opinions are worth equal weight in debate. Our books need to be written by "experts", but that isn't a problem because here everyone is an expert on virtually everything, regardless of background.

Posted by: 54465446 | November 29, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

54465446 & MosBen:

I can't recall Ezra ever leading off one of his columns with "I was a poly-sci major and don't know much about economics, but....", be it him honking more debt-financed stimulus so progressives can expand their agenda now and have our kids pay for it later; presenting mythical graphs about how the ACA will reduce the deficit, or posting any one of his dozens of columns that pretends deficits are created by tax cuts and have nothing to do with government spending doubling over the past decade.

Posted by: dbw1 | November 29, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

There have been plenty of times when Ezra has said, "I'm still working out what I think about this" or "I need to read a lot more before I comment on this" etc. Moreover, I don't think the term "wonk" is synonomous with "expert".

Posted by: MosBen | November 29, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

This absolutely nails the difference between Brits and Americans in one succinct blog post.

I've been trying to do that for six years, and have yet to get it down to as few words.

Congratulations.

Posted by: KathyF | November 29, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

A single anecdote about one person's experiences publishing in two different countries hardly proves anything, although it's mighty handy fodder for satisfying national stereotypes.

Re: Ezra's "amateur" status. Huh? WTF? You're not seriously suggesting Ezra doesn't get paid for his work, do you?

I think people are referring to the fact that Ezra doesn't hold a specialist graduate degree. But this hardly makes him an "amateur" -- nor does it say much one way or another about whether he's an expert on the areas about which he writes. I think it's entirely possible a journalist like Ezra will have learned just as much from several years of DC wonkery-journalism -- interviewing government officials, non-stop discussions of policy with fellow (and mostly older and more experienced) journalists and policy wonks, etc -- than he would had he spent the same quantity of time at the Kennedy School.

Posted by: Jasper999 | November 29, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

jasper wrote:

"I think it's entirely possible a journalist like Ezra will have learned just as much from several years of DC wonkery-journalism -- interviewing government officials, non-stop discussions of policy with fellow (and mostly older and more experienced) journalists and policy wonks, etc -- than he would had he spent the same quantity of time at the Kennedy School."

You bring up some very interesting points. I think in general from reading many of Ezra's links that the young bloggers are a more incestuous group than a catholic one. I think that they have a certain amount of disdain for their elders.

I think Ezra and many like him, HAVE expertise, but view it as transferable to all other areas. For instance I'm sure that Ezra knows much more nuts and bolts on HCR than I do. He is also not bad on the inner workings of government and elections, though of course we disagree on philosphies.

BUT, he keeps straying into the fields of the economy, business, currency and specifically the "green economy", where he knows virtually nothing at all. However by only referencing his fellow bloggers, he hides this deficiency in the land of the blind. LOL

What I like though, and the reason I come back to his blog, is this, the postings. There is a much, much higher level of discourse here than the usual Obama is a communist stuff you see in most threads.

Posted by: 54465446 | November 29, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

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