There are plenty of things that are hyped up, and not at all the grand experience people make them out to be. I tend to find this happens with movies, a lot. Which may be why I pretty much ignore movie trailers now, and everyone buzzing about them. There has to be…something special in the discussion of a movie to catch my interest anymore. I’m trying to remember if I’ve been to more than one movie in a theatre this year, and I don’t think I have.
Thinking about all of this has a direct transfer to books. At what point is too much hype an issue? When did Harry Potter go from being something I’d heard a lot about to something I never wanted to read? How did The DaVinci Code make that leap? I don’t know. Oh, I know I will read Harry Potter, eventually. Just not when everyone keeps telling me too. Well, okay, not when my sister keeps telling me too. That might explain that. There’s something about older siblings that brings out the automatic rebellion in me. You think green is my favourite colour? I’m changing it to red, just because!
I differ from some people in my philosophies. I think there is such a thing as bad publicity. Ask Mel Gibson. Ask any celebrity that’s lost a lucrative endorsement contract.
I also think that there’s such a thing as laying low for too long, in some industries. Hollywood would definitely be one of them. A few years out of the spotlight and people have moved on to the next big thing. If you haven’t acquired legend status, being on the sidelines too long could be the death knell on your career.
Writing seems a bit more forgiving… Doesn’t it?
Now, personally, I think there is such a thing as too much advanced hype. And there is always a risk of feeling let down by something that’s been built up to be this great experience.
An example of a book with a lot of buzz around it this year would be Cornelia Read’s stunning debut, A Field of Darkness. Praised by numerous authors, with a lot of buzz coming from the readers as well.
What was interesting – and Cornelia could speak better to this than me – was watching the reviews come up on DorothyL. There were many glowing, positive reader reviews.
But there were a few who basically said, “After all the hype about this book, I decided to read it and was I ever disappointed.”
Which always prompted me to write Cornelia an email, reviewing the review.
And in her case, I think that for some people the hype had that negative effect. They’d probably read everything praiseworthy said about the book in every review out there, and then had the meh, it ain’t all that reaction.
And not because it isn’t a great book - it is a great book! - but because it had been built up into this phenomenal experience and for some people, no book could actually deliver that.
None of this was Cornelia’s fault. Nor was it because the book isn’t an excellent book. I’m going to keep saying that. Because I don’t want anyone to think I’m slamming Cornelia or her book. Not for a second. Definitely one of my favourite reads this year.
But it does make you wonder at what point pushing something is too much. And I’m so guilty of this. I mean, I’m nothing but a gushing cheerleader over the things I love. If it’s a song, you have to hear it. A book, you have to read it. An author, you have to worship them too. I could never sell myself as a sales person and talk up things I had no interest in, but you couldn’t stop me from promoting the things that capture my imagination, the things that speak to me.
Is that always a good thing?
I don’t think it is, necessarily. And it’s something I have to pay a bit more attention to, I think.
In thinking about my own book being five months away from reality, I wonder what the point is where it’s bad to not have people talking about it is? Obviously, advanced hype is important. Remember back to what I said on my posts about BSP and winning new readers – it sounded like some people (based on their emails) wrote me off because I’m not available for pre-order on amazon yet. Geesh, I know people who have books coming out later next year who’ve got their cover art up on their website, and a long list of blurbs. Some days, it’s downright depressing, because you think you can never do enough to promote your work. You can never be ready enough…
But you can obviously be pushed too hard.
Finding the balance is the trick. I haven’t said much about the storyline for Suspicious Circumstances. The tiny write-up on my website covers about two chapters, hardly a fraction of the book. I had to pare it down to a thirty-word blurb, which was torture.
I was discussing all the intricacies of this business with an author over the weekend, and one thing that came up that we both seemed to believe in was growing a body of work.
The author’s first responsibility is to write the best damn book that’s in them.
The publisher’s priority is to produce the best book possible.
We can’t dispute that marketing is important. You don’t just have to market yourself to customers. You have to market yourself to the bookstores. I’m not an idiot, I know how this works. I already know how hard it will be to get stores to stock my book. And in reality, I know there’s precious little I can do about it.
An author I know went through this. Poor Canadian distribution. This author worked her ass off, going to bookstores around the country, and even in the city she grew up in, where most of her family still lived, she couldn’t get the local bookstores to carry the book. And she was published by a known and established US publisher (though I’m not saying who, because then some people would know the author’s identity).
This could be a point where I launch into a tirade, about how consumers don’t get all the options out there. My book will be distributed by Ingrams. Excellent reputation, standard return policy, same as a zillion other books out there. Same for other authors I’ve known.
I went through this a few months ago, trying to order a book. One thing I’ve learned about the big chain stores in Canada is that if you order online, they charge you shipping. So why bother? Go to amazon, right? Right.
I was in the bookstore, looking for some books, and found one I was after. Two I still couldn’t find. I decided to order them there, to the store. No shipping charge, for one thing.
It was no trouble for me to order Dublin Noir. It was quite another story for me to order Steve Mosby’s The Third Person. And this pissed me off, to no end, because in Canada Steve’s book comes out through Orion. They publish Ian Rankin, so it isn’t like they’ve got a distribution problem here.
But they told me I couldn’t order Steve’s book into the stores.
What the fuck?
Oh, it wasn’t just one impatient customer service chick. A manager as well. They never rushed me or brushed me off, and it took ages to deal with this order, because they could order Dublin Noir into the store, but not Steve’s book.
Anyway, long story short, they ended up not sending me the book, I complained, and then I got two copies.
But since then, Steve’s made the jump from the online computer system to the store computer system. I’ve been in three of the big chain stores in the past week, and guess what? There are his books.
That I paid an extra $8 to have shipped to me. Grrrr.
And people wonder why it’s harder and harder to make a living selling books.
Some days, I just want to crawl into a hole and forget about all of this stuff. Talking up your book, getting all those good blurbs, having an eye-catching cover, all the gimmick stuff… It feels like such a competition sometimes.
When was it just wonderful to know you were going to be published? Because it’s not enough – you have to be a success. A smashing success.
And then, when you are a successful author, you’ve always got that pressure on you, to live up to what you’ve done before.
None of this helps me sort out in my head how much advanced hype is too much, or at what point you’ve risked missing the mark for building up the anticipation for your work.
Today, I feel exceptionally bummed.