Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Wonderful(?) World of Hype

Hype.  Whether we like it or not, all of us know it well since it plays a factor in how we spend our money.  Movies, music, and consumerism itself all thrive on hype.  If not for hype's effect on marketing, how else would we have fads (think Furby, Crazy Bandz, etc.) and ever-changing rates of supply and demand? Raising hype before or when a product releases has become a strategy all its own, and hype is definitely a force in marketing. But is it always a force of good?

Even in the publishing industry, there are the shticks to garner word of mouth long before publication date:  large publishing deals, blurbs from best-selling authors, large ARC (advanced reading copy) distribution, and heavy social networking presence through advertisements, promotions, and giveaways (to name a few things).  All of these things are used to generate buzz -- but, though marketing definitely is necessary, when is it all just too much?

On Wednesday, I reviewed Veronica Roth's much-anticipated and much-hyped Divergent; this book alone is just one example of the hype machine that has been driving the YA book industry for the past few years.  Just looking at the back of the Divergent ARC offers the outline for a National Marketing Campaign, which includes mass promotion via the internet (blogs, Facebook, Inkpop, etc.) and advertisements.  (And, yes, most ARCs have marketing campaigns of some sort listed in detail on the back covers -- but hyped books, I've found, have a lot of marketing driving them towards popularity.  The hype isn't always created by reader response and favorable reviews.) Of course this isn't a new thing, but it's still a bit disquieting that hype has such weight in determining which books are likely to do well and which ones will fade into obscurity.

Do I have issues with hype?  Yes and no. While I know that publishers need to do something to gain back the money they gave out in advances to authors while also gaining back profit, I don't like hype just for hype's sake.  True, hype is a necessary evil in marketing of any kind, but it also proves to be a double-edged sword for authors and their novels.

As a reader, I'll be honest:  hype is becoming something of a scarlet letter when I'm looking at potential books to read.  After all, when you hear about a book for months and months before its publication, that hype embeds some expectations within potential readers.  Obviously, many hyped books are not going to live up to all of the expectations set upon them since it's impossible to please everyone, but it's still disappointing to read a book that received rave reviews from others and find that you just don't love it that much, if at all.  Still, I try to have as much optimism as I can that the hyped given to some books is deserved and/or warranted somehow.

I worry that the emphasis on hype will lead more and more to people seeking to be published less because of stories they want to tell and more because of the gain they could potentially receive from it.  I worry that less books will be published because of their stories and heart and more because of the cash flow they will incite.  I worry that many readers in the future won't know a good thing when they read it because hype will be the main deciding factor for whether they read a book or not.

I open the discussion to you, Book Lantern followers: what are your views on hype?  Does hype affect how you perceive a book before you read it?  Are you tiring of hype in the marketing of books, or have you found many great books due to its influence?


  1. I just sort of commented about this on Julie Halpern's blog. Here's the thing. I think it's unfair. That's not to say that if I came out with a book the company decided to hype, I'd refuse it. Because I wouldn't. But I see books and authors getting this amazing treatment while a lot of really good stories and authors get pushed by the wayside. I've seen too many good bookks just disappear in the midst of the hype being pushed out for one or two lead titles a quarter. And OK, if a publisher puts out a huge advance, I don't fault the company for wanting to recoup that investment. But wouldn't it be in the best interest of the publisher to want ALL of its books to succeed?

    I know of authors who have been told by their publishers "we're not going to market your book at all." And it's like, why even bother to publish it if you don't want the book and the author to succeed?

    I've been to an event where there is a mid-list (or less) author and a NYT best-selling author. The best-selling author is getting star treatment--cars, food, etc. The mid-list author? Had to arrange transportation. No swag. It's a really crappy way to treat people. I mean, I know the disparity is out there, but to have it IN YOUR FACE like that is something else. Especially because it's the publisher's lack of support that is keeping the mid-list author on the mid-list. An author can promote, promote, promote, but if the publisher is not backing that author (getting the books into stores, etc.) then what's the point?

    So as for hype? I am a hypocrite because I'd take it in a heartbeat. And I do not fault the authors at all. Ride that wave, I say! Plus, I love hearing about new books. And some of it is well-deserved. I shout from the rooftops how much I love The Hunger Games and how everyone should read it RIGHT NOW. However, I can see how focusing on just a couple of books is hurting a lot of people, a lot of talented people, and that's where I have an issue with it.

  2. Hype is every writer's dream and curse. It gets potential readers's attention, it gets wider coverage than the regular blogs and review sites but it also runs the risk of boring and annoying us readers. We can be fickle folks and often we don't like something being shoved in our faces until we're screaming no more.

    Of course a publisher want its moneys worth if they've spent a huge amount of money on the advance - look at the pre-release Hype Matched got, which stayed in the NYT bestsellers list for ages - but it doesn't always work - Andrea Cremer's Nightshade got the biggest and most creative pre-release publicity campaign I've ever seen online yet the book didn't sell as well as hoped, which is why they're revamped the covers with those horrible sexualised poses.

    I'm not against hype but I am weary of something if it's being pushed as the next big thing, especially in comparison to something else, like the way Matched was Twilight crossed with The Hunger Games, or Starcrossed is the Greek mythology version of Twilight. True hype is organic and it only really becomes a big deal once it's established a strong base and suddenly people look up and take notice. Well, that's what I think.

  3. I'm a stubbornly independent reader, and I like discovering books in my own way, and not because I've been barraged by hype; and so even if the book itself may sound like a book I would love, if it's overhyped, quite often I will resist reading it for years, until maybe some of that has furor has died down (unless somehow it got onto my reading list before the hype, then that makes it ok to read :P). And when I do read a really hyped up book, especially if it's right when it first comes out, I feel like I judge it far more harshly than I might a book I've heard little about. So while I know it's not really far to the author or book in question, they don't really control the press; and while I do love to see good authors and books get exposure; when it seems every genre book blog, book seller site and section of the bookstore I go to are all talking about the same book for weeks and I can't seem to get away from it, the excessive hype definitely works against the book in my case.

  4. I haven't experienced a lot of pre-release hype, unless it was directly through an author's blog. I think the facebook ad I've been seeing lately for Divergent is probably the closest thing, but it piqued my curiosity enough to seek more information about it. (But, I couldn't even recall the title or what it was about after the ad disappeared...) I'm more familiar with post-release hype (which, I guess, might just be carryover), and seeing books compared with recent popular books drives me insane. It's insulting to both the reader and the author, I think. As if the reader could only be interested in reading something that's similar to some other thing they read, and as if the book isn't good enough to entice on its own without being compared to something else. I think that probably deters as many readers as it attracts.

  5. The sad fact is that hype is probably necessary just to get the thing on the shelves. Buzz in the blogosphere doesn't translate to sales in numbers large enough to be more than a blip in the overall market (and a small blip at that). Frankly, if you want one of the chain stores to carry a book that isn't by a big name author, there are really only two easy options:

    1. Hype (the kind that costs money - advertisting, PAYING FOR TABLE SPACE AT STORES and such like). About the most I've ever had is a few weeks of small google ads, but those drove roughly 50-100x as much traffic to my page as all the blogs combined. If you can't pay for the hype, it can be generated by controversy (in mainstream media), big awards, etc.

    2. Follow the trends RIGIDLY - cover, title, plot, etc all fitting the flavor of the month - so the stores will know the book has a built-in audience and will be an easy sell.

    Without either of those, not only are you unlikely to get much store visibility, but people probably aren't going to SEE any of the promotions that are done (blogs, trailers, what have you).

    Most of the promotions for books don't really pay for themselves - book tours cost a fortune and rarely result in much uptick in sales once they get started. But just putting "book tour" on the back of an arc is the kind of thing that makes a store feel they ought to carry it, makes trade reviewers more likely to feature it, etc. But if every book gets it, then it all just fades into white noise (like "blog tour," "twitter presence," "web page," etc - that stuff is kind of like having an album having a cover now. It helped a few records take off in the 1950s, but now everyone has one).

  6. I've stumbled upon your blog and I think it's great!

  7. I'm one of those annoying readers who will stubbornly resist reading a book simply because everyone else is reading it. If everyone's fallen for its allure or for the hype generated before or after its release, then I'm less likely to be interested. It also has a slightly negative effect, too - as you suggested. When something is built up so much, some disappointment is inevitable. For example, I was expecting a great deal from The Hunger Games purely because people I respected were reading and recommending it. As a result, I felt let down by the lack of innovation where there was so much potential to do something different.

  8. " hype is becoming something of a scarlet letter when I'm looking at potential books to read. "

    Pretty much. I have yet to read the Divergent review from this blog, but having seen it on other blogs that tend to suck up to authors I'm already having doubting I want to read it.

  9. If the books of the lowest quality weren't getting the hype, I wouldn't be so much against it. It is almost always the worst works, works designed to fill Hunger Games-like, Twilight-like niche that get extensive promo. This is why such books rarely live up to the hype.

  10. i definitely am tired of hype. remember matched? across the universe? delium? where is the merit? the potential? the world-building? the character growth? exactly. it's gone. since YA appears to be the "new thing," publishers just dish out one after another of dystopia and supernatural novels. but look them. truly. most of them suck. and why is that? that is because of hype because these genre is the new thing and since it is the new thing, everyone has to buy it. but whatever about the good books out there? the ones with REAL merit? most of them are pushed to the side, thrown away. what abour fire by kirstein cashore? the adoration of jenna fox? life as we knew it? all of these novels are fantastic. they are beautiful, well put together, break the mold, and the authors of these novels actually can (gasp) write. but are these the books we read? are these books that get the fame? are these the books that we hold close to our hearts? are these what we get? no. no, instead of all of these well-built novels, you know what we get? we get cruddy, badly constructed pieces of nothing. do we get the adoration of jenna fox? no, instead we get twilight (or anything else just as worse.).