There’s an interesting review, and discussion of hyped books here; of the review itself, I’ll say nothing, but it’s the comments section that has, naturally – thanks to Google ego search – got me interested.
As a critic, it raises my hackles and makes me feel a responsibility to cut through it. As a reader, I find it completely alienating. Simply put, I will never read anything by Mark Charan Newton simply because of the aggression with which he hypes himself.
Those of you with long internet memories will perhaps smile at the name attached to the comment.
But it is an interesting notion, isn’t it? All this talk of hype, and the sudden accusation that it’s the author’s aggression. Which, I think, is connected to deeper issues of approving an author’s relationship to the internet. Attached to some quixotic notion of writers and Bohemian cafés in Paris, and that it is below artistes to engage so dramatically with readers.
Perhaps it is a generation thing, even, though I don’t believe it’s that way for the most part. The fact remains today that if an author doesn’t engage with the community, he or she loses out – though to what extent remains uncertain. I’ve recently participated in a panel on this very subject of writers and their relationship with social media, and we couldn’t come to a conclusion on that point.
Another problem with the above comment is that it seems to ignore the fact that some authors are fans as well – some of us love the community, and I’ll be fucked if I’m drawing a line between me being a fan and a writer. It’s not mutually exclusive. The only difference between me being a writer and a fan, is luck.
In the book trade, there are two kinds of hype.
Good hype: this has always been a bottom-up kind of talk, word-of-mouth, whispers on the underground. This is the way the book trade has worked for decades in making books a success. It’s the internet forums and blogs that have been doing the hyping, and rightly so. Decentralised hype, if you will. Power to the people and all that jazz. Readers talk – and if a book is the centre of that conversation, then it’s one lucky author. Writers can do nothing about this kind of hype, and neither can publishers. Traditionally, it has always happened to them. It’s good because it causes discussion, gets people excited and, more importantly, is not influenced by corporations.
Writers can talk about themselves, of course, and link to some good reviews and kind words people have said. Neil Gaiman has been doing this wonderfully for years, and was a role model for authors who want to help publicise themselves. Is that aggression, or is that simply managing (clinging onto) one’s career? Anyone who understands just a little of the trade will understand, wholeheartedly, it’s the latter.
Bad hype: somewhere along the lines, publisher marketing blurbs started leaking into online expectations of a novel – naturally, publishers want to get reviewers excited about their books, so letters and emails from publicists begin to raise expectations, in the hope that reviewers relate this to their readership. It’s a fairly recent innovation to the blogosphere. Publishers are trying to seduce reviewers. They want you to shout about the books. In the old days, it would mean you got invited to parties and shared some cheap wine; but now it’s the freebies and sneak previews.
It’s marketing speak. Do not believe a word of it. Read the book and decide for yourself (which, incidentally, applies to the first type of hype).
But going back to the original comment – the most ironic thing of all, however, is the notion that’s so often true: it’s better to be talked about than not talked about. If no one talks about an author, the author is dead. All that such above moaning does, in forums or comments or wherever, is continue to spread the word of the very authors they wish to constrain, and provide us with blog fodder.