Monday, January 28, 2013

Wendy Talks Her Way Around The Hype Machine

Liz has a great post over at her blog called Social Reading, Up and Down which covers (among other topics) the circle-jerk that is the promotional echo chamber that can occur among the online romance reading community.  The phenomenon where seemingly everybody in your circle (and even those on the outside fringes) seem to be reading and squee'ing about the same book and/or author. I love hype and excitement when it comes from a genuine place (KristieJ is The Master of this), while I'll admit to getting more than a little annoyed with people who blindly squeee! about something without giving me any back-up as to WHY they're squee'ing. 

But I'll be honest - when it comes to the hype machine I'm not overly concerned with those readers I encounter online.  Why?  Because these folks are R-E-A-D-E-R-S.  They constantly read.  They finish a book, they immediately pick up a new one.  I wouldn't classify anything about their reading habits as "casual."

Where hype does tend to concern me is with "casual" readers.  People who aren't active readers in a sense, but pick up a book to read every once in a blue moon.  These are the folks who I consider the bread-and-butter of the hype machine when the media gets a hold of something.  While active readers sometimes get sucked in, I know just as many who turn up their nose and wade back into their TBR piles.  However casual readers are more likely to think, "Well everybody is talking about it and reading it, so it must be good - and golly, I haven't read a book in a while, so I'll try it."

I always worry that we're losing these potential active readers.  No really, I do.  Because try as I might, the mystery of what gets hyped completely baffles me most of the time - and this is coming from a librarian.  Dudes, trust me - I'm really looking for the why and sometimes I come up with a half-baked reason, but it still doesn't explain the mysteriousness of word-of-mouth half the time.

Let's take The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson.  After endless years of hype, I finally listened to the first book, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, on audio.  I have seen the American movie version and this is one instance were I can honestly say - the movie is better.  Even factoring in that the movie changes some key elements (oh, like the ending) - David Fincher and whomever the screenwriter was really made that story better.  How?  They cut out all the crap.  Oh Lord, the excessive amounts of crap in that book!  Endless talking!  Pacing as slow as mud!  I'm no editor but if I had had the print version in front of me I would have likely run out of red ink.  Bloated and with a tendency to "tell" - it kept me reasonably engaged enough to try the second book on audio, which I DNF'ed after five or six CDs because it wasn't going anywhere.  Also, the characters were starting to defy logic.  Oh sure, Lisbeth Salandar, the girl who the authorities think is mentally challenged and unable to care for herself shot that couple gangland execution style.  You can stop looking at the owner of the licensed firearm that was used in the murders because you know - he's only an intelligent man (a lawyer) with a history of gun-club membership and a reputation for being an excellent shot.  Yeah, it must have been the idiot girl who you all think has a basement level IQ!

(I barely tolerate stupid people in real life, I can't spend my leisure time reading about them.....)

I have no idea why that trilogy was popular.  None.  It's fat.  It's bloated.  And good Lord, people give me crap about the suspense novels I love being misogynistic and promoting violence against women?  The one thing the Larrson books taught me?  Never visit Sweden.  Ever.  (Kidding Swedes.  I'm only kidding!).  I'm half convinced this series got popular for the sole reason that the author is dead.

But one thing I will give the Larsson trilogy - as a library, we had just as much demand for the later books in the series as we did for the first one.  I can't say the same for the ultimate example of hype, the Fifty Shades trilogy by E.L. James.  Part of this is that a lot of readers I've come into contact with had no idea there were other books after the first one.  Then there is the other reason I suspect: they hated the first one, or in some cases didn't even finish it, and had no desire to continue.  For the 600+ holds I had on the first book, the next two installments only peaked around 200.

I have not read Fifty Shades, and I'll be blunt - I'm not going to.  I know enough about the first book to know it will make me very angry.  And I generally refuse to read books that I know, going into them, are going to make me angry.  Have you heard about my giant TBR pile?  Life is too short.  However, that did not stop Lil' Sis from taking the plunge.  Our conversations about the first book can best be summed up in the following sentence:

Wendy......why?  Why?!?!?!?!  Why, why, why, why, why, why, why?!?!?!?!?!?!?

There also was liberal use of the F-bomb.  Which honestly made for very funny text messages from her while she was reading.  My favorites?

Yeah, almost done now.  Sooooo much talking.  Ugh.  Just f*ck please. 

and......

She f*cking cries through the whole damn book!

Lil' Sis (who has enjoyed other erotic romance authors and a smattering of romantic suspense) ultimately chalked up the experience to reading a "poorly written romance."  She has a pregnant friend who says her current condition is because of these books and I suspect my sister is planning an intervention as I type this. 

So two examples of books/series that got hype that I have a hard time figuring out why.  I suspect the Fifty Shades phenomenon tapped into a segment of readers who didn't know erotic writing existed.  Or those readers who sniff at romance, but happily will lap up poorly written tripe if you slap monochrome cover art on it.

Which makes me sound snobby and elitist, but it's hard to keep a sense of humor about stuff like this when people either 1) Squee! about Fifty Shades, then look disdainfully at my Harlequin Romance or 2) Use Fifty Shades as an example for all of Romancelandia (See?  This book sucks - ergo all romance novels must suck!).

Wow, this has turned into a rant, which was not my intention going into this.  Seriously, at the end of the day, I think people should just find books they like to read regardless of what anybody else thinks.  So yeah, if you liked Stieg Larrson and sleep with Fifty under your pillow?  More power to you.  It doesn't matter what I think.  It matters what you think.  It matters that those books spoke to you in some way that meant something to you.  Sometimes hype is good for this.  Hype can introduce you to something you love.  The flip-side of this coin though?  Hype can be detrimental.  It can make you feel clueless for not loving something that seemingly the whole world is entranced by.  Active readers are active, therefore have that ability to shrug their shoulders, dismiss the experience and move on.  But what about those casual readers? 

For all the readers erotic romance gained in the Fifty Shades hype, did we end up losing just as many?

35 comments:

  1. When I first started hanging around the online romance community I wanted to read what everyone else was reading. I gave in to the hype big time. But fortunately I figured out what works for me and what doesn't. I like to think I'm more discerning now-- not in the sense that I know what's "better" but in the sense that I know what will make me happy. Oddly, I think I'm reading fewer books these days.

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    1. Phyl: That's how I am now - I know what is likely going to work for me and what isn't. I better appreciated hype when I was so new to the genre, and still cultivating my personal tastes - but this was back in the Dark Ages pre-social media. You got your hype off web sites and message boards!

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  2. Bwahahaha! Thanks for the highlights of my texts although you forgot the "oh sure she's a virgin who is AWESOME at doing everything for the first time."

    I didn't make it past 50 pages of Dragon Tattoo but watched all three movies (SWEDISH versions for free on Netflix streaming) and liked them all. I have to say the first one was better than the last two but I really liked the guy that played the reporter/journalist so I kept watching.

    And oddly I WANT to visit Sweden now. Hmmm, what does that say about me? Seriously - Oz and I are planning a nordic tour/trip when Ceci is a bit older. Plus I love IKEA so I should visit the "motherland" of allen wrench furniture and meatballs. :)

    I hate when I don't like a hyped book - I feel like something's wrong with me, like I just "don't get it." I feel the same at hyped movies - especially the "hip" "cult" hits like Life Aquatic, Rushmore, etc.

    --Lil Sis

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    1. Lil' Sis: That was the other thing that drove me bonkers about the Larson series - Blomkvist was such a man-whore! And the various women in his life pretty much kept silent about it, letting him screw around, without having him man-up and make a commitment to anybody. Really annoying. (And right there with ya on the "hipster" films....)

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  3. Just testing to see if this posts.

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  4. Okay, finally. This is not normally an id I use but I've tried to comment here twice in the last week and kept getting error with wordpress.com even when I was signed in there. ???

    Anyway, what I wanted to say was that I believe the two things you're talking about, Wendy, are honest hype and what I tend to call fan frenzy. They both happen inside and outside the romance "community" but an honest word-of-mouth hype about something, whatever it might be, is natural and organic like a gentle background buzz that may or may not grow in intensity.

    A fan frenzy, though, tends to be something that's more marketing based or at least fanned by marketing - if they're smart - and there's usually nothing gentle about it. It can flare like a wildfire and be out just as fast. Or it can last and grow into actual fandoms but the product then has to stand up to the test of time. A lot simply don't.

    Doesn't mean the initial "frenzy" can't be extra loud and completely inexplicable, though.

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    1. Bev: Yeah, I had to dump anonymous comments (sadly) because the spam was getting out of control (and flooding everybody's e-mail who clicked on the follow-up comments option!).

      That is an EXCELLENT point about frenzy, and I think Fifty illustrates that beautifully. Part of the issue was really that the media sunk in it's claws - largely because (IMHO) of the subject matter. It gave something for people to twitter behind their hands about.....

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  5. That's a really interesting point about the effect of hype on the casual/occasional reader. You're right--it annoys me sometimes but seldom sways my choices, because I read enough to know what I like and which other readers are reliable guides for me.

    The funny thing is, the examples you cite (and a number of other best-sellers I can think of) suggest that a lot of people LIKE "bloat." I can't even speculate on why.

    And thanks for the link!

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    1. Liz: I would chalk it up to my love of the category format - but I know from personal experience I am capable of enjoying "big" books. There just needs to be a reason for the bloat - and in the case of a lot of books? There isn't.

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  6. Blogger keeps eating my comment, but I refuse to be thwarted.

    I agree with Bev's distinction between genuine word-of-mouth and marketing-driven fan frenzy. The problem in romance that I'm increasingly seeing, though, is that the two are overlapping. Readers are bloggers are aspiring authors/newbie authors. When the categories mesh together, it's hard to pull out the marketing from the enthusiasm that would have emerged without being pushed strategically. And it's not just authors who direct this; fans are more than happy to sign up to publicize their favorites.

    The other thing about hype, especially for books: so many people buy the books and then never read them. But the number that sticks is "number sold," which is always far greater than "number read." And yet, publishers hop on the wagon, hoping they've found the secret ingredient to permanent profit.

    Sunita

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    1. The overlap is not anything new but what is how fast "news" can travel nowadays and help make things into a fad almost instantaneously. Think flash mob - only instead of going somewhere to do something, it's about almost instant product access. Instant fandoms. Literally.

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    2. Sunita: Piggy-backing on Bev's reply - yeah, the social media explosion has really pushed this to epic proportions. I love the term "instant fandom" - because it really feels like that sometimes!

      And yes, yes, yes - on books bought but not read! I wonder how many people who check out library copies of whatever the hot book is at the moment actually read them cover to cover.

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  7. I think there are people who aren't casual readers who get caught up in the hype. A woman I was helping the other day put 50 Shades on hold, saying "It sounds awful, but if everyone else is reading it." She had about 10 other books on hold and several others checked-out. She was a read who wanted to be a part of the conversation. Casual reader or not, it still has the potential to turn her off of anything else erotic or romance-y because she's only reading it for the hype; it's not one of the books she's picking out for her own interest.

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    1. Jennifer: And then as a librarian you need to stop yourself from saying, "Oh honey, please don't. Let me give you something else to read." Because really - that's not our job. Just because we may not like something, doesn't mean we should deter readers from making their own judgements. But yeah. It makes me sad that they may read it, hate it, and then never give a thought to reading other writers out there who do it soooooo much better.

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  8. Oh the hype! It works for both the casual reader and the active reader. My daughter is a casual reader and she got caught up on the 50 Shades hype -- read the first one, DNF'd the second one. She is NOT a romance or erotica reader as a rule. Her comment to me? Is this what you read mom? Ahhhhhh...... Needless to say, we had a long conversation. But that makes your point because I don't think reading those books encouraged her to read romance OR erotica in the future.

    I pretty much know what works for me at this point, and I know that my choices don't necessarily work for the majority some of the time and other times it does. *g* Oh well, that's the way the cookie crumbles.

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    1. ROTFL! The reason I'm laughing so hard over this one is that I've had the exact same conversation with my 20-something son a number of times. It doesn't matter what the book (or story) is that sets me off. It's that he tries to equate it to what I read when he knows full well it isn't anything like what I read normally.

      Oye.

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    2. Hils: I know, right? I actually know people, in my real life, who turn up their nose at my romance reading, but then happily INHALED Fifty Shades. Seriously, how do you keep from smacking these people? Hard? And repeatedly?

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  9. I knew there was something specific in the post I wanted to comment on but I got so wrapped up in actually getting a comment to load that I completely forgot it. ;-) Anyway, Wendy said:

    Which makes me sound snobby and elitist, but it's hard to keep a sense of humor about stuff like this when people either 1) Squee! about Fifty Shades, then look disdainfully at my Harlequin Romance or 2) Use Fifty Shades as an example for all of Romancelandia (See? This book sucks - ergo all romance novels must suck!).

    I don't think having those feelings is being snobby or elitist. I think it's experience with the romance genre and readers in general talking, Wendy.

    Let me put it to you this way, when I first heard about Fifty Shades, it seemed like every familiar site I checked, whether it was romance or some TV fandom, was talking about it. So, naturally, I had to do some digging to find out what the heck they were all raving and, yes, ranting about.

    And then my jaw dropped.

    Because basically in skipping a lot of sites and posts, the two keywords that floated to the surface were "fan fiction" and "erotica" no less. O-kay.

    Understand here that it wasn't that someone who started out writing fan fiction was being published mainstream because I know several that have made that jump. A couple of them are publishing mainstream (i.e. print, not ebook) romances nowadays. I've also read quite a bit of "adult level" fan fiction that mainstream romance publishers couldn't or wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. Even nowadays.

    However, I'd never seen or heard of anybody who made the transition get this type of reception or level of marketing. Even someone coming out of the mystery or science fiction fandoms.

    Seriously, there's a reader generated word-of-mouth buzz and then there's what can only be called a fan-mentality-driven fad where everyone is fascinated by the newest shiny object. It's pretty easy to spot the difference when one has no idea what the "thing" that everyone is talking about is to begin with.

    Here's the thing, though, when we're talking about what amounts to a fad like that, quality doesn't matter. It also doesn't matter where it fits in terms of genre because everyone is going to "see" what they want to see - for better or for worse.

    So don't distrust your own instincts. ;-)

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    1. Skimming, not skipping. O.O

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    2. Bev: I still contend that Fifty largely got the buzz because of the subject matter and that women wanted to read it. Those outside were just flabbergasted! There are "naughty" books out there? And women like to read them? And then of course we were then subjected to idiots like Dr. Drew talking about the "dangers" of the book - like every woman who read it was going to head right on over to the nearest neighborhood sex club and look for a master to dominant her ::eyeroll::

      I've seen genuine word of mouth in action - and there seems to be a point where it can tip over into frenzy. The Da Vinci Code was like this for me. It was a very slow, gradual build - at least in the library world - and took many months to reach epic proportions. Once that happened we then had to wade through all the nonsense whether it was "factual" and Wendy having to gently tell some library patrons, "Um, yeah - but it's fiction." ::headdesk:: Dan Brown can claim the sky is green if he wants because.....he wrote a fiction book.

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    3. It all kind of reminds me of when The Notebook first came out, although I'm sure even it got as much "fenzy" as the Fifty Shades book(s). I do remember how so many romance readers and sites were both fascinated and appalled that those books were selling so well AND considered "romances" at the same time.

      Me, I still haven't read them, have no plans to and avoid the video versions like the plague. 'Course I avoid the tearjerkers within the genre the same way, so I'm not sure how much that says. ;-)

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    4. "I'm not sure even it got as much "frenzy" as the Fifty Shades"

      (head-desk) I cannot type today.

      One other thing about something else you said with regards to the factual vs. the fictional. People are just doggone weird about that type of stuff. It's so easy to say it's an "ignorance" thing going on, i.e. someone just not knowledgeable about a certain topic and therefore thinking it's not factual simply because they think it's so outrageous.

      Then I turn around and think about how many truly nitpicking "discussions" I've seen over the years on anything from historical accuracy, the rules of magic to workable technology - mostly involving people who claim to be in-the-know about the topic they're nitpicking on. And I realize that it's not about facts because no one is ever going to agree on what those are and the more people know about any topic the worse the disagreements get.

      It's about individual perceptions of the purpose of fiction in the first place. People want to be entertained and then they want to be able to either wallow in it or argue about it to prolong the experience. That last, I think, is what drives so many of these fads in the first place - something to share, whether in agreement or disagreement.

      Whether a fad last long enough to become a fandom is another story altogether.

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  10. I tend to avoid the hype books like the plague - the ones that are hyped by the general population that is. My reasoning is those are casual readers... they read one or two books a year and then, they go on and say: "This is the best book I've ever read!!" and in my mind, I keep thinking "But you've read so little!" LOL. So yeah, I don't trust their judgement ^_^;

    Speaking of casual readers, well you know, I think that you'll see them reading the next hyped book... whether they enjoyed the last one or not.

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    1. Nath: My sisters had friends telling them they had to read Fifty and both of them were like, "Wendy is the Queen of Romance. She's not telling me I have to read it - so yeah.....no thanks." LOL!

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  11. What I want to know about these hype books is how many people keep reading after getting sucked into them. I know a ton of people who proudly told me that they read 50 Shades (usually with phrases like first book I have read in years). I am pretty sure that only a small proportion of these people then went on to explore more books either within the same genre or outside of it.

    You see it happen every time with the really hyped books. Another one that comes to mind is DaVinci Code where the same kind of phenomenon took place.

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    1. Marg: I'm always curious when the hyped book is in a very specific genre. How many Fifty fans go on to try other erotic romance or do they think that EL James is the only one writing it (Ha!!!!!!) and just wait around to see if she publishes something else?

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  12. I wish I was still a Shades virgin.

    I KNEW BETTER, but I read it anyway. I am so ashamed. I feel so....used.

    Not only did I read the first book, but I gutted my way through the second. My only saving grace is that I didn't go back for a third time...

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    1. Poor Goddess ::pats soothingly on the head:: It'll be OK. We all have those misguided, one-sided relationships that we no are no-good for us - but we can't seem to say no. The important thing is that you got help and got out ;)

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  13. For me, the disdain for the over-hyped book is directly connected to my disdain for the flock of sheep mentality. Which is why you won't see me reading anything once recommended by Oprah or mentioned on talk show after talk show.

    Also, I had to bite my lip SO hard when I spotted a copy of 50 on my SIL's bookshelf. She's a casual reader who only reads hyped books, and I think it bothers me because it seems like she's reading to 'be in the know' rather than for the love of reading.

    All of which makes me feel like we're really not losing any potential READERS. Because 99% of those who are casual readers easily led by hype probably aren't reading for the same reasons avid readers do.

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    1. Amber: I can always tell when the hype is getting out of control when it ropes in my hard-core readers here at work. Or those readers who normally don't read ANYTHING like the book that is being hyped but.....they just can't help themselves.

      I was rollin' alright with the Fifty thing until people in my life who sneer at my romance reading started gushing about Fifty. OMG - SHUT UP!!!!!

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  14. Well, I haven't read 50 Shades and I don't intend to. I've read erotica before but it's not my favorite thing, although if someone whose opinion I trust is positive, I *might* try something erotica anyway. 50 Shades is a no go even if a friend loved it though. It's the hype and it's the idea itself that puts me off.
    However, I enjoyed Stieg Larsson's trilogy mostly because for once the good guys had the upper hand and were many times ahead of the "bad guys" in trying to solve what they had to.
    This said I don't consider myself a trend follower...Sure I'll check it out but from looking it up to actually buying it goes a mile.

    As for the casual readers possibility to read more because of hyped books, I don't think so. I know two or three people who do this and they take months to read that hyped book, much less another one. I think when someone doesn't like it and says it otherwise it's just another mask they put for the sake of others. Somehow reading is cool nowadays, especially if it's a very known book or an intellectual one. The same way I can't turn a smoker because it's just not something I care about, others won't be readers and that's it.

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    1. S.: Which feeds into what Amber was saying about some people just reading the hyped book because they want to be "in the know." Some folks are never going to be readers, and that's fine. Not everybody wants to spend their leisure time reading, just as I don't want to spend all my leisure time doing something crafty.

      I think I would have liked the Larsson books I tried better if he had stripped them down considerably. They were just too much. But then again, I tend to favor my suspense novels on the lean side. Less is more - just give me the good bits! LOL

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  15. I'm one who is usually turned off by the hype. It took me years and years to pick up Outlander. I haven't and I will not pick up 50 Shades.

    I have an aunt who only reads "New York Times Bestsellers". She knows nothing about the author or the book except that it's a NYTBS and that's it. She's so into the hype I don't think she even cares whether she enjoys the book - I mean, it HAS to be good right??

    I like my little circle of squeeing fangirls - I know it's genuine and it piques my interest without overwhemling me. The mainstream media hype is something I avoid as much as possible.

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    1. Kaetrin: I'm the same way. Too much hype - even within my own little corner of the internet - and I tend to dig in my heels something fierce. Then, typically, I tell myself I need to stop being ignorant in the name of my job - and I usually end up listening to the hyped book on audio (sometimes years after the fact!) I suspect, eventually, that will what I end up doing with Gone Girl.....

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    2. I have no interest in Gone Girl (beyond a certain curiosity as to how it ended but someone killed a fairy for me and told me so I'm good!). It's not a romance, there's no HEA, so I'm out. But, as a librarian I guess you don't always get to choose. That's a downside I suppose but then, you get to talk about books all day for work and that seems like such an awesome trade off to me! :)

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