Yesterday, in a comment on the Coode St post here, a thoughtful reader commented:
I do miss the days when you would have a novel come out with much less build-up and hype, but the world has changed, hasn’t it? I’m trying to preserve what I can by keeping my knowledge of RIVER to this: “It’s a Kay novel influenced by historical China.”
And you know, in thinking about that, I’ve decided I’m not going to read any reviews at all. I know I’m going to read RIVER at some point. No reviewer’s opinion will change that. Avoiding the hype will be difficult, however…
I started typing a reply in the Comments, but I wonder how many people find these, and his note is worth a discussion.
Matthew, as I have said before, I have intense memories of days when the arrival of a new book by an author I liked was signalled by … the arrival of the book. I’d see it in the library or on the shelves of a bookstore. And the feeling I recall from such moments is intense. Once, with Dorothy Dunnett’s Ringed Castle, I grabbed it out of the ‘new arrivals’ shelf at the library with such ferocity, that people backed away from the crazy teen.
It is hard to imagine a book lover being that oblivious to a forthcoming book today, unless they work at it.
So you are right, the process for this, as for so much else, has changed enormously. For one thing, as I also mentioned earlier, advance orders are important for a book and publishers. They affect print runs, in-house enthusiasm (or the lack of it) and even the final marketing budget. Energy begets energy. A set of strong blog reviews can help create the existence of a major print review somewhere else if the publicists are on the ball.
There is also a vanishingly small window of opportunity for new books these days. Shelf space at a book chain, or highly viisble placement online, are granted – and taken away swiftly if a book isn’t moving. So they are expected to hit the ground running, so to speak.
This means that today the publishers need a book to arrive anticipated, not just build enthusiasm over time after it is released. (Obviously they want the second thing, too, but the first is the newly critical element.) In a sped-up culture, this, too, is now sped up.
With publishers under pressure in so many ways it is understandable that they turn to social media and intense advance marketing to try to make books happen. It creates a lot of chatter and noise, but then on social media maybe that fits. I would feel worse than curmudgeonly if I refused to allow this, or declined to help out. Unless one self-publishes, bringing out a book is a partnership, a collaboration, and I do feel that – with limits that vary from person to person – an author ought to assist his or her publishers.
I’ll give one example. I have been worrying about overexposure in interviews right now. My various publicists tell me this is, well, silly. I have done, and am lined up to do, a great many conversations, either by email or in person, in the next two or three months. I am sure some readers will end up in eye-roll mode as they read or listen to me making the same joke or observation again. (See what I’m doing? I riffed on this two or three posts back here. You are seeing it again!)
But the publicists are adamant that only a small portion of people find an author’s interviews more than one or two times. That multiple venues are critical to reach and exposure. It is analogous to a politician making the same stump speech over and over, to different audiences. If CNN show the same clip every time, he or she will sound appallingly repetitious, but the people in the audience each night may well be hearing it for the first (and only) time.
As I type, I am thinking now about what happens here … if I do alerts on Twitter or Facebook or this journal of a new interview I am contributing to that repetition-factor, unless I have managed to say something quite new — and that turns almost entirely on being asked something new! I think alerts to reviews are different, by the way, by definition, each review is its own opinion, and they aren’t me.
On the other hand, and again my publishers have made this point, a Journal like this, or Twitter followers draw, by self-selection, people with at least some interest in tracking what is going on as a book comes out and responses to it emerge. It would feel kind of eccentric to not share information with people here. I am not averse to occasional eccentricities, as many will know by now, but I try not to be defined by them.
Bottom line, Matthew and I share a wistful nostalgia for days when none of this happened. But nostalgia has its own problems, and it is probably smartest to see this phenomenon – advance discussion of a book-to-come – as simply a part of the world we’ve given ourselves.
There are upsides. I got to make some wonderfully awful (what oxymoron?) puns on #BellLetsTalk day on Twitter.