Smugglers Ponderings

Smugglers’ Ponderings: Hype and Prejudice

With this issue of Smugglers’ Ponderings, we would like to take a moment to examine hype.

There are a number of titles that have been touted as OMG THE FANTASY DEBUT OF 2011!1 or THE MOST GRIPPING DYSTOPIAN NOVEL SINCE THE HUNGER GAMES! or THE MOST FANTASTIC WORLD SINCE HARRY POTTER, and so on and so forth.2 Even though we like to think that we are decently well read and generally intelligent individuals, we admit that we are not inured to hype and we do get caught up in online/publisher buzz – and time and time again, we are burned by it. This, doubtless, has something to do with our own inflated expectations…but often times these heavily buzzed-about books end up being not only disappointing, but poorly written, unsatisfying, and not entertaining on any level.

Before we proceed any further though, perhaps it is best to define hype as we perceive of it in publishing, and what exactly are we referring to when we say “hyped books.” First of all, it should be stated that our hyped books may not necessarily be your hyped books; that is, we are avid bloggers and we may have a different perspective of upcoming titles, since we are in contact with publishers and PR companies, we attend industry events such as Book Expo America, book releases, signings, we read industry publications, one of us works in the industry, and we follow a large number of blogs and review sites. In other words – we are a little obsessed. We are very well aware of the fact that we are not indicative of the general reading public.

With that disclaimer made, here is our perception of hype. We consider hyped books those who receive excessive publicity from the industry and/or online outlets (e.g. blogs), and are blatantly promoted as “The New Best Thing” – before the book is actually released. That, to us, is hype in a nutshell: the promise of wonders BEFORE delivery of goods. In the book world, hype appears in a myriad of ways, such as:

– Marketing materials submitted with ARCs
– Extensive blog tours that stop at over 15 blogs within a short period of time
– Extensive (and often weirdly personally subjective) email campaigns
– Overwhelming presence at Industry events
– Significant amounts of paid advertisements online and in various newsletters

Who gets to decide which book is going to be the next hyped book (at the expense of all other books on a publisher’s list)? What are the criteria used? Is publisher-stimulated (or simulated) hype really a necessary – or effective – endeavor?

We do believe in the power of word-of-mouth buzz, and there is nothing we love more than discovering a book that many readers online have discovered, reviewed, and loved. This type of hype stems from readers, that have the ability to turn genuine buzz into an organically-fueled campaign of its own. Of course, the difference is that this hype happens AFTER the book is published, read, and has inspired a response from readers.

The fact of the matter is, when we see a new title being hyped without reviews, or when we start receiving mass emails about the next great book from publisher z, we have become a little jaded. We have admittedly become prejudiced against hype: whenever we hear the words “The New X” or “The Best Since Y,” we now tend to look away.

So, with this in mind, and given the fact that in the past few weeks we have had the privilege of reading some seriously AWESOME but criminally under-represented books, we’d like to take this opportunity to shed like light on some truly incredible books and authors that for some reason or another have not received enough attention. (Note: We are perfectly aware that there are a number of awesome books out there that have received a fair amount of hype – but these are some old and new titles that we think deserve a revival of interest and a WAY larger readership!)

If you like Dystopias and Apocalypses:

  • Feed by M.T. Anderson
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden
  • Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody
  • Pod by Stephen Wallenfells
  • Life as We Knew it by Susan Beth Pfeffer
  • Genesis by Bernard Beckett
  • The Long Walk by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

If you like (YA) Science Fiction:

  • Living Hell by Catherine Jinks
  • We by John Dickinson
  • The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
  • The Inferior by Peadar O’Guilin

If you like Fantasy:

  • The City in the Lake and The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier (an author that is criminally under-read)
  • The Sevenwaters Series (start with Daughter of the Forest) and any other book by Juliet Marillier
  • The Orphan’s Tales (really, anything) by Cat Valente
  • The Demon King & The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima
  • Eon by Alison Goodman
  • The Enchanted Forest books by Patricia C. Wrede

If you like Steampunk:

  • Airborn, Skybreaker & Starclimber by Kenneth Oppel
  • Girl Genius (webcomics or novelization) by Phil and Kaja Foglio
  • Heart of Veridon by Tim Akers

If you like Fairies and/or Fairy Tale Retellings:

  • Wildwood Dancing, Heart’s Blood & Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier (yes, that’s twice in one list, but she’s AWESOME)
  • The Child Thief by Bram
  • Bound & Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli
  • 13 Treasures, 13 Secrets & 13 Curses by Michelle Harrison
  • Blackbringer & anything by Laini Taylor
  • A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce

If you like Contemporary YA:

  • Ghosts of Ashbury High (and other Brookfield/Ashbury books) by Jaclyn Moriarty

This is not by any means a complete list, but we believe it’s a good starter in the most hyped up genres of the moment. Now it’s over to you: let us know which books or authors you think are criminally under-read?

  1. Seriously. We received an ARC this week that had no image, no title and no author name on its cover. In lieu of this vital information, the cover simply says: “THIS IS THE FANTASY DEBUT OF 2011”
  2. We won’t name names. You know who you are, you overhyped books you.
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30 Comments

  • Claudia
    March 14, 2011 at 12:27 am

    Those are great selections of under-hyped books! Some I’ve read and loved, some on my TBR list and the rest I’m now itching to check out.

    It’s such a valid point you’re making though. But as long as there are people with money to spend and people with stuff to sell, there will be hyped up products – be it books, music, cars, accessories etc. And it’s hard to just ignore because, what if whatever is being hyped turns out to be good? It’s that feeling that you’re going to be missing out if you don’t give in and get a copy that gets me every time.

  • Diana Peterfreund
    March 14, 2011 at 4:17 am

    You certainly do have a different definition of hype — or maybe just short memories? When EON was released 2.5 years ago, there was a ton of hype. There was even a Times Square Billboard:

    http://www.alisongoodman.com.au/images/EONBILLBOARD.jpg

    Unfortunately, the “female warrior” YA fantasies that took off at that time were Graceling and The Hunger Games. It’s an example of the way the hype machine isn’t always a “sure thing” — even if the book is worthy of it.

  • Thea
    March 14, 2011 at 5:51 am

    Claudia – So true! That feeling of “missing out” is a strong one, and I know Ana and I are guilty of falling prey to that mentality!

    Diana – As neither of us lived in New York at the time of the release, we had no idea there was a Times Square ad for Eon. Does that qualify as hype, as we’ve addressed it in this post with its heavy focus an online audience? I don’t think so, but I guess that’s subjective and debatable. Like we said in the post, our definition of hype may not be your definition (which is why we made that disclaimer in the first place, and specified our own particular definition).

    From our experience with the publisher before posting our review of Eon, the lack of the usual online onslaught of non-review based buzz is what struck us as a lack of hype around the book. Also, Eona comes out next month. I think the online marketing campaign/buzz around the book mimics the release of the first novel – which is to say, there isn’t any online presence at the moment. There certainly wasn’t any presence for Eona at BEA or Comic Con NY, and I haven’t seen any huge blog tours pop up either. But, maybe I’ve missed them? Ana and I certainly aren’t all knowing!

    In any case, like you say, the female warrior books that took off in late 2008 were Graceling & The Hunger Games, even if you believe Eon was a hyped-up book. And the point of our list? To give a shoutout to worthy books that for some reason are under-read and underrepresented right now, online. Hence, Eon.

  • katiebabs
    March 14, 2011 at 6:31 am

    I’m so sick of the hype because 9 times out of 10 these books don’t deliver.

    Was Hunger Games hyped when it was first published? I can’t remember. And I know it took almost a year and a half before Twilight became the monster it is now. I think the same thing went with Harry Potter. The first book barely sold, not until word of mouth around the third book.

    Word of mouth is more important among the masses than some executive sitting behind a desk who thinks such and such book will be the next big thing.

  • Diana Peterfreund
    March 14, 2011 at 6:42 am

    No need to get huffy, Thea. The billboard was an EXAMPLE of the onslaught of marketing that book had. No book has the kind of marketing that results in billboards and nothing else! There was quite a bit of buzz at the time — online banners everywhere, publicity at major trade shows, etc. And there was also a lot of blogging about it, particularly since Eon was a reprint of an Australian novel with a different title. I recall quite a bit of blogging about the book — mostly centered on the choices the American publishers had made regarding the new branding and title. You guys didn’t see it? Fine. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.

  • Estara
    March 14, 2011 at 6:55 am

    You really threw down the gauntlet there, didn’t you? :mrgreen:

    If you like dark and humorous fantasy:
    P.C. Hodgell – The Godstalker series (Chronicles of the Kencyrath)
    If you like epic fantasy:
    Michelle (Sagara) West – The Sun Sword series
    Patricia McKillip – Riddle-Master of Hed
    Diane Duane – The Tale of the Five/ The Middle Kingdoms trilogy
    Sherwood Smith – Inda series
    Martha Wells – Wheel of the Infinite
    Ann Somerville – The Darshian Tales series (has the bonus of m/m and f/f couples, but is first and foremost epic fantasy)

    If you like ya fantasy of manners:
    Sherwood Smith – A Stranger to Command (direct prequel to Crown Duel)
    Sherwood Smith – A Posse of Princesses

    If you like contemporary fantasy:
    Nina Kiriki Hoffman – The Thread that binds the Bones#
    Sharon Lee – Carousel Tides

    If you like science fiction:
    Katherine Eliska Kimbriel – Fires of Nuala

    All of these books have prominent female characters in common, often as the protagonists. I’ve linked to my squees mostly.

  • Katy
    March 14, 2011 at 7:27 am

    I don’t want to get involved in the squabble; I just want to mention my all-time favorite book,and one that I believe has been forgotten. I always mention it to people when they ask me for book recommendations and I have been known to also gift it to friends who love to read. That book is Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (historical fiction). There is no other book that showcases, to me, the TRUE spirit of undying love and loyalty. You’ll need your Kleenex box nearby.

  • Jodie
    March 14, 2011 at 7:58 am

    I can think of tons of contemporary YA titles that I don’t feel got the big hype behind them, some which you’ve covered (fantasy and to a lesser extent in my opinion sci-fi are the big hyped YA genres right now as you’ve spotlighted): Saints of Augustine, Out of the Pocket, Empress of the World, What they Always Tell Us are just a few examples (yes I just named four GLBTQ novels). Probably the best books I read last year that had support but not exactly hype were ‘Crossing’ by Andrew Xia Fukada (I swear you two would devour that book) and A Wish After Midnight, which you reviewed here.

    Oh and I saw the trailer for the ‘Tomorrow When’ film and I so must have the book (also look Jeff from Home and Away and Rachel from Neighbours to star!)

  • Thea
    March 14, 2011 at 8:24 am

    Diana – I didn’t think I was being huffy, but I’m sorry you took it that way. We clearly disagree and that’s fine! I honestly don’t remember seeing a lot of what I would classify as hype for EON, but you did. Ok, great. I’m still keeping it on the list because 1. it’s our list, and 2. I personally would like to see the book (and it’s sequel) have a larger readership.

    Katy – oh man, I totally remember WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS! What a great book.

    Jodie – wow *adds books to wishlist* thank you so much for the recs! I haven’t heard of these and I’ll definitely make sure to check them out!

  • Megan
    March 14, 2011 at 10:15 am

    I only recently started hearing about Eon/Eona, so I must have missed the buzz last time around too. I just got an ARC of Eona (and they sent a copy of Eon too, which I appreciated, since I always have to start at the beginning of the series) so I’m glad to hear The Smugglers like it!

    I agree with several of the books on your list (Jaclyn Moriarty, where have you been all my life??!??) and can’t wait to check out the ones I haven’t read 😀

  • KMont
    March 14, 2011 at 10:27 am

    Thea, I have heard of Eon, of course, but not until the movie, not really. I *may* have seen a review or two, but I didn’t really know the book was that popular till the movie came out. i may have even bought the book, but I’m not sure (I remember buying a YA dragon book some time back, but I’m sure there’s more than 1 of those…) – show’s how big, too big, my TBR pile’s grown.

    I know what you mean about hype. I recently read the Hunger Game series (well, finished all but the last book so far) and was less impressed than I wanted to be. Loved book one, was so so on book two and book three’s left a bad taste in my mouth so I’m taking a break from it. I do think that, given the hype, I was expecting these to be some hugely different YA books in terms of writing, plot, characterization, etc. I dunno, I think we can’t help but be effected by hype when we love books so much. We want to get in on that excitement. Sometimes that pays off, sometimes it doesn’t.

    And on whether or not we even see the hype on books – does it matter if we do or don’t? If we don’t, it certainly won’t effect our personal reading experiences. The more I stay online, blog, SEE hyped books, the more I’ve been disappointed when I do read the hyped book. And that’s not to say it’s anyone’s fault. Like I said, I don’t think we can help how hype effects us sometimes, and I tend to think people are being honest when they love a hyped book and add to the fervor for it. It just boils down to they liked it, I didn’t. It’s a big letdown sometimes when I don’t like a book, but after I’ve reached that point, it’s really not any more complicated than that. Because I don’t see hyping of books stopping any time soon. I might just avoid hyped books longer until I see reviews from sites I visit or opinions from those I talk to about books.

  • Estara
    March 14, 2011 at 10:37 am

    *reads comments in depth* By the way, my first line of my comment above was meant in answer to

    “Now it’s over to you: let us know which books or authors you think are criminally under-read?” in anticipation of offering a large collection of suggestions.

    I guess I should read all the comments before I post.

  • Lindsay Elizabeth
    March 14, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    Ooh, Jodie- I love Empress of the World. It’s a great one, and you’re right, it is criminally underrepresented.

    Personally, I think there are a lot of books that should have more hype. Tanya Huff was my first introduction to fantasy- she isn’t perfect by any means, but she writes funny, fast-paced books. I was surprised when I found out that not many of my friends have ever read her. I think she’s great for readers just starting out in fantasy, who aren’t ready for the super complicated worlds that some have.

    In the supposed “literary fiction” (even in my mind I have to say that with a pompous tone) I really love Chaim Potok, particularly My Name is Asher Lev.

    In YA, I really think that Melina Marchetta is forgotten about a lot. I absolutely loved Saving Francesca. I still love it. It’s one of my top books, and if I ever have a daughter I’m naming her Francesca and calling her Frankie the Brave. Yes. It’s that serious.

  • Scribe Kira
    March 14, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    i also loooooooooooove the adoration of jenna fox and life as we knew it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! so full of awesome!!!!!=o)
    =o)

  • Meghan
    March 14, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    I honestly try to avoid hyped books these days. There are so many of them that it often feels the blogosphere is overflowing. I try to wait for everything to die down and then feel better about judging books for myself. Case in point, today’s review – a severely overhyped book that I would have liked just fine if it hadn’t been praised to the heavens. It’s not a shock that everyone in the book club I read it with felt exactly the same way.

    What is weird is when you love a book and think all the publicity was justified only to find others don’t feel the same way! In this instance I’m thinking of Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff – a fabulous biography, IMO, that deserved all the praise, but which got negative reviews for being dry and academic. I think people wanted historical fiction, not history! So I think hype can go both ways.

    That said, definite wishlist titles on your lists. I 100% agree with Juliet Marillier, who I adore, and would put forward Guy Gavriel Kay as another. His last book arguably got a bit more hype but I still don’t think he’s as widely read as he should be.

  • Ebony McKenna
    March 14, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    I love your graph. ‘Trough of disillusionment’. Very, very good!

  • Kristen
    March 14, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    Loved the post, and I agree that I often find myself going for the books I haven’t heard quite as much about.

    So glad to see Laini Taylor on your list of under-read authors as she’s on my list of authors who deserve more attention, too. She writes beautifully, but I haven’t seen her books mentioned a lot, either.

    And of course I am glad to see Cat Valente on your list as well since her books are both gorgeously written and incredibly imaginative.

    I haven’t read any of these other authors but some are in the TBR tower – Cinda Williams Chima, Alison Goodman, and Juliet Marillier.

    One fantasy author I think deserves more readers is Carol Berg. She writes fantastic books, and her book Transformation is one of my favorites ever.

  • Marg K.
    March 14, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Uh, don’t get me started on the hype machine, which is definitely at it’s most rampant in YA fiction. I have yet to like (let alone love) any of the overly hyped books that have recently been released. Perhaps I’m overly critical and have very peculiar tastes…I don’t know.

    One thing I’ve noticed in regards to the hype is the “cover lust” that seems to drive it. In other words, people become infatuated with the beautiful cover of a not-yet-released book and then that transforms into love of the book despite not having even read any of the actual story. And as we have all discovered at some point or another, a cover doesn’t necessarily represent the quality of the content of the book. A beautiful cover definitely catches my eye and makes me want to check a book out, but I always reserve judgment until I’ve actually read some of the story.

  • Jo
    March 14, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    Really interesting to read both your post, and the comments. I find it disappointing when a book that receives a lot of pre-publication attention turns out to be less than what I had hoped for. But, it happens. I could wait a year for a book from an author like James Patterson, Stephen King, Jodi Picoult, Nora Roberts, or anyone who writes a series (these are just a few I thought of — I’m not personally picking on them) and once I get the book in my hands, feel a bit let down. But reading’s such a subjective thing — if I’m in a “bleh” kind of mood, a book might not strike me the same way it might at another time.

    I will admit, the one thing I kind of like about hype is that it brings readers into the library. If we have the book, great — they can read it, and then come back for more. If we don’t, still great — I can put it on hold for them, and find them something else good to read in the meantime. Yes, yes…. librarians are book pushers — we’ll get you in the library by any means necessary…. ;)~

  • Ceilidh
    March 14, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    I find the hype machine of current YA really fascinating for some reason. The way they employ social networking and the internet to get their book out there is strangely fascinating for me – I think it’s because it’s such a recent phenomenon that’s grown so quickly.

    In terms of underrated fiction, I will continue to fangirl over Mark Gatiss’s Lucifer Box trilogy because if more people read it and love it, more people will demand that the BBC stop being bigots and commission the TV series without straight-washing it and I shall forever be the happiest Gatiss fan in the world. Who doesn’t love a book described as a cross between Oscar Wilde and James Bond?

  • Jen B.
    March 14, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Two authors popped into my mind when I read the blog. I love Jaqueline Carey and Elizabeth Kostova. I found them both by accident while wandering around Borders. I don’t think either one of these authors gets enough hype.

  • Lozza
    March 14, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    My favorite YA trilogy that I think hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves is by Lynn Flewelling: The Bone Doll’s Twin, Hidden Warrior, and Oracle Queen. I saw the first one on a list of recommendations from Tamora Pierce and happened to pick it up at the library- sooo good, and I found it rather unique.

  • Jess Tudor
    March 14, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    Here in the US I’d love to see a stronger readership for Melina Marchetta, as you know. ^_^

    I agree – over the past couple years I’d had several books I was just dying to read and when I finally got them, they weren’t terrible, but I definitely didn’t see what all the fuss was about. :/

  • Maya M.
    March 14, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    was intrigued by your graph, made some notes for myself but mostly am going to give the list to my 14. y.o. boy (who is regularly adding to his goodreads account after not reading for a long time), thanks

    my own contribution to the ‘why is this not getting more attention?’ list would be ‘Indigo Springs’. Loved it. Also loved the first two books of the Inheritance Trilogy, but I think that has a very healthy (and deserved) following.

  • J.R
    March 14, 2011 at 11:59 pm

    You know, whenever I see Diana Peterfreund’s comments on the web, I always find her being kind of snappy. I’m starting to think it isn’t a once/twice/three-off kind of thing…

    On another subject: personally, I’ve always liked Obernewtyn. Easy to read, decent characters and a cool dystopian/after the end mythology.

  • Estara
    March 15, 2011 at 5:24 am

    @Lozza: Oh yes, Lynn Flewelling – I like the first three Nightrunner books and the Tamir Triad – both in the same world and same country but separated by a few hundred years – very good dark epic fantasy (and the Nightrunners has a m/m couple as the heroes).

  • Lindsay
    March 15, 2011 at 7:52 am

    The hype machine can be very effective, SHORT-TERM. A poorly written but well-hyped book will probably do very well, at first.
    Then readers take over. They are not trying to sell the book, but are trying to enjoy it. And if they don’t, all the hype in the world won’t help.
    I’m not immune to hype, but am more wary after having been burned a few times.

  • Amanda Isabel
    March 15, 2011 at 10:28 am

    I think Lindsay’s comment is very poignant. The hype machine is good short term – but it costs too much to run it full time for an entire series, say. So eventually it will give out and the merits of the book itself will take over.

    At least, I hope so …

    Thanks for the post – it has me thinking, as always.

  • Lindsay
    March 15, 2011 at 11:00 am

    The merits of the book DO take over. This process may be slow, but it is sure.

  • alana
    March 18, 2011 at 9:09 am

    I LOVED the The Bone Doll’s Twin! And I guess that’s really the difference for me. Almost all of the books I absolutely adore (you know the ones that remind you why you love to read so much) are books without all the hype. I was even hesitant to read Palimpsest because it won some contest on Amazon (best new fantasy I believe) so I would definitely say I try to avoid over-hyped books. (Adored by Palimpsest btw.) Like others have said, I think this is much worse in YA. Plus, it seems like it’s been awhile since I was completely surprised by a YA book. I love dystopias, but every book I’ve read lately has felt the same. Not every book needs to be a series and not every story needs to have a love triangle. Drives me bonkers.

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