Book Marketing and Artificial Popularity

I try not to do this and I know I do it more than I should, but I’m gonna talk about books I haven’t read.

That’s right, it’s Shade time.

Have you ever picked up a book that was super popular and tried to read it and found out that it was just awful? I’m not talking a matter of personal taste, but it was full of plot issues and the story dragged on for 50 pages in the middle about the history of a mountain that never becomes important and all the characters are very blatantly ripped off from some popular movie from the 80s?

But for some reason it’s being called the next Harry Potter?

Well, the people calling it the Next Harry Potter are actually the Marketing team, Public Relations team, and Advertising team. There’s a lot of gatekeepers to get a book to that point, of course, and there is something to say for persistence, but the popularity of the book begins with the Marketing, PR, and Advertising. You have to make everyone think that everyone’s buying it before everyone starts actually buying it.

Most popular books, good or bad, have this type of reputation inflation before they take off. It could be a terrible book ripping off another terrible book and being called the book that saved its genre or it could be a well written and experimental work that pushes the boundaries of typography and design that is so good it surpasses its genre and is a masterpiece all on its own. They’re both inflated before they even leave the gate.

For instance: Eragon was marketed as a book written by a 15 year old prodigy and it was self-published and marketed by his parents before it got picked up by Knopf. The times between self-publishing and getting it picked up by a big name was pure marketing and advertising. That’s right, they used a gimmick and lots of money to make that series happen. They made everyone think it was amazing so they’d buy it and then used the sales to prove that it was good.

Even Harry Potter was made out to be more popular than it was to get people to buy it. Of course, the actual work hit a cultural nerve and exploded the rest of the way on its own.

And there are other books out there that do deserve a good deal of their merits but they’re just artificially popular, like required reading.

Atlas Shrugged is the best example I can think of right now.

When I was looking into different colleges and scholarships, there was one scholarship that was open for everyone to try to win: The Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest. You had to read this book and write an essay about it and they would pick a winner for a pretty hefty scholarship.

That means everyone with a helicopter parent was forced to read this book, meaning more people have read this book with the hopes of a payout for college than would have read it of their own volition.
The same is true of required reading in schools, in fact. It becomes more popular than it ever would have been on its own because large groups are actually being artificially coerced into reading it.

And that’s all thanks to the Marketing, Advertising, and PR folks who do what they can to put the book where it needs to be with the reputation it needs to have to really take off. These books would have gotten nowhere near their fame without it.

Really, it’s like making a flame thrower out of hairspray or WD40, you can light the match and spray the pressurized air but it’s the material that determines how well it will burn.

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