Recently I’ve been paying attention to the all the hype around E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, much in the way I watched with bewildered amusement the hype around Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga. This time, however, I am not about to succumb to the hype and purchase Fifty just to find out why mostly women are swooning over this novel. There are enough spoilers out there to pretty much guarantee I’ll froth at the mouth over this piece of erotic drivel in the way I frothed over Twilight. So I’m not going to buy into the hype. I’m not going to add my coin to the coffers of James or the publisher.
In conjunction with that occurred a Facebook posting by a colleague, which was one of those graph things that makes the rounds, this one about what makes a best-seller.
Both of those items, in confluence, gave me pause for thought. And here’s how that thought goes:
First off, feel behind these ears. Not wet there, I can assure you. So it’s not likely I’m going to fall for any hype or pitch or savvy marketing you’re going to throw my way because I’m going to second guess you to infinity. Cynical? Me? Well, maybe just a tad.
Secondly, there is a truth about art: there is no guaranteed recipe for success. If there were, that recipe would have been codified, patented, and sold to large corporations who would be churning out successful art by the trailer load, laughing all the way to the bank. But purveyors of art, and particularly publishers, don’t have the Rosetta Stone to publishing success. Sometimes they get lucky, as did Knopf Doubleday with Fifty, and Little Brown with Twilight. Did those editors know they had hot sellers on their hands when the manuscripts landed on their desks? Likely not. They might have hoped. But that hope isn’t something you can bank. Nope, you publish, you put it out there, you do what marketing you think necessary and then sit back and wait for spontaneous combustion.
Most often it’s a pop and fizzle. Sometimes it’s a pop and glow. And if you’re really lucky it’s of universe-making proportions.
I believe it’s at the pop and glow stage that success or failure really sits at critical mass. Get enough readers talking about the book (note, I said readers, not critical reviewers, not writers, not peers and associates, but readers, the gritty mob) and you will very likely achieve that critical mass. Why? Simply because readers are taking care of a massive, ground-sourced marketing machine over which you have no control. It doesn’t matter whether the gritty mob’s reaction is positive or negative. Get enough of them to talk about the book, and you end up with people buying the book just to find out what all the hype is about.
Which, translated another way says: there is no such thing as bad publicity.
So, as much as I loathe and detest novels like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey (I remember it’s predecessor, The Story of O) it remains there enough people (and as much as I am loathe to write this, women) starved for any kind of erotic excitement, you will have commercial successes made of drivel.
That kind of mob mentality, however, can also be a good thing, in the way it gave showcase to the phenomenon of the Harry Potter series, and the force that became known as J. K. Rowling.
Look at that mob mentality another way. Remember Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses? While it is a tremendous novel, it is certainly not one of Rushdie’s better works. Yet it rocketed into stratospheric sales when a fatwa was issued against Rushdie. Now, all of a sudden, people wanted to know what exactly was in The Satanic Verses to warrant the potential loss of his life? What had he written that was so seditious, so heretical, that there were assassins out there guaranteed fifty houri and eternal paradise (little say sexual gratification ad nauseum)? It was the fact of that edict, and the popular buzz that surrounded it, that rocketed Rushdie’s novel to astronomical sales. Rushdie nor his publisher could have asked for a better marketing machine. All they had to do was sit back (keep Rushdie alive), and rake in the profits.
So, you want to write a best-seller? Then you need to find a way to create that buzz. It’s all about buzz. Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. Buzz business. Business. Banking. Profit.
There is no such thing as bad publicity.