Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Can The Internet Make (or Break) a Book?

Not all books are created equal. Rather, not all books are marketed equally. Some books are "lead titles" where they get a big push in the publisher catalog, get more advertising, have better placement in bookstores, book tours and other things that the publisher's do to try to get back what was probably a big advance they paid for the book up front. Other books are what they "midlist" where they get copies of the book sent to reviewers and awards panels, standard pages in the catalog but no big publicity or book tours and probably a modest advance that the author has to earn out.

In the past, lead titles had a much better shot of becoming bestsellers. Heck, they probably still do. More people hear about it, more people buy it, and there you go. Even so, in the "olden days" a great book could transcend midlist-dom and do really really well out in the world, largely through word of mouth and hand-selling by independent booksellers.

I had the good luck and opportunity to hang out with Ellen Hopkins last winter at a writer's retreat and she talked all about how Crank came to be. She was an unknown author and it was a midlist book, but because it was so different and so awesome, it quickly rose above its humble beginnings and those of you who know Ellen's work, know that she always turns out bestsellers and has consistently captured lead-title status. It can be done.

I've been reading a lot of young adult blogs and tweeters lately (I don't tweet myself, but I do troll those who are leaders in the YA community) and have been wondering if good reviews from the Internet community would be enough to lift a book out of the midlist haze. Could a quiet book get enough push from bloggers to get more people to read it? Do enough people pay attention to these blogs/tweets to make a difference?

At the same time, I've recently read about heavily touted books that have gotten less than stellar reviews from bloggers. Would consistently bad reviews damage the sales of a book even if a publisher is pushing it heavily? Same questions apply as above.

As the Internet gets bigger and the influence of bloggers/tweeters gets broader, will the success of a book weigh more heavily with the actual readers rather than publisher's decisions? As opinions are no longer obtained over the back fence but through the keyboard, will some bloggers become the tastemakers of the reading community? Will it change the way publishers market books? Honestly, I don't know, but it's going to be interesting to be a part of this process unfolding.

At this point the publishers decide who is going to be big, who is going to be pushed before readers, who's book is going to be face-out in a big display at your local store. Does the world need another book about vampires/werewolves/fairies? Maybe, but more and more it may be up to the bloggers to decide.

On this date: In 1959, Marie Osmond is born.


Shelli said...

all excellent questions - can anyone answer them? maybe some stats?

Sab H. said...

As a book blogger, I can firmly say that I do think internet boosts a book. I started blogging not so long ago, but before that every book I read was because I found info in the internet. Now, the owner of my favorite book store asks me what YA to recommend and people email me from my library to get recommendations and my college (UH) promotes my reviews in their library catalog. So basically, once you have a name as a blogger and you read a lot, get books for review and you have been around and have author friends people listen to you. Of course many other things also influence, but these days internet is really important.

BTW, I hope you don't mind I added your blog feat to Goodreads.com. That should get you more followers! ;D

cynjay said...

I agree Sab - and I think this aspect of bookselling is only going to increase in the future with bloggers who really care about YA books.

And thanks!