Kernels of Nonsense, #19: Book Hype

Kernels of Nonsense (2)Kernels of Nonsense is a bimonthly discussion feature on my blog in which I discuss various bookish topics. Little heads-up, because there is miraculously five Sundays in the month of March this year, I am going to be skipping a week to keep this feature bimonthly. This means I won’t be posting a new discussion post until March 8th.

There’s a strange phenomenon that occurs before a book is released. Publishers pull all their resources together and begin a campaign to spread the word about an upcoming release. Before you know it, everyone in the bookish community is talking about it.

As a reader, your ears perk up, you stop to listen to the praise, you immediately log on to Goodreads to find out what the heck everyone is talking about. You read the synopsis, you maybe peek at an early review, you keep hearing everyone else’s excitement, you yourself get a little excited. You add it to your TBR list, maybe you even so much as pre-order it. After listing it as one of your most-anticipated reads of the year, you wait, you want, you spend a lot of time staring at the book cover on your computer. Then finally, the day comes when you get to read it. You open the book and…

You’re disappointed.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all picked up a book because of the hype, because of a few glowing early reviews, because we can’t help but notice when 90% of the blogs we follow are talking about it. And I can bet that the majority of us have been disappointed at least once.

Book hype is like a double-edged sword. On one hand, book hype is an extremely effective way of spreading the word. As a reader, I love hearing about new books and it is because of book hype that I’ve discovered a lot of new reads. Even books I may have overlooked get a second glance if I hear about it enough. There are several books on my shelf that I treasure and never would have picked up if it were not for the hype.

Unfortunately, there is also the negative side to book hype. Naturally, when you hear about how great a book is, your own expectations are raised. You begin to expect something phenomenal and we all inevitably learn that hype does not mean great. Sometimes the reality of a book is a far cry from the praise we’ve heard and a lot of the time we end up calling a book “just okay.” Let me tell you, “just okay” for a book with high expectations can disappoint a lot more than”that was just awful” for one with no expectations.

Book hype isn’t limited to pre-releases. Much of the time, we hear a lot more about books that have already been published. The Fault in Our Stars, The Hunger Games, and Divergent have all experienced a post-release surge of book hype (mostly due to their movies). And though the hype brought more readers into the fold, it also ended up back-firing for many readers. I’ve read several reviews for John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars that have mentioned that it wasn’t as good as all the hype. Now I love this book, but I also read it before it became extremely popular, so I can’t say with certainty that the hype wouldn’t have affected the way I read it.

This means that instead of coming to a book with fresh, unbiased eyes, book hype alters are perception before we even pick up a book. And if, for whatever reason, the book doesn’t meet these epic (and very embellished) expectations, we feel let down. This makes me wonder if it would be better for publishers to not push some books so aggressively. I’m less likely to pick up a book if I discover that the hype surrounding it is undeserved, that the “hype” is concealing the fact that it has very little substance.

My own disappointment has given way to cynicism. When I see everyone talking about a book or when I feel that a book is being overly praised or promoted, some part of my brain tells me to be careful. I may experience the same initial excitement as other readers, but the more time that passes, the more my enthusiasm gives way to apprehension. To put it simply, I don’t want to be let down or feel like I’ve been mislead if the book is not as good as all the hype.

If a fair amount of book hype surrounds a book, I make an effort to stop and ask myself several questions. Is the hype the only reason I want to read this? Would I still want to read it if there wasn’t so much hype surrounding it? Am I approaching this book as unbiased as possible? Do I need to lower my expectations in order to give the book a fair shot?

It’s impossible to tell if a book is good or bad based on the hype. This is especially true for books that haven’t been released yet, and I’ve learned it’s best to wait. Wait for ARC reviews, wait for the release itself and see how the book is received among readers. It’s easier said than done, but I’m hoping this new approach will save me from picking up books that will disappoint.

What is your opinion on book hype? Have you ever been disappointed by a book because of the hype? How much stock do you place in hype? Does book hype affect the way you approach a book? Share your own thoughts in the comments!

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19 thoughts on “Kernels of Nonsense, #19: Book Hype

  1. OHMYGOSH YES!! I think that TFIOS isn’t all that great but maybe I would’ve enjoyed it a little more if not for all the hype? I’ll never know, really and that’s kind of a bummer.

    I was so so so excited for Red Queen and I still haven’t read it but I know so many people who had RQ as their most anticipated book but then were sorely disappointed and so now I’m waiting for the hype to kind of die down in a couple months, forget my expectations and THEN read it so that I don’t have to be disappointed.

    Another this is, when everybody LOVES the book and you think it’s just okay, it somehow makes it even worse. You see all the glowing 5 stars and you look at your 2 or 3 star and debate raising it just a tad bit… I hate that. I really hate being the black sheep but it happens way too often for me. VA (sue me. Some books I gave 5 stars and some I gave 2), The Selection, TFIOS. Lux series etc. So I’m always kinda scared to pick up a hyped book because what if I hate it? *le sigh*

    Awesomesauce post! I so agree with some of these things!
    ~Fari 0:)
    Recent post: Why are vegeterian vampires seen as better? @ My Little Corner for Books

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    • I’m in the same boat as you when it comes to Red Queen. I was really excited about it and now I’m just not sure, especially since it has drawn comparisons to The Selection (which I disliked very much). I’ve put it on the back burner of my TBR list and if I don’t forget in the next couple of months, I’ll probably find out if it’s available from my library.

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  2. Honestly I think every book I’ve read that’s been so “hyped” has been disappointing to me. The one exception I can think of is The Raven Cycle series, which I never even heard of until the second book came out and there was all sorts of hype about it, but I think that series definitely deserves it!

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  3. I’ve definitely been disappointed by this before! From the publishers point of view though, they have to hype up the books they’re selling. Especially because it works — even if some readers end up disappointed, they’ve still bought the book!

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    • I totally understand why publishers push their books, but I do wonder if the initial surge of sales is halted because bloggers express disappointment. For me, I usually just wait to check out a hyped book from the library rather than purchasing it because spending money on a hyped book is another kind of disappointment altogether.

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  4. I got caught up in the book hype with The Storied Life of AJ Fikry and while I liked it I didn’t love it like so many other people seemed to. I thought it was pleasant and a fun read but I think I would’ve enjoyed it more if I wasn’t expecting to be blown away. Since then I’ve been somewhat more cynical or more cautious going into hyped books.

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  5. I try as a general rule to avoid too much hype, but it’s hard to completely ignore. I tend not to read read books that get huge buzz since they rarely live up to expectations. On the flip side, taking that approach means that sometimes I wait a long time to read a book, only to discover that I love it and I’m sorry to have waited. I do have a pretty good sense of what will work for me and what won’t, so I approach the “big” books with caution. Great topic!

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  6. This is such a great post! I feel the same way so often. It’s hard not to let the hype get the best of you. I have also found so many amazing books because the publisher was pushing it and book bloggers were talking about how amazing it was. But I have been burned even more often from books that have been so over-hyped that they’re basically on a pedestal.

    While it’s interesting to think that publishers should stop pushing their books so aggressively I doubt that will ever happen. I think more than that, what I would like to see is that publishers stop comparing their books to other hugely successful franchises like Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and The Hunger Games. That creates unfair expectations and comparisons that I can do with out. It just makes things harder to judge a book on it’s own merit.

    I think you have the right idea. A healthy amount of skepticism and cynicism is a good thing when it comes to hyped books. I think it’s good to proceed with caution with those books and judge it on it’s own rather than the hype. Sometimes I will wait out the hype and read it after it’s released and that seems to work pretty well. The other thing I try to do is read both good and bad reviews on Goodreads. Often these hyped books will have nothing but gushing reviews which add to the high expectations so if I check out a less than positive one it gives me a more well-rounded view of the book so that I can judge it a little more reasonably.

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    • Yes, I have a big problem when I hear a book is the “next” Harry Potter or whathaveyou. I’m also wary when publishers say a book is similar to another popular series. Recently I picked up a book that was compared to The Hunger Games and it was not even in the same genre. That just feels like manipulation. I find that really early reviews are always gushing, so I like to wait for people I know in the book blogging community to get a hold of them.

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  8. I hate the hype, because I’ve never read a book where the hype has actually been right, I always get disappointed. I had that with TFIOS, I didn’t think I would like it, but because everyone was talking about it, I thought I should give it a chance, so I did and I hated it and it makes you feel bad when you hate something everyone else loves. I prefer books that I’ve heard nothing about before reading them, because then you can only be surprised. I had that with Unwind, I didn’t know anything about it before reading it, then I read it and it was amazing so I wondered why more people weren’t talking about it. It seems to me that the books that get all the hype are rarely ever the ones who deserve it.

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    • I was lucky enough to have read The Fault in Our Stars before it became super popular, and I don’t think I would have picked it up after hearing all the hype. Hype has this strange ability to either excite me or put me off. No worries, there are plenty of popular books I don’t think very highly of.

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