The Hype Files

Hey guys,
Simon Spanton, Richard Morgan's editor at Gollancz, and I have been exchanging emails regarding hype. He had some issues with my review of Morgan's The Steel Remains(Canada, USA, Europe), and we talked things over.

I would have liked to discuss the topic a bit further, as our definition of hype and all it encompasses appears to differ to some extent, but my getting on that plane bound for Poland in a few hours precluded my doing so. Still, Simon feels that this discussion is worthy of a wider audience, and he invited me to post it on the Hotlist.

Unfortunately, this is not a discussion he and I can finish at the moment. But perhaps you guys can add to it and make it even more interesting. . .:-)

- Simon Spanton's first message after reading my review:

Dear Pat,

Thanks for your review.

As someone who has seemingly been instrumental in ‘hyping’ Richard’s book I’m genuinely interested in learning what you believe constitutes hype?

All the best

Simon

- My reply:

Hi Simon,

I certainly helped build the exciting buzz surrounding this book, no question. But the hype began when reviews and advance praise started floating around. Before that, the SFF community, myself included, was just eagerly awaiting Morgan's take on fantasy.

Advance reviews made the book sound like it was the best thing since sliced bread, and I believe that the hype raised expectations to an unattainable level. I would like to think that I'm immune to hype, but I was taken along for the ride, as many others have been. So I wanted my review to put things back into perspective. And I sincerely believe that readers will enjoy the novel a lot more if they don't go into this want thinking that they're going to read a future classic of the genre. Whether TSR will indeed become a landmark fantasy book, only time will tell. . .

Much like Lynch went through with TLOLL, I guess I didn't want Morgan to experience an even bigger backlash (given his talent and backlist) from angry fans when the book doesn't meet their expectations. Some people were saying that Scott was the second coming of GRRM, while his debut was a world away from what Martin is doing in terms of style.

I'm now extremely curious to see how people will receive it, especially Morgan's scifi fans, many of whom will probably cross over to fantasy. . .

Cheers,

Patrick

- Simon Spanton's response:

Pat,

Please, let’s get a sense of perspective here.

Hype:

1. Deception or racket
2. intensive or exaggerated publicity or sales promotion
3. To market or promote using exaggerated or intensive publicity
4. to falsify or rig

You refer to ‘advance reviews making the book sound like it was the best thing since sliced bread’. Is this really hype or are these enthusiastic reviews whose enthusiasm you don’t entirely share? If you believe its hype then you believe that all or some of these reviews were exaggerated or false. Exaggerated or falsified by whom? The reviewers? Me?

Or do you believe that these other reviewers were innocent but somehow ‘taken in’ by the advance pieces I sent out, by the manuscripts. Or even by the claims I made in my accompanying notes that this was a book that would send waves through the fantasy genre. Surely not by a shoutline ‘Fantasy just got real’.

Let’s get real here. Sending out advance copies to bloggers is NOT hype.

Claims that suggest it is display a real ignorance of how hype REALLY works. They also encourage the sort of misguided comment on your blog about genre publishers operating some sort of sinister ‘hype machine’.

Again, I’d ask if you believe there has been hype, point to examples.

Best

Simon

- My reply:

Hi Simon,

Shit, I have a foot out the door so I can write much. I don't believe in conspiracy theory, so anyone who believes that genre publishers operate sinister hype machines is a dumbass. This is a business, and publicity people will come up with stuff that will hopefully entice readers to give their titles a shot. In that, you guys are no different than any other publishing house. Watch any commercial on tv, and you'll never see a company encouraging you to buy the other brand. That's how marketing works, and we see it is all aspects of our lives. Books are no different, and no I don't think that you or anyone at Gollancz are using deception to lure readers in. I mean, just remember when Voyager claimed that Hunter's Run would set a new benchmark in science fiction! Are you kidding me!?! But that's what marketing people are paid to do.

I think the hype regarding TSR remains comes from within SFF readers, at least a large part of it. It's Richard Morgan, for fuck's sake, and we want him to blow our minds! So we are already predisposed to be "influenced" by any positive buzz. Heck, people on message boards were getting excited about the damned book last summer, a full year before it was even released. We didn't even know what the novel would be about, and yet we were jumping up and down in anticipation.

When the advance praise from Joe and Darrin came, we were all salivating! Then the blogger reviews went up, and things reached a new level of excitement. I'm not saying that those bloggers wrote false or exagerated reviews. But I think that in their excitement, they may have, consciously or unconsciouly, overlooked some of the story's shortcomings. I'm guilty as charged of having done that in the past concerning titles that I was really looking forward to, and I was called out on it. Nothing wrong with that. We are only human, after all, and sometimes we really want some books to be so damn good. Just to give you an example, though he wrote a glowing review, [name withheld] came out and said that TSR had nothing on Altered Carbon and Black Man. I believe that, had I read it when you initially sent me the ARC, I would probably have enjoyed it more. As it is, all those positive reviews made my own expectations go up a few notches (and they were high to begin with), and in the end no novel could have met those expectations. . .

We, as readers, in a way create and magnify the hype. We want this book to be great, and when reviews keep telling us that it is, well we just keep hoping for more, and more. So I'm not saying that you and the folks at Gollancz did anything wrong. Man, you're riding that wave for all its worth, and so you should! We rarely so such a buzz for a book, especially when you're not named Martin, Gaiman, or Jordan. So I see nothing wrong in the way you guys played your card. And I don't think anyone of those bloggers can be blamed of anything but overexcitement at the thought of finally reading that new Morgan fantasy book.

The funny thing is that I never once said that TSR was bad. I said it's a good book, though not great. As I mentioned in my previous email, I didn't want to see a backlash when readers who are expecting too much out of it lash out on message boards. I have now sold 28 copies through my amazon links, and not one cancelled after reading my review. It's just a question, or so I believe, to go into this one with the adequate expectations. If you want and entertaining, action-packed, and shocking fantasy adventure, then TSR should satisfy you.

Do you remember in 2006 when Lynch's debut came out, and some advance praise made him sound like the second coming of GRRM. What you saw most often when someone hated the book was the fact that they believed that it would be a convoluted tale of epic proportions. What they got was a fun-filled, ass-kicking, caper that came like a breath of fresh air in an often stagnating genre. I loved TLOLL. But if someone thought that he would read the opening chapter of a tale similar to ASOIAF, of course he or she could be sorely disappointed. If you're looking for an action film and you end up seeing a chick flick, you'll be unhappy.

So I guess it's just about going into this one with the right mindset. That way, you come out happy and no one is bitching. My friend, it's not like this is the David Bilsborough's The Wanderer's Tale of 2008!;-) But by jumping genre, Morgan will now be compared to the top dogs of the fantasy field. It's a different ball game.

Okay, gotta go. Just don't think that I felt that there was some malicious intent on anyone's part to push some crap at unsuspecting readers. The hype I'm talking about is as much a creation of some inherent factors in each of us (our desire to see this book be as good as we want it to be), as it is a creation of the marketing and the advance reviews.

Hopefully I made a bit of sense. . .

Cheers,

Patrick

- Simon Spanton's response:

Pat,

Well this is much closer to it. Though I think we need to be careful when we attribute different views on a book to some kind of misreading or an overlooking of a book’s faults. I’m long enough in this game to know that people can get caught up in excitement, also that others feel that they have to distance themselves from it. Neither position is necessarily closer to an accurate reading of whatever book is being discussed. Simply because there is no such thing as one ‘accurate reading’. There are individual readings.

But none of this is about the key point here and that’s the misuse of the word ‘hype’. One of the delights for me of the growth that we’ve seen in the blogging phenomenon as it relates to its involvement in genre publishing is exactly its resistance to hype. By and large the blogging community and the forums have been remarkably resistant to the blandishments of the publishing industry – independent from and willing to be ornery towards whatever the industry hopes might be the next big thing.

So it’s doubly frustrating and irritating to see the self same communities and forums flinging accusations of ‘hype’ about in such a loose and ill-disciplined way. I really don’t see hype working on the internet – whether generated from outside or within the community. There are always people ready to dissent and the nature of the medium gives the dissenters the opportunity to be fairly heard and represented. ‘Hype’ seems to be a bogeyman just as the ‘swathes of formulaic elf and dwarf, kitchen boy destined for greatness fantasies’ are bogeymen; ie there just isn’t that much of it around. What are we scared of? We’re creating threats out of shadows so that we can shore up our own belief in the importance of what we hold to be true.

As in:

Xxxxx is a hugely important author because he stands out against the swathes of clichéd fantasy that I am properly aware of the shortcomings of (or at least I am now).
Yyyyy is a hugely important author because he stands out against the swathes of hyped authors who I’m proud not to have been taken in by.

If people come fresh to forums and see accusations of hype flying about it serves no-one – they assume conspiracy and they take on suspicions about new authors rather than deciding for themselves or on the basis of a real debate amongst like minded people about the actual merits or demerits of a book.

Let’s banish talk of hype so that we can stop jumping at shadows.

Simon
-----------------

Okay, so it's your turn now! Normally, I would never disclose information of this nature. But since Simon Spanton feels that this could benefit from getting out there, feel free to spread the word around! I'll try to monitor this discussion while traveling. . . Next time you hear from me, I'll be on Polish soil! Adios amigos!:-)

63 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

"2. intensive or exaggerated publicity or sales promotion"

That is what he did, and that's what you slapped down, simple as that. He sounds a VERY arrogant man, and he is throwing all his toys out his pram because you didn't think the book lived up to HIS hype. Gollancz have being doing this a lot recently and deserve to be stood up to - good for you, Pat. Don't listen to the fool.

D.

Anonymous said...

Who does he think he is? he should be happy you gave the book airtime, not get upset because the book was nothing new.

michael.

Ron said...

I think euphemistic word usages are often overlooked by those who consider themselves the print elite. Hype in the common lingo of the internet is simply "over-saturated advertisement for a specific product." If you hear or read too much about ANYTHING, it is "over-hyped" just because it is ubiquitous.

Never count out idiom. Publishers of Sci-Fi and Fantasy above all should understand that.

Anonymous said...

Have a great holiday, Pat.

I don't really consider "hype" to have as much of a negative connotation as the dictionary gives it. I tend to view the word more as a a description of "standard operating procedure" that goes along with product launches (including books!)/marketing/etc.

Advertising is always somewhat deceptive. "This is the ultimate oven cleaning product that does X, Y and Z and cooks dinner for you!" No advertiser on the planet is going to have an ad that says "Buy our floor cleaner, we think it's really great but in reality this is the 4th best one on the market, our competitors are cheaper and double blind studies have shown that theirs clean better too. Also, our cleaner has a chance of causing discolouration of the tiles in your bathroom..."

In my mind, sending ARCs to bloggers to review books before they're published is "hyping" the book. With the Internet, book reviewers (especially bloggers) don't need to meet their editor's deadline in May to make sure that their review is out in June 15's edition for June 16's launch.

Given that bloggers can publish instantly, they can go to the store, buy a copy of the book themselves and come back home and write "Hey, I just got the Fantastic Space Adventures of Mr Happy from Borders and it was awesome, although about half way through the book I really felt that characterisation suffered..."

So there's clearly an extra motive apart from just "let's write reviews". (pre-orders and the like :)). And to be clear, I don't think there's anything wrong with sending ARCs out, or people writing reviews from them, be it 1 week, 4 weeks, 12 weeks in advance of the publishing date.

Anonymous said...

this makes me want to boycott their list and get the US copies. this book had publisher's hype written all over it. every publisher does the same, so just deal with it instead of acting like a big baby. pat you should not have been so nice to him in your emails because he should be thanking you for putting his authors in the spotlight.

enjoy your vacation, pat!

alan.

weariedjuggler said...

Dictionary.com #1 definitions of hype

1.to stimulate, excite, or agitate
1.exaggerated publicity; hoopla
1.a hypodermic needle.(hmmm...)
1.Excessive publicity and the ensuing commotion
1.blatant or sensational promotion

Simon is probably right in thinking that the word hype has a bad connotation, but it doesn't have to.

In my opinion #1 definition #4 (excessive publicity...) best describes hype. And by my standards, Pat you are spot on. Everybody and their sister has been blogging about The Steel Remains. That is definitely hypage.

Ha, I thought you were gonna give it to him when you started your second response with "Shit,..."

Good job defending your review, and actually, good job to Simon as well. I would want editor like him on my side if I was publishing a book.

Enjoy yourself in Poland!

Anonymous said...

So, Pat, you had us poor ordinary reader's interests at heart when you "reviewed" TSR...well, thanks a lot but I think I'm quite mature enough to decide for myself what to expect. You don't need to make those decisions for me. ..."backlash from angry readers when the book doesn't meet their expectations."

I was quite surprised when I read your your review of TSR--that an adult male would succomb to such high "expectations". So this explains it.

Frankly, I agree with Simon Spanton.

Anonymous said...

Nice one Pat. It takes a risk to put up your opinions like that. Clearly, the editor dude doesn't realize what hype means online, and I think you were damn right to give your review the way you did. This is a blog, and you give your opinions. People need to deal with that (I'm looking at you, Spanton).

Jeff.

tomas said...

Well hype does have a bad connotation. I'll use the example of the music industry where hype is pretty much what is used to sell almost all major releases. I'd be pissed off if i logged on and it seemed like every book was being touted like john Grisham's latest novel.
I was reading EW and stephen King had a little article on hype vs. buzz.

"Buzz is not hype and hype is not buzz. Hype is paid for: full-page ads, luxe websites, logos on the sides of buses, billboards on Sunset Boulevard, carpet-bomb TV campaigns. Buzz is free."

I understand where the dude is coming from (though he's part of the hype machine and is going to be hyping the book up no matter what).

Personally i think your review was a good thing. i'm going to read the book and I'll probably like it more because I'm expecting a good book but no longer think this is some groundbreaking stuff. in that, you did them a favor. Backlash may not be immediate, but its effects last longer than hype.

Ian said...

The interesting thing is that by asking you to post this, he's hyping the book by putting it in the spotlight even more. It smacks of desperation if you ask me, and is a very underhand corporate tactic.

kendall said...

I feel you both have valid points, but I'm more on Simon's "side." I feel you overhyped the hype, which I never saw (and I read many SF review blogs--perhaps the wrong ones? ;-). Also, hype has negative connotations; buzz has positive connotations. It seems to me that when people like and/or agree with positive reviews, they call it buzz; when the disagree (or are just annoyed by it), people seem to call it hype. In reality, it's just a difference in opinion! ;-)

The real problem seemed to be that for various reasons (fan of Morgan's work, believed publicity, read other reviews, fell for marketing blurbs, etc.) you set your expectations too high, so you were disapointed. I've been there; I feel your frustration! (I run into this more with movies than books.)

But I don't feel like others reading it and loving it is "hype." You have a different tak on the book--okay. But it's ironic that you seem to want folks to discount other reviews and believe yours.

Anyway, don't blame nebulous "hype" when you don't back it up. Get specific (link to reviews you disagree with, or document someone praising something they haven't read)...or stick to your own opinions about the book.

Site Note: Lynch's novel was nothing special and bored me--I couldn't finish it--but I didn't know he had a "backlash." I remember near-consistent praise for it. I don't read Martin, and I read the ARC before reading any reviews, so I don't feel I had the "unmet expectations" problem.

And now, those who fell over themselves to diss Simon in the comments above (sigh) are probably preparing to flame me....

Ian said...

Kendall: not at all (although even saying that isn't really suggestive of intelligent debate). I've nothing personal against Simon, but I think in this instance he's being a big baby, and has done nothing to enhance the reputation of his publisher, and that's not the first time I've heard this too. I think merely giving this more air time is a classic example of keeping the subject, and creating a false debate so he can sell more books.

From what Pat reviewed, I got the impression that the novel wasn't all that good, and that there wasn't much but RM trying to be sensationalist, but arriving to the show ten years too late. That, and if it wasn't a book by RM he wouldn't be that concerned with reading the sequel.

This is a blog and it's about opinion; there is seldom fact to be found.

Dliwir said...

I personally perceived the review as quite positive. Pat merely reminded everyone not to believe in the hype too much, and that while TSR is a good book, it brings nothing completely new to the genre.

Did Pat spend a bit too much time explaining why he thinks its nothing new instead of actually talking about the book? Yes, probably. So I understand Simons frustration with the review. That being said, the discussion this spawned, while interesting, does little to improve the overall perception of the book.

I think Pat's review was neither unfair nor patronising as some seem to imply here. At the same time, Simon has every right to ask for a clarification, as he is trying to promote the book. It's not really that big a deal, now is it?

Shane said...

There isn't much hype on the internet?
What internet is he using?

kendall said...

Ian: My remarks were mostly to Pat & Simon. My last comment was mostly not directed at you, either, since while your earlier comment seemed over-the-top to me, it was more mature than some here! But yeah, "fool," "baby," et al. don't suggest intelligent debate. ;-)

I think merely giving this more air time is...

No one can force Pat to give it more air time, so I guess he sees it differently.

This is a blog and it's about opinion; there is seldom fact to be found.

LOL well, most blogs are a mixture of opinion and facts--usually, as here, opinions about facts. IMHO, though, vague factual claims should be backed up, otherwise it can hurt the review[er]'s credibility. YMMV.

Larry said...

As I said back when you posted that review, I thought the overfocus on the "hype" aspect weakened the review of Morgan's book. Recently, I was reminded that it is not really a good thing to try to play "everyman" for potential readers and to talk as if my review would represent their opinion. It was a good piece of advice I received and I would suggest that be considered here as well.

I'm not taking "sides" on this. As was pointed out in that exchange, publishers are in the business of selling their products and judicious placement of ARCs is a sound business practice, as it creates interest. Is interest "hype"? Occasionally. But does it really help any consideration of the book at hand if one focuses on the marketing aspects (and one's perceptions of it) and fails to devote adequate coverage to the book itself?

I wouldn't be surprised if that was part of the reason why Spanton emailed you in the first place, as it seemed that the review was unfocused due to spending too much time on an ill-defined term such as "hype" and not enough on Morgan's book itself.

But here's a question for consideration: Why the hell should the reviewer be concerned with the "hype"? Isn't that more of a matter for the reader to decide for him/herself without the reviewer standing in and shouting that in addition to covering purportedly the book itself?

James said...

Given that it was my 'hype machine' comment that Spanton was referring to, perhaps I ought to clarify something. With that comment I was not suggesting that there is some sort of shady operation going on. I was simply referring to the fact that Gollancz releases seem to generate far more hype than those from other publishers. Lynch, Abercrombie, Redick, Morgan, the list goes on. While to some extent the hype is generated by the quality of the book, to think that the publisher has no part in it would be rather naive.

I mean, Spanton sent Graeme from Fantasy Book Review a note with the ARC for The Steel Remains that said 'This will ruffle some feathers.'

That is the sort of thing that creates hype.

polishgenius said...

I have to agree with Tomas (and apparently by extension Steven King) on hype vs buzz - hype is forced, buzz is free. Obviously hype forces buzz, especially for unknown authors- but as Richard Morgan isn't one, that's mostly a moot point in this case.

By that dint, while I don't think hype itself is a bad thing - it has, at least recently, pointed to books that are genuinely good for the most part - the way they went about it here did rather backfire - to the point of people being worried before anyone had even read it that the case was being overstated.
Simply put, the talk of him being a new injection of much-needed dynamism into a stale genre was a poor move, because it was instantly treated with suspicion. If Mr. Spanton had to do with this, then he has to take his share of the blame. And on that side, I think you're entitled and quite right to bring up the point.

That said, there was also a huge amount of buzz coming simply because this is Richard Morgan, and I think that had more effect on expectations than the publisher's efforts and was largely self-generated by us. In that we'll all have to decide for ourselves, because we're all coming off our own personal experience of Morgan's writing.

So... yeah. You're both kind of right. But you were definitely, I think, right to raise concerns about the way this book was pushed. It confirmed some suspicions and did lower my expectations, though I'll be reading it anyway. I might even get more enjoyment out of it.

ChrisW said...

"Okay, so it's your turn now! Normally, I would never disclose information of this nature"

Unless it's privite emails with a Goodkind fan.

Maurice said...

I have to agree with Polishgenius, a lowering of expectations not only lessens the possible dissappointment you might experience, but also greatly increases your enjoyment of the book when you like it.

I didn't see the editor's comments as an attack nor Pat's response as defensive. This was an intelligent discussion at play even though it was cut short. We live in an international society where advertisements in every shape and form are shoved down our throats. Whenever I read that book is the next best whatever I am immediately skeptical, as are most people I believe and with a writer like Morgan, whose books are already groundbreaking in SCIFI we can only believe that his Fantasy will be just as groundbreaking. If Erikson announced that he was writing a Scifi series many readers would associate it with his already published work and maybe not want the same content, but the same *feel* of his previous work.

The expectation is difficult to define as hype/buzz leads to you awaiting the same emotion/thoughts/experience as the previous work while reading something totally new and groundbreaking and when it is anything less than that (which most works can't help to be) then the only feeling is betrayal.

The role of the online reviewer is to share their opinion, and like was said, their subjective opinion is based on the objective facts of what they read. But there are MANY reviewers out there, on blogs, forums or even amazon and it's YOUR job to inform yourself as much as possible before a purchase and if a reviewer's opinion differs than it should be celebrated.

We all have different tastes and no one can seriously expect that we will all like the same stuff. If one person says they don't like something, and that differs from your own opinion, then you shouldn't care anyway.

Pat is not furthering the 'hype' by publishing this back and forth, but giving us an insight on what is going on behind the reviews and anything that provides more depth to reviews should be welcomed.

Tay said...

Simon's main problem seems to be the use of "hype" to describe the expectations generated for TSR. As has already been pointed out, hype and buzz seem to have become a lot more synonymous on the net than anywhere else.

Having said that, claims that TSR will shock and turn the genre on its head are clearly hype/buzz depending on who says it. Other than semantically, it matters little where the claim originates, as the ubiquitousness of it will effect any reader.

As a reviewer Pat has every right to point out when books do not meet the expectations created by buzz/hype, such as TSR's shocks having been done before by other authors. If the expectation is there that TSR must be as good a fantasy book as Morgan's SF, surely it is good to have a point of view disagreeing with the preconceived ideas? Being saturated in good comments in this area, and subsequently finding them false will not pay in the long run for all those involved.

Pointing out that it fails on delivering on "new" controversies does not detract from how good a book it is, merely helping to dispel the bias generated by the author's previous contribution to one genre, necessarily crossing over to a different one.

It may not be fair to term the expectations generated for a book/advertised product as hype, but the fact that people do have preconceived ideas about something due to either the advertising or word of mouth, is a given in life. Even if the opinion expressed by a reviewer is contrary to the main stream (i.e not buying into the "hype") they have every right to express it.

As to the objection of terming these generated preconceptions "hype", I really don't see the problem from a reader's (both of the books and the reviews) perspective.

If there was no hype/buzz from Morgan's previous impact, would it way the same when someone says TSR is a good book, but for different reasons?

Brian said...

Pat, you've been doing your reviews in your style for ages now. Stick to your guns. Spanton should be a man, accept a 'meh' review and shut up. don't see Morgan complaining. Spanton is very undignified in asking for this to be aired, because he's questioning the bad review. I have no respect for him.

Ed S. said...

I guess I'm really surprised that so many people here feel qualified to render a judgment on a book - and on Pat's and other early opinions of a book - with having read it themselves. Perhaps the book is a masterpiece that will blow our minds away, or perhaps as Pat says, it's somewhat less than that. I really think this discussion is moot at this point in time and would be better reopened at a later date once the book is out and when we've had a chance to read it ourselves.

And yeah, I guess that further plays into the publisher's hand in selling more copies but I was planning on reading it anyways, and, if nothing else, Morgan's stature based on his past books pretty much makes it required reading.

gav(NextRead) said...

I must say that The Steel Remains isn't high on my list mostly because I'm not sure about 'gritty fantasy' and if it's really going to be my thing.

I have to admit though that the review didn't really help convince me one way or the other.

It was though a fascinating insight into how you can can get absorbed into something and how it can blow out of you. Especially if you're a fan and you have expectations that need matching.

It was more a reaction than a review because of it's focus on hype. So perhaps it was a little too emotive. And Simon is right in some ways to investigate, challenge and defend the author and publisher against setting up false expectations for hype that doesn't seen to be of their making. Though I'm sure that they helped with Buzz and getting it talked about but not to the level that the review suggests. Especially in what looks to have start off in a private conversation.

But saying that it was an honest reaction to the way Pat found it, but if you've never read Richard Morgan, have no pre-convinced opinions this particular review might suggest that Richard Morgan should go back to sci-fi as he's much better at it and it really wasn't worth him writing an average fantasy book ;) Or was it?

Chris, The Book Swede said...

"In other news, the evil Gollancz hype machine, running as it does on the skulls of stolen orphan children and lubricated by the blood of harmless virgins by that undead arch-hype-sorcerer Simon of Spanton, manifestation of corporate strangulation of all that is good and righteous upon the unsullied, unicorn-infested, emerald fields of the fantasy genre (takes deep breath) has been running overtime again in its efforts to trick the innocent readers of the world into buying Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains. Which I rather liked. At least before all that evil hype got started. Now I am forced to question my own response. Could it be that I TOO was hypnotised by that fiendish puppet-master of the lowest nether pit of publishing?" Joe Abercrombie.

Personally, I thought the review in question could have commented more on what Pat thought was wrong with the book, rather than the hype. I suppose it's because I reviewed The Steel Remains and thoroughly enjoyed it (for the main part), that I'm a little defensive. I really liked the book, and I'm pretty sure I wasn't taken in by the hype into fooling myself into thinking it was better than it was.

In fact, a really negative review of The Steel Remains, this long before release date, would probably have gotten me many more views than a positive one which affirms what everyone else had said.

I also don't think Simon's being unreasonable in asking to clarify something. (Which is more an issue with some of the commenters, than with Pat who seems to have been OK with that).

~Chris
The Book Swede

Jebus said...

Hype? Eh? So there were some glowing early reviews - and even some not so glowing ones. I've ordered the book based on the fact I like Morgan's previous books.

Man some people take them selves way too seriously - and by that I mean Simon and Pat. It's an online book review dude, not the Magna Carta.

Richard Morgan said...

Hi Pat,

As the person who’s arguably at the centre of all this, could I maybe try to pull the thorn on what looks like becoming a nastily infected running sore.

In prologue, let me say briefly – and perhaps superfluously – that I agree with Simon; sending ARCs out to reviewers with an enthusiastic covering letter and shout-line doesn’t answer to my definition of hype, (or any definition I can find in the several dictionaries I own). Or put it another way – if such procedure constitutes “hyping”, then every single novel, movie, album and video game produced in the last twenty years has also been “hyped”; and if we were to accept that premise, then I think we would have to also accept that the term “hype” has become devalued beyond any useful meaning. At a minimum, we would have to explain what semantic difference still exists in our minds between “hyping” something and simply publicising it. Personally, I concur with King’s quoted differentiation between hype and buzz, and would submit that what’s happened with The Steel Remains is a case of simple publicity, followed by buzz.

But that isn’t really the issue. That isn’t the thorn.

For me, the issue is the review itself, and the core of the issue, the thorn, is this: I don’t think, Pat, that you failed to enjoy The Steel Remains because the buzz (or hype if you will) gave you unrealistic expectations; I think you failed to enjoy my book because you just didn’t like it – and I think you’re being too diplomatic, or possibly just too nice, to come out and say that. Or you’re fooling yourself.

Am I way out on this? Here are a few examples of your response to the book:

I “endeavoured” to be dark and gritty (but, presumably, in your view, failed); I “failed to realise” that what I was doing had been done before, done in more depth and done in a more envelope-pushing fashion (in summary, let’s just say done better!); I failed to concentrate my plotting and story-telling skills; two out of my three main characters fail to rise above cliché and are not memorable (the third, you allow, has “some depth”); my sex scenes are gratuitous; my plotlines are thin; I don’t have Joe Abercrombie’s gift of snarky humour; in fact, trying to be edgy, I shot myself in the foot and the whole thing backfired.

Pat, if you look back at this review, I think you’re going to have to face the fact that it reads remarkably like a devastating critical assault on a book you pretty much hated.
You then end by saying: “Make no mistake: the Steel Remains is a good book”(?!). And you ascribe your disenchantment to over-ramped expectations and hype. Now I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me at least, this is a staggering logical disconnect. What it suggests to me is either, as I said above, excessively good-natured diplomacy and kindness to authors, or some fairly extreme self-deception. Either way, I would rather we were honest instead.

Please note, Pat, I say all this without the least rancour or prejudice; you gave me a great review and outstanding coverage for Black Man/Thirteen last year and it would be ungracious in the extreme (not to mention hypocritical) for me to accept your positive opinion of that book and then throw a fit because you have a negative opinion of this one. But please let’s face facts. You didn’t like The Steel Remains. It didn’t work for you, it wasn’t your thing. Cool. Absolutely fine by me. You’re entitled not to like my books (one, some or even all of them) and you’re equally entitled to say so in no uncertain terms. Hell, even my wife doesn’t like all my books (she hates Broken Angels). But I think a statement in those no uncertain terms would have made more sense than the argument to unjustified hype that you used instead.

I like to think my work is strongly flavoured, and the obvious, even necessary corollary to this is that it won’t be to everyone’s taste. Worse still, I like to think that there’s a substantial variation in the books that I write, which means that even if someone does like some of them, they aren’t necessarily going to like them all. But I’ll take the rough with the smooth – I write what I want to read, what appeals to me, and I hope enough readers come along for the ride for me to make the rent. Ariel (Darren) loved the book. Joe Abercrombie liked it, with some clearly stated reservations. Both seemed to feel that it was pushing the fantasy envelope quite hard (I don’t know if they’re right about that or not – practically all the epic fantasy I’ve ever read was written before 1980, and anyway I’m standing too damn close to my own work to have a reliably objective opinion). Subsequent reviews have clustered pretty much around Darren and Joe’s initial responses, but I’m well aware that can’t last forever. Some people are going to hate this book, some people are going to say it’s not nearly as edgy as Darren and Joe have claimed, some are going to say they’ve seen it all before, or if they haven’t they didn’t want to see it in the first place. I’m sorry you turn out to be somewhere among those people, but it’s cool, and you’re under no obligation to give me a soft landing about the fact. Hey - maybe you’ll like the next one better. Meantime, I’ll bite the bullet and take the bad review, cheerfully – but can we please avoid handing out needless collateral damage to my editor, my publisher and the people who did like The Steel Remains enough to big it up. This is really not about them or any buzz, justified or not, that they may have created; it’s about what I’ve done in this book and how you feel about it.

Hope Eastern Europe is a blast.

Cheers

Richard

Joe Abercrombie said...

I wouldn't worry about the snarkiness.

Few people indeed have my towering gifts in that area.

Anonymous said...

well, well this happens when you got ARCs, hehe, no pressure at all.

maybe you guys should start buying your books yourself now and then be free to trash them as you like, eh?

but "get a life" ((c) unknown) and go to a bookstore, when you ask for the 'big' names here like Morgan or Abercrombie, what do you think you get for an answer?

A. in 'old Europe'

Anonymous said...

Dear Pat - All the best

Pat - Best

Pat - ?

Anonymous said...

Joe Abercrombie said:

But probably the biggest problem I had with the book, and this is a personal reaction rather than a general criticism, is its utterly unflinching modernity - in the prose, and in the dialogue. No doubt it's entirely intentional, but I did find it jarring. Barbarians use phrases like "back in '55", everyone from swineherd, to knight, to emperor, says "yeah," frequently, and everyone, and I mean everyone, says "fuck." They say it a lot. They say it a fucking lot.

I would not be at all surprised if Morgan has used the word "fuck" more in one book than Scott Lynch in two and me in three all put together. In fact I'd be surprised if he hadn't. He may well have used it more than in all of his previous books put together.

Go Morgan's fan, this is real "literature". Hah.

Andrew Lavigne said...

People take their opinions too seriously.

Lighten up and laugh at yourself a little; it's the funniest thing in a very strange world.

Yaseen said...

I think what Pat is saying (and I kind of agree with him) is that when a bunch of reviewers are saying a book is good, that is going to create an expectation of the book before they go to read it, compared to reading it with no other knowledge than it was a good book, which is recommended by a friend.

An example (or a couple) with me, is when I saw Transformers... I didn't go with much of an expectation that it would be any good, and I was blown away (not that it was brilliant, but it wasn't what I expected). I thought it was awesome, because I did not know how good/bad it would be.
I told my friend that it was better than I thought it would be, he went in with an expectation to be blown away, already knowing it was 'great'. As a result he did not enjoy it as much as I did, and although he went in with an open mind, what I told him preyed on his mind. (Maybe not the best example, but I'm hoping you can see where I am going with that).

Another example, but I read many great reviews of The Blade Itself, all of them saying he toyed with the tropes and conventions of the genre. So I couldn't wait for the library, and bought it myself. Now I'm not saying it wasn't a good book (and series), because I really enjoyed the books, but it wasn't what I expected it to deliver, after reading reviews saying how brilliant, and how Joe is the start of a new wave of fiction etc... I'm sure I would have enjoyed the books much more if I didn't go in with an expectation of how 'brilliant' it would be, and even I tried to keep an open mind, and make my own decision, I was mindful of the reviews it received.

Now Pat is saying that after many good reviews, the readers may hold the book in an unrealistic light, and may be reminded that the book has flaws. In essence, trying to diffuse the problem that the bookis not billed to be what it was proclaimed.

So I understand where Pat is coming from about the hype surrounding a book, which I don't think is such a negative word. All it means to me is something that a lot of people are talking about.

Patrick said...

Man, I never thought this would create such a stir. I'm not sure this is what Simon had in mind when he asked me to put this up. I think it was more about what constitutes hype and its effect on potential readers. Oh well, too late now...

I'd love to write more here, but I'm at an internet station in Warsaw and I don't have much time. Plus, my fucking ATM card doesn't work, so I have to get in touch with the bank in order to see if the Plus system was down or if my card was flagged for some reason. First full fucking day in Poland, and already I had to resort to a cash advance on my Visa card. So yeah, I'm pissed. Otherwise Warsaw is a very nice city thus far...

First of all, I don't understand all the Simon Spanton hate. Though we've never met, from our conversations the man has always come across as a great guy, and this hype discussion we've had hasn't changed my opinion of him. He is an editor, and as such he must promote the books they put out. In that regard, he's no worse/better than anyone else in the field. Come on, guys, the man is just doing his job.

Richard: Perhaps I am fooling myself, but in my mind I didn't dislike TSR. I didn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to, but I didn't hate it. My expectations were the main problem, as I was expecting one of the best fantasy books -- if not THE best -- of the year. I guess that's why I felt somewhat of a letdown, in the end. I will likely enjoy The Cold Command more, for I will not have such lofty expectations for it.

Gotta split, before this computer crashes down on me (I have less than a minute left...).

Look, read the damned book and make your own opinion!

.scott said...

Yeah, the arrogance bleeds through from this guy. Taking the dictionary (or maybe Wiki) definition of "hype" and trying to nail down around what you said in your review is kind of childish, as the dictionary definition doesn't fit anyways as to the way we refer to hype. I never really perceive hype as a bad thing anyways, it can be a very positive thing.

I personally feel that your review was a very good one. A good solid review must sing praises as well as tell us of faults, then then sum up how it all worked out as a whole in the end.

That's it, and that's what you did.

This guy sounds like he is trying to spin this book away from bad press, but I don't really feel it has had any, and not especially from you.

Simon, my advice: Calm down. Take a deep breath and maybe some advil, and stop being such a drama queen.

Anonymous said...

One thing most people appear to fail to consider is that, even if Pat didn't enjoy Morgan's TSR as much as he wanted, the score he gave it is still pretty good. Given that fact, this should not be construed as a negative review.

After all, 7.5/10 is what he gave to books like Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind and Abercrombie's The Blade Itself.

Just wanted to point that out...

Charles

gelee said...

Simon has a point, but he's being a bit touchy about it. Pat is giving his opinions, not a paid endorsement. Would Simon object as strongly if Pat had simply stated that the novel was crap?

Dave said...

Am I the only one who thinks it's brilliant that a blogger not only gets personal attention from Mr Spanton, but also merits posts from Richard Morgan and Joe Abercrombie?

People are getting too worked up over this. Pat didn't enjoy the book as much as he'd hoped. He said so. Simon Spanton took issue with the implications the review made regarding his company's publicity campaign. He said so, and contacted Pat personally to discuss it.

I don't think either side of that merits insults or accusations of acting like a baby. They both dealt with it in a mature manner, which is far better treatment than some other subjects get online.

Again, though, I think it's great that someone who posts book reviews on their blog gets so much attention from an editor and a couple of increasingly successful authors. I don't always agree with Pat or with the content of his blog but I'm glad that independent book reviewers are being treated seriously and with respect by the publishing industry.

Joe Abercrombie said...

Dave,
I wouldn't be too impressed with Joe Abercrombie's appearance, that self-aggrandising numpty appears pretty much everywhere.

Gabriele C. said...

Not on my blog. *sniff* :)


Sorry, couldn't resist.

wob001 said...

In my opinion, it is a matter of definition (and realisation) of a good, proffesional review and just an opinion about a book.

Opinions about any book are everywhere in the Internet, mostly worth nothing, sometimes one need to know real taste of the person to use the opinion. There are no rules in the opinion, You can write anything and criticise anything in any way.

A good, proffesional review has its rules. I dont want to discuss it now, partly because some of them are not forced to "use", the reviewer knows them because of his profesioanlism, because of honesty and because of sense of objectivity. And, according to me, it is very hard to find such a review in Internet nowedays.

With all the respect for You, Pat (for many reasons) and Your really good taste I have to say that Your review are halfway between an opinion and a review as I see it. Still I enjoy it but I have some comments.

And in this very case, there are two things I want to point out.
The part about "hype" was an opinion, not a professional review (where You simply judge the book and You shoud not care about other opinions, reviews - if there is a lot of hype/buzz thing, one could mention about but not criticise that). For me Mr Spanton was expecting a review, not an opinion.
The other thing is what Richard Morgan wrote in his comment - sometimes I feel too, that Your negative reviews are too gentle - it is Your style, I think - but still, sometimes I need to see clearly that the book is a crap, according to You as a reviewer.

Please, forgive my english - its not my native lenguage, and I use it rarely lately:)

.scott said...

Okay, that Joe Abercrombie posted twice in these comments is absolutely brilliant. Made me laugh my tail off.

Joe, you're the man, and your books kick ass.

just sayin'.

.scott said...

As to Mr. Morgan's thoughts on the subject.

I would not say that Pat didn't like the book. In fact, as an avid reader of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, I can rattle off a list of books that had parts that I disliked, and parts I think didn't work, and yet I would still endorse the book as something that was worth reading and that if you accept the flaws it can still be an enjoyable read.

Now, If I have to slog through a read and I don't like anything about it (or very little), then I will almost certainly give it a bad review and tell people not to waste their time, not to mention when I don't like a book on that level, I sell it to a used bookstore so as not to sully my book collection.

I've been reading Pat's blog for a few years now and I have seen him give very poor reviews for books he "didn't like" (as you stated you though he did with TSR) and he pulls no punches when he dislikes something. Ask him about Terry Goodkind and you'll see. I promise.

In the end, a review is subjective to the person reviewing it. A lot of people don't write technical reviews like Pat (most movie reviewers can't temper their critiques if they hate a film) and they tend to write from how they felt after reading it. I love Pat's reviews BECAUSE he's technical and can separate out what is good and what is bad and see if that works as a whole, flaws and all. That's the kind of thing he does here and it gives everyone a chance to see what the book is like from an unbiased eye (or at least as a critic can get to one).

I believe that it is unfair to say he didn't like it and should say so, because if he says he did like it, then he did. He liked it aside from flaws he thought it had. It's not as cut and dried as you, Mr. Morgan sir, seem to think it is.

An example from my books: I like Robin Hobb's Farseer series a great deal. I feel that Royal Assassin (book 2) has a number of flaws and could have been much better. Does that take away from the overall experience? ONLY if the flaws outweigh the good ideas and bits.

It was clear to me in Pat's review that the good bits outweighed the flaws and so he could still like it and endorse it.

kendall said...

Charles: It didn't read like a 7.5 review to me, but I've often seen reviewer "scores" in blog reviews that don't seem to fit with the actual review. (grin&shrug) So I ignore the scores, mostly.

Paul D said...

Pat is a lot of things, but a technical reviewer he is not. His reviews are all about feel and plot, they're not technical. If you were to take away the scores from his reviews, and mix them up, you'd have no chance to match the reviews and the text. He adds granularity that doesn't exist (please, try to explain the difference between a 7.5 and a 7.75). Look at his reviews of Raymond Feist compared to the scores, they seem totally disconnected.

With all that said, and I'm sure that it seems that I'm complaining, I think Pat provides a really valuable service and a great site, but I could see how his reviews could be upsetting to an author/publisher.

Mike Woods said...

Ah the possibilities...now my expectations are lowered about the book, will i find it exceptionally enjoyable? Or will i read it like Pat has and not enjoy it? Will I even buy it now that I know its not as good as I was expecting?
Am i thinking too much about this?
:o)

Anonymous said...

Yeah what a buzz NOT to say HYPE. Now Pat is a part of GOLLANCZ hype marketing machine. Nice try.

that's why NEVER trust a 'professional' reviewer EVER.

Jebus said...

Yeah Joe Abercrombie posts on a review board, stop the press!

That guy needs a serious head deflation.

;-P

.scott said...

I am afraid PaulD that you and I shall have to disagree cause I fully believe Pat to be a technical reviewer. Sorry bro. Maybe you ought to go back and read some more of his reviews....or you don't understand what a technical review consists of? ALL reviews are about feel, but Pat gives us "the good, the bad, and the whole" of technical reviewing. That alone makes his review technical to me.

Paul D said...

Read the reviews by Jonathan McCalmont and compare them to those by Pat. Maybe we're just using a different definition of technical, but compare one of Pat's review to this:

http://www.zone-sf.com/wordworks/neuropath.html

(Pat, sorry if this seems like I'm ripping on you, I do like your stuff)

polishgenius said...

I have to agree with Paul d on that score - Pat's reviews, in the text, often seem fairly unbalanced to the score, as he focuses on specific aspects. He'll often very briefly say why he enjoyed it and then put in long passages of what wasn't quite up to scratch. Often they assume we have knowledge of the author (if it's not his/her first book) or genre as a whole.
That's the case here - he's reviewed Morgan before, so he glosses over the strengths here that he also covered there and focuses on the negative aspects that didn't come with previous books.


Look at the Toll the Hounds review as well - it doesn't read like a 9.5 review, because it skims over the positive aspects that all Erikson's books have, and focuses on what's specific to this one.

Just Pat's way of doing things. Definitely a blog for the serial reader.

wob001 said...

I agree completely with polishgenius and I think this is the point.
That fact undirectly leads us to difference between Pat's way of writing reviews and Mr Spanton expectations.

Its a pity that Pat cant be a part of that discussion right now.

I wish Pat would improve his reviews (and Im sure he will) but on the other hand I hope it doesnt destroy the mood of that blog I really like.

Ryan said...

I don't want to weigh in until I actually get to read Morgan's new book, but I have definitely felt like this book has been hyped. And whatever dictionary definition we give to hyped, for me it means building excitement before release. I don't associate any negative connotations - hype is just excitement. It is knowing about something before it becomes readily available.

It's never surprising to me when something fails to live up to hype, but I don't necessarily feel that is bad either. Maybe because I like to know about things in advance, but I know that I attach a lot of unrealistic expectations to things. Richard Morgan hasn't managed to flip one of my favorite genres on its head? Not really a big surprise. But then, he didn't really do anything entirely new in SF either - he just did it really, really well.

In the unlikeliness that Simon reads any of this, after reading Pat's review I am still planning to buy Morgan's book, because I think he's a great author. Especially since Pat's review seems to disregard the built up expectations and explain what's going on without preconceptions.

Anonymous said...

No offence, but I love this blog and Pat's way of doing things, warts and all. To be honest, I wouldn't want him to change his style. I've been coming here for about 3 years now and the guy has done good by me most of the time.

The fact is, I keep coming back here day after day because Pat isn't a "technical" reviewer. And since this blog is the most popular of its kind, I figure I'm not the only one who likes things the way they are.

Also, I never understood why some have a problem with the scoring system. It gives you an idea of how work A compares with work B. For instance, though they all garnered positive reviews, the core allowed me to gage that Lynch's TLOLL was a better read than Abercrombie's TBI, and that Erikson's GotM topped them both.

No scoring system is perfect and I'm not saying that Pat's is better than most. But it works for me...

So Pat, keep up the good work! And I hope you have a blast in Eastern Europe, dude!

Bobby

Anonymous said...

Ryan -

Thanks for stating why you enjoy reading RKM's books. It's exactly how I feel as well. Glad you posted these comments.

Cecrow said...

I always equated 'hype' with 'excitement', 'build-up' ... I guess I need to haul out a dictionary. I've always read it as "lots of excitement", whether it's warranted yet to be determined. Huh, guess I've learned something new.

Chris said...

I should get slapped for posting this....but....

1. hype

A fad. A clever marketing strategy which a product is advertized as the thing everyone must have, to the point where people begin to feel they need to consume it.

-UrbanDictionary.com

Apparently, Webster's is a bit "outdated"......

Anonymous said...

It took 56 comments before someone thought to look up "hype" in the urban dictionary - LFMAO!

Anonymous said...

Is all this fuss seriously about the use of the word 'hype'? Clearly Simon Spanton finds the term derogatory, whereas Pat uses it as a casual description. I suspect that the industry has a different perception of the term to the common-or-garden reader/reviewer.

Who cares about the semantic differences between 'buzz' and 'hype'? Let's all get some perspective - we're not arguing murder and manslaughter here. There was clearly no malicious intent on Pat's part, as can be demonstrated by his fawning replies to Simon's emails, so why the hoo-hah?

superwench83 said...

I really don't think the issue here is how people define "hype." What boggles my mind is that this editor would whine to you about this. I'm not ragging on him personally; he might be a nice guy. But everyone does stupid things, and I think this is one of them. So he doesn't like the review. So he doesn't think it's fair. Sorry, but I think he should get over it. Has he ever read an Amazon review? Your review was far more fair than most of those.

Alex said...

I don't understand what the point of Simon's response is. Is he just arguing about the semantics and the proper usage of the word "hype"? A lot of the comments here are saying how "hype" and "buzz" differ, but does that actually make a difference? Hype supposedly has a bad connotation while buzz has a good one. In the end, they're two words that means the same thing, and that is that something - in this case a book - that is believed to be wonderful actually isn't quite that wonderful. Pat still made it very clear that it is a good book, so why does one little word make such a big difference to some people?

Maybe Pat should have substitued the word "buzz" for "hype", and that would have been correct semantically, but in the end it makes no difference; both words mean the same thing, and it's the readers that give them connotation.

Adam Whitehead said...

@ ChrisW "Unless it's privite emails with a Goodkind fan."

Off-topic perhaps, but that GK fan has no problem posting the personal email addresses of people on his forum who dislike GK, so him getting a dose of his own medicine (and it's not like his address was published) is appropriate.

Anyway, I liked The Steel Remains, no it isn't as revolutionary and challenging as some thought it might be, but so what? It's still a damn good book in a rather quiet year, and well worth reading.

Anonymous said...

I discovered the Hotlist a year or two ago and now am a devout reader because of Pat's everyman approach.

Quite frankly, Pat is in a tough position in that he must keep the publishing houses happy enough that they continue to trust him with ARCs, but he must maintain enough integrity as a reviewer to keep the trust of his readers. Not an easy task, and I imagine it would be fairly easy to fall toward becoming a shill of the houses just to keep the flow of books coming.

But by posting reviews where he dares to say, "this did not live up to my expectation," he is being honest with his readership. You go, Pat.

Early in these comments, someone also mentioned that Spanton was doing his job of taking up for his author...an excellent point as well. We are left to wade through both their perspectives/agendas/biases and form our own opinions...just as it should be.

It sounds like most of the vitriol is coming from the blog readers rather than the supposed adversaries in this.