Sunday, September 02, 2007

Unpacking "Buzz Means Nothing"

I just realized that I was saying two things in that post, and shoved them together without making that clear.

1) The Hugos are very much not a buzz-driven award, so considering what works people on the Internet are talking about is not a good strategy to predict Hugo winners. (You used to be able to get a decent read on Hugo voters through the discussions in print sercon fanzines, but I have no idea if that's still true.)

2) Buzz maps very lightly, if at all, to actual sales and interest among "real readers." This is true for all of SF/Fantasy, and probably for any book genre.

For example, the top five books on the NY Times Hardcover bestseller list right now are:
  1. A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS, by Khaled Hosseini
  2. PLAY DIRTY, by Sandra Brown
  3. AWAY, by Amy Bloom
  4. THE QUICKIE, by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  5. THE SANCTUARY, by Raymond Khoury
If you searched the Internet and book-review outlets, I bet you'd find quite a bit of "buzz" about Hosseini, and maybe some about Bloom, but a great silence about routine bestsellers like Brown and Patterson. Similarly, on that same list is Sandworms of Dune (by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson) at #8. It'll probably be the biggest-selling SF novel of the year, but it's not a book the Interneteratti are fond of, so it has no "buzz."

What's really happened, in our end of the literary world, is that SF/Fantasy has gotten big and complicated enough that we have our own "commercial" and "literary" [1] ends, just like the general world of fiction. And when we talk about "buzz," we mostly mean that a book is popular with the literary end of the genre. That doesn't mean that it can't be a big success, but it does imply that it has qualities that the great mass of commercial readers are not specifically looking for -- and may even be biased against.

[1] This doesn't map exactly, since our "literary" end also includes the people who praise particular books for their diamond-hard science, which doesn't always mean they have similarly sparking prose. But there's still the sense of the "literary" SF and Fantasy books being those that aim higher and succeed on more levels than telling a good story.

1 comment:

DJK said...

Very good point about the genre having those two ends of the spectrum. The "literary" or serious side of SF is it's own little world that is very different from what the average reader of SF is aware of. I found myself using the term New Weird to people who had no clue what I was talking about, even though they identify themselves as "big sci fi fans."

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