Where’s the hype, people?


In my last post I mentioned Lauren Beukes winning the Arthur C. Clarke award and nobody making a big deal about it. Let me begin this one by relating how I came to know about this in the first place.
Now as much I like to be in the know about what’s going on in the world, every time I pick up a newspaper I get bombarded with crime, corruption and general negativity that always gets me depressed. So I resort to only reading the paper every now and again. It was on one of these rare occasions that I was perusing through our local daily and on reaching the editor’s page, I saw something very strange: an article written in English by Afrikaans singer and musician Koos Kombuis.
So I read what he had to say, you know, just for kicks. I was forced to chasten myself afterwards for I learnt more from Mr. Kombuis in terms of newsworthy information than I did from the rest of the newspaper combined.
Not only did he mention Ms. Beukes winning a major award, he ranted about going into a well-known bookstore, where the assistant was unaware of a book called ‘Zoo City’ and how it took them quite a while to locate it. When they eventually did, the book was sitting unceremoniously on a shelf partially obscured by other books on the same shelf. In essence Mr. Kombuis complained about the lack of media attention given to local achievers.
Having thought about this, I share his anger and frustration but at the same time I find myself pointing fingers at Lauren Beukes. Or rather her publishing company.
Now I have to admit that I’m still not very knowledgeable when it comes to the world of publishing but why was I of the impression that publishers have an in-house marketing team that deals with promoting the book, or is it much more complicated than that? I know that Angry Robot, Beukes’ publisher, is an international company who specialize in the fantasy and sci-fi genre. Did they spend so much time promoting the book everywhere else that they forgot about little ol’ South Africa?

Why I am slightly peeved at the moment is that if this was a movie star, a musician or a sportsperson, anonymity would not be the order of the day.
We all knew when Charlize won an Oscar, when Ladysmith Black Mambazo won a Grammy, when Seether was heating up airwaves in America. We all know when a Bafana Bafana player signs up with a European team, when one of the Proteas wins Cricketer of the Year or when a local swimmer marries the prince of a country that’s the size of my house (the country not the prince), we all get to hear about it don’t we?
Okay maybe that last one doesn’t count but to prove my point, has anyone heard of JM Coetzee? Anyone? If you do, well done. If you don’t: Coetzee, at one stage, was the only author to have won the Booker Prize twice, and in 2003 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. There, I rest my case.

Maybe I’ve missed the point here or something. Maybe it’s because I love books so much that I look at authors the same way everyone looks at Hollywood stars and other big celebrities. I also expect the media to treat them the same way. Maybe authors are a different breed of celebrity and things work differently for them but isn’t “exposure” the keyword here? No wait, let me change that. For me the keyword is: hype. H-Y-P-E. There’s not enough of it in South African Literature. Yes maybe writers in general are shy, sensitive types and we might not know what to do with ourselves if given too much fame and media coverage but what they don’t realize is that by neglecting the marketing and promotional side, you are robbing potential readers of the chance to enjoy something that you created and the chance to inspire many others in the process. I mean, don’t you WANT everyone to know your message?
Come on, publishers and media people, work together and create some HYPE!!!

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4 thoughts on “Where’s the hype, people?

  1. skombie says:

    Let me be a hipster know-it-all and say I’ve read Disgrace and enjoyed it alot. Now excuse me while I have a puff of my pipe and drink my expensive red wine (I wish!).

    Now let me don the cynical view, society as a whole is becoming dumber… I guess. Or perhaps that with transport and mediums like the internet and tv the idiots of our world have an outlet to share their views. Hence the smarter people getting marginalized and the dumb become the majority. Now, with these new mediums comes the shortening of the attention span of gen y, making books are becoming an outdated format.

    The books that do get publicised to the extreme are not the books that question life or provide those answers to questions we ask ourselves on a daily basis. The publicised books are those that provide entertainment; the Dan Browns, the J. K. Rowlings, the Stephanie Meyers. It doesn’t matter how poorly their written or how dumbed down they are. If they’re going to be bought in mass quantities, they’ll advertise them without remorse.

    Anyway, don’t just think it’s just an African thing. Peter Carey (Australian author) has won the booker prize twice – the only author outside of JM Coetzee. And if I didn’t go out of my way and ask questions and find out for myself. I would never have known.

  2. Nisha says:

    Ooooh Skombie, I have a bone to pick with you here….you don’t think Dan Brown and Harry Potter question life? As with all entertainment media- music, art etc, books are also open to interpretation. I haven’t read Zoo City, but from reviews I’ve read it comes across as pure entertainment.

    I’m still trying to figure out what the problem is here though. I think many South Africans will agree with me when I say that we tend to have a mindset that views anything local as ‘uncool’ and anything that’s American or British as socially acceptable. I’m no anthropologist but I feel this is the mindset we have.

    Don’t you think its cool though that the only two authors to win the Booker prize twice were not American or British but south of the equator? Okay I’ll stop with the patriotism now…

  3. I often wonder just what it is that’s going on in publishing. From what I understand, it is now pretty much the responsibility of the author to do most of the publicity (unless you’re a biggie, like JK or Dan Brown); the author makes next to nothing (again, unless you’re a biggie); editors and editorial assistants work long hours and make next to nothing; and yet a paperback is hailed as a bargain at $10. What is going on? Why is anyone surprised that this business model seems not to be working?

    As far as the other thing, it has been true in America for a long while now that it is a liability to be intelligent. One of the worst things you can say about a candidate for public office is that s/he went to a good college (and god forbid, did well there).

    • Nisha says:

      Its so sad to hear this. That apart from all the hard work writers put into completing a book, they still, on top of that, have to sweat blood by doing the marketing as well.

      I hope one day that the tables turn, and its not the meek, but the intelligent that inherit the earth…he he 🙂

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