Maybe the book just wasn't that good

Sometimes I find all this talk about book marketing rather humorous. Now I am not one of those “all marketing is inherently dishonest” types, but I am rather old fashioned in that I think a good product beats good marketing every time.

Take this story about the success of The Historian versus The Traveler in the Wall Street Journal. It discusses the match-up like it was Pepsi versus Coke. It seems that The Historian won the marketing battle:

This summer, as Labor Day fast approaches, Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian” is the season’s hottest adult-fiction book, with 915,000 copies in print in the U.S. after six printings.

By comparison, “The Traveler,” a futuristic tale by John Twelve Hawks, has 200,000 hardcover copies in print in the U.S. after three print runs.

How to explain this? Marketing of course:

What made the difference? Marketing, in all its subtle and not-so-subtle variations, played a big role. Both publishers were committed to campaigning hard for their books the minute they shelled out for them. The pressure to deliver hot new writers led Time Warner Inc.’s Little, Brown to pay $2.2 million for “The Historian.” Doubleday also paid handsomely for “The Traveler” and the other two books in an expected trilogy from Mr. Twelve Hawks, giving an advance of $1 million.

First of all, I can’t believe someone paid a million dollars for books like The Traveler. I guess I didn’t realize you could get rich writing high tech beach reading.

The article also puts a lot of emphasis on the author’s personality and public speaking skills. I was under the impression that author tours don’t sell a lot of books. I know for example that author tours have absolutely no impact on my buying a book, so it seem hard to see why the Traveler would suffer for this. Of course I bought the Traveler so I am a minority in this debate.

While I have read The Traveler, I haven’t yet read The Historian, and so can’t make a comparison, but perhaps The Historian is just a better written story? I know there are a lot of factors that go into sales, and it seems likely that historical fantasy might outsell science fiction action, but what I hate about these type of stories is that the quality of the respective books seems irrelevant. The article mentions in passing that The Traveler received favorable reviews but the rest focuses on things outside the content of the book.

I realize this is a “books as business” story in the Wall Street Journal, but if books are a market shouldn’t we focus on the quality of the product. My gut tells me that the marketing failed to a certain degree with The Traveler because the book didn’t live up to the hype. It just wasn’t that good.

Anyone out there read The Historian? Anyone read both? What say you?

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season – oh, and watching golf too).

View all posts

7 Comments

  • Another factor: Time Warner has been extremely aggressive about sending me galleys, while Doubleday hasn’t sent me practically anything. I suspect TW/LB has more money to burn on their publicity budgets.

  • Another factor: Time Warner has been extremely aggressive about sending me galleys, while Doubleday hasn’t sent me practically anything. I suspect TW/LB has more money to burn on their publicity budgets.

  • As an outsider, I’m willing to believe there is generally more interesting in reading about vampires nowadays than reading a Matrix-wannabe. How well did American Gods do? Wasn’t it a freaky alternative reality story which could have been presented as a type of Matrix story?

  • I haven’t read The Traveller, but it’s hard to imagine that it’s much worse than The Historian, especially when it comes to prose – lovely as Kostova’s writing is on a sentence-by-sentence level, the end result is boring and stultifying, the dullest and least horrifying horror story you ever read.

    “How well did American Gods do? Wasn’t it a freaky alternative reality story which could have been presented as a type of Matrix story?”

    I don’t know about the publicity campaign, but that’s not even close to an accurate description of American Gods.

  • I haven’t read The Traveller, but it’s hard to imagine that it’s much worse than The Historian, especially when it comes to prose – lovely as Kostova’s writing is on a sentence-by-sentence level, the end result is boring and stultifying, the dullest and least horrifying horror story you ever read.

    “How well did American Gods do? Wasn’t it a freaky alternative reality story which could have been presented as a type of Matrix story?”

    I don’t know about the publicity campaign, but that’s not even close to an accurate description of American Gods.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *