Hype, Buzz, and Preorders


I suppose you could call my husband a gamer, if more of a casual one. He doesn’t take part in huge communities or conventions or anything like that, but did some time as a lower-tier competitive Magic: The Gathering player back in college with his social circle. Now, he has a few nights a week dedicated to playing Xbox 360 games with some college buddies (who were also his Magic buddies), and he also collects board games the way I collect books (which is to say that even though we research and make purchases thoughtfully for the most part, there are still probably way too many on our shelves).

Games are something he’s passionate about: he enjoys the artistry, details, and work that go into them. Whenever he finishes a console game, he watches the credits in their entirety rather than skipping them as a way of appreciating all of the people that worked on the thing he just enjoyed. He’s not much of a reader these days (but will always read whatever work of mine I shove in front of him) mostly because he prefers the narrative offered in both console and tabletop games: rather than having a story told to him, he likes being immersed in one, being able to build an experience, and in some cases having a group of people sharing the exact same experience with him. I think it’s great that he likes these things so much, even if I’m not into them to nearly the same extent.

Where we disagree, though, is in the importance of preordering upcoming media you’re excited about. I’m very much a “Please Preorder!” person, where he’s adamantly “Never Preorder!”

We couldn’t be coming from more different places with our philosophies on this. I come from the idea of preorders as a creator and book lover, and he comes from the idea as a consumer and game lover. At this stage in my career, I can’t help but think of the business side of things and getting your money’s worth from your work, but he’s thinking of the end product and how much he’ll enjoy it. I don’t think that either approach is wrong, but until I discussed this with him I didn’t quite see or think about why our respective industries would be different.

As a writer, I come from a place of concern for the future of my career and the careers of writers I like. There’s a lot of reading available out there about this (and if I were to link to every possible article, we’d be here until the next time I posted), but traditionally-published authors especially live and die by preorders of their books. Preorders are the best way for a publishing house to tell how many people are actually interested in a given book or author, with social media coming in behind: more preorders mean more promotion, distribution, sales, and book deals. Even if I end up preordering a novel and not enjoying it, I at least know that I’ve supported a real person and maybe contributed to keeping their career alive.

In my limited reading about how preorders work with games, it’s not that much different with the exception that there’s less information available about the product itself. This is probably because there simply is more to a game than a novel in a technical sense. With a novel, you have the story as the primary feature, with things like the author themselves, writing style, ebook vs. paper, and cover art as other selling points: with a game, you not only have the story, but the way it looks, what console it’s on, which company made it, the voice acting, whether it has bugs, and its control schemes, among other things. In short, with a game, there’s more that can go wrong but less to go off of with promotion. With a novel, you can release a chapter as a teaser and feel pretty safe in assuming that the rest of your experience is going to be the same: with a game, you’re probably relying on video of someone playing it, possibly in beta, without getting the actual experience you would get with the finished product.

When you know you can’t give your audience the actual experience of what your product offers, you have to go about your marketing a bit differently. After some thinking, I decided that the distinction between the two relies on the difference between the phenomena of “hype” and “buzz.” While books and games use both in their promotion, I feel that each industry weighs one more heavily than the other, and that this difference causes very different opinions on preordering. This is how I (and I suspect a lot of other people) distinguish the two:

  • Hype is promotion from the top going down. A thing that is hyped is not available to consumers or reviewers just yet, and the creator is trying to generate a huge amount of interest to encourage people to run out and preorder or buy the thing. Hype seems to be much more visually-oriented (image and video-heavy) and relies less on the quality of the content and more on how awesome the experience could be and what you might miss out on if you don’t order it as soon as possible. In my experience, games rely much more on hype, with a lot of game companies paying for promotions on websites, setting up social media accounts for their product, debuting a product at conventions and conferences, and creating very cinematic game trailers. With regard to books, this is probably going to be more the realm of famous authors who can bank on their name or have the publishing house resources dedicated to heavier marketing and promotion
  • Buzz is promotion in and around the bottom with no input from the top. A thing that is buzzed about might get some attention or promotion from bigger people in the industry, and while a creator hopes that buzz will drive orders it’s first and foremost ordinary people taking part in a massive conversation about something they’re excited for or about with the potential for future sales as a distant second. Something with buzz has drifted down into the public sphere prior to its release in one way or another, likely through reviewers. Buzz isn’t something that a creator can buy or invest money in: it involves releasing something into the world and waiting for it to catch fire. The publishing industry, with its lower marketing budgets of late, relies more on buzz for the bulk of its authors: Goodreads, review blogs, and social media accounts not connected to an author or publishing house are places for book buzz. Games and gamers seem to rely on social media and forums dedicated to a particular company, genre, or game to get their buzz.

These two are not mutually exclusive: under the right circumstances, hype can generate buzz, and you can certainly have both involved in the promotion of a single product. But when considering the differences between types of media, I think that this is an important one to consider. There are some experiences you just can’t have unless the finished product is in your hands, though, and that’s where hype comes in. Hype might not be inherently bad, but I suspect it’s the reason that people like my husband have stopped trusting in game preorders.

As for me, though, I still believe in preorders because books are different. Literally the best thing you can do for an author is preorder their novel: the second-best thing is to let everyone know that the book is available and share the “buy” link as much as you can. When I publish something (sorry, those of you that got this far waiting for an announcement that I had a novel coming out), I’m probably going to be downright irritating about trying to hype it for the sake of preorders. You, as a reader, have the power to create buzz: why not use it to support something (or someone) you love?

Do you preorder anything? How do you decide what to preorder and what to wait on?