Monday, September 19, 2011

What Makes a Best-Seller: The Masses or the Media?

What Makes a Best-Seller, The Masses or the Media?
Suddenly a book or movie catapults to life, seemingly out of nowhere, an instant success. What fueled this sudden rise to prominence? The media posting good reviews, the author or its stars appearing on talk shows touting its excellence? Or is the success independent of its reviews? Are the people flocking to it first or are they only flocking to it because the media told them to? Which came first: the masses or the media? From Jacqueline Mitchard’s Deep End of the Ocean, getting a huge boost from Oprah’s endorsement or more recently, the critics heaping praise on Like Water for Elephants and The Help, these books became tremendously successful at both the box office and the bookstore because of a positive media spin.

While I’m not sure, all I can say is that they all came to my attention because of what I’d read in the news media first. My first thought is ‘well it must be good, it’s getting good reviews. I have to read it or I have to see it.” Sometimes the praise is justified, some not. And conversely, some books and movies that are a huge hit with audiences are a flop with critics. National Treasure and The DaVinci Code are two examples that come to mind.

Like with any good or bad review, ‘caveat emptor,’ the buyer needs to be beware. In the case of Deep End of the Ocean, I didn’t think the praise was warranted, but that’s just me. I don’t care for those type of stories and I didn’t think it was terribly original, kind of a paper tiger at the end. Too much inner angst. Not my thing, just like Jodi Picault or Joyce Carol Oates. Too maudlin and too sad. But that’s my opinion. Other people love it. I don’t like vampire stories either. Other people eat them up, pardon the pun. Then again, I loved The Help and thought Like Water for Elephants was good, but not great. So reviews must be in the eye of the beholder. Everybody sees things differently. And that’s OK. But does the media have too much power in making or breaking an artist’s work? Are we slaves to what they like and don’t like? Or can we rise above it and make our own choices, come what may? I think we can and do, whether it comes to the arts or choosing a political candidate. Public opinion can be a very powerful force. But who shapes it: the masses or the media?
Next week: Elizabeth Means is my Guest

8 comments:

Beth Trissel said...

Excellent post. Media hype---choose me media god!---is behind most of these huge success stories. And, like you, I don't like the too maudlin/sad stuff either. I remember my parents going to see movies and then saying, 'it was depressing but well done.' I decided early on, that was too much like real life. Give me my HEA!

Sandra Koehler said...

I agree, Beth. Give me romance and suspense and a happy ending any time!

Susan Macatee said...

I think a lot of it is media. You always hear about these 'must read' books that become instant best sellers.

I also don't like depressing books. Real life is depressing enough. Give me a good old fashioned adventure romance with a happy, satisfying ending. That's what I want to read.

Mimi B said...

I think promo from the media really shapes the success of the book or movie...having said that...like you...I don't always agree with their assesment. Put me with the others in the happy ever after line!!

Vonnie said...

Wouldn't it be great if we could all afford a publicist to whip up the hype? Sigh.

Sandra Koehler said...

Would be nice, Vonnie, I agree. But sometimes it's fun to be your own publicist, since you have control over everything. And the best publicity is a good review, telling good stories and pleasing the reader. Sandy/Alison

S.G. Rogers said...

Media hype can and does give books and movies a push, but that's mostly for the upper stratosphere of properties. There are occasions with movies,television shows, and books where word of mouth makes all the difference. It's slower, of course, and there is a measure of luck involved. But for most authors, that slow and steady trickle of happy readers will provide some level of support.

Sandra Koehler said...

Word of mouth is a definite plus but like you say it does take a while...Sandy/Alison