Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Terry Shames--Buzz, Hype, or Spin?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: What a treat it is for me to host a fellow Texan! My friend Terry Shames writes about small town Texas the way I strive to write about England, with intensity, affection, and a deep intimacy. And her protagonist, former police chief of Jarrett Creek, Samuel Craddock, is one of my favorite fictional detectives--experienced, humanly flawed, but with a bone-deep decency. Terry's new Samuel Craddock novel, AN UNSETTLING CRIME FOR SAMUEL CRADDOCK, takes us back to the beginning of Samuel's career and his first major case as a detective. This book, like the previous five in the series, is getting a LOT of buzz, and here's what Terry wants to know about that.

TERRY SHAMES: Someone recently said to me, “Your new book is getting a lot of buzz.” That’s a great feeling, but then I was reading about an author who was doing a lot of “hype,” and I thought, “Hmmm, that doesn’t sound so good.” Which got me thinking about the difference between the two. I went on line and found several blog posts and articles about the difference, all of which had good points. They all seemed to think that buzz was organic, and hype was artificially produced.

All of the articles were from a few years ago and sounded a bit dated. For example, no one used the term “organic.” That’s my modern take on it. In our technology-driven world, we are increasingly able to drum up what looks organic, as in “Hey, look what this reviewer said about my book,” or “I’m so excited to read this comment….”

Is it manufactured excitement or real? Is it a review that really is wonderful, or does the author spin it that way? Ooo, there’s another word that creeps into the buzz-hype lexicon: Spin. It’s a way of taking an ordinary comment and boosting it just the right way to make it sound “wow.” This isn’t new. We’ve all seen the ads that say a book is “….Terrific….” according to some prestigious media outlet or review, only to find that the actual quote was “a terrific waste of time…” Kidding, but you know what I mean. Taking a word or a few out of context to spin it into what an author hopes will become buzz.

I’m not judging anyone for doing hype or spin, because in a time when publishers are doing little or nothing to promote authors, and the burden increasingly falls on writers, all of us are trying to figure out ways to wave a magic wand to convert our hype and spin to “buzz.”

I know how to help create buzz for other people, by sharing their good news, by telling other people about their books through social media or reviews, or word of mouth. But when I try to do the same thing for myself, it always makes me feel like I’m venturing into hype. If I say I’m “excited to share” something, I feel like a phony—even when I really am excited.

With my first book I stumbled into buzz because I didn’t know enough to be shy of asking a famous author to blurb my book. Carolyn Hart not only read it, but she mentioned it in an interview at a conference when she was asked what new great book she had read, and she gave mine a plug. Instant buzz. I try to “pass it on” every chance I get.

So my question is, how do you get past the buzz vs hype conundrum? What kind of hype do you do to create buzz? Have you seen examples of really good marketing that gave you the sense that it was “organic?”

DEBS: Readers, do you make a distinction between buzz, hype, and spin? As Terry says, we authors get so excited when someone says something nice about our books, but sometimes we hesitate to share. Opinions much appreciated!

And on a really fun note, Terry will be in Dallas on this Thursday, speaking and signing at The Wild Detectives at 7:30 p.m.  I'll be there, and I'm bringing friends to meet Terry and Samuel and help spread the buzz!

Terry Shames writes the best-selling Samuel Craddock series, set in small-town Texas. A Killing at Cotton Hill won the Macavity Award for Best First Mystery. Mystery People named Shames one of the top five Texas mystery writers of 2015. Her sixth novel, An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock is came out in January 2017. For more, see www.terryshames.com    

When the Jarrett Creek Fire Department is called to douse a blaze on the outskirts of town, they discover a grisly scene: five black young people have been murdered. It’s 1982, and newly appointed Chief of Police Samuel Craddock finds himself an outsider in the investigation headed by a racist highway patrolman John Sutherland.
On dubious evidence Sutherland arrests Truly Bennett, a young black man whom Craddock knows and respects. Craddock finds facts leading in another direction. When Sutherland refuses to relent, Craddock is faced with a choice that will define him as a lawman—either let the highway patrol have its way, or take on a separate investigation himself.
Although his choice to investigate puts both Craddock and his family in danger, he prevails in getting Bennett freed. In the process he learns that his job ends at the city limits. 
In a starred review, Publishers Weekly said, "“Shames’s superior sixth Samuel Craddock mystery...explores a significant case at the start of the retired police chief’s career. Skilled depictions of the lawman’s formative choices and emotions enhance a timely story with resonance in the era of Black Lives Matter.”


  1. Although I understand the dilemma, as a reader, I must admit to not paying much attention to “buzz” and “hype” . . . perhaps that’s bad, but I have a tendency to choose books based on my own interest in either the author or the book.
    I pay particular attention to authors mentioned here, though, Terry, and I’m looking forward to reading your book . . . .

  2. Once again, I'm up past 3:00 a.m., but what a reward tonight/this morning. I've been reading Debs' new book Garden of Lamentations, and I set that down to go to bed, but I check out Jungle Reds before closing my eyes, and, woohoo, Terry is on here today. Ending the day with two of my favorite authors is just the best. Terry, you already know how much I loved the latest Samuel Craddock, and all of the Samuel Craddocks. Debs, you know that I have been close to panic in my need to read the new Gemma and Kincaid, and, oh boy, is it everything I thought it would be.

    To me, buzz is a positive word for lots of heartfelt praise for an upcoming book, like a crescendo of goodwill towards a book or other matter. Hype usually rings negative to me, in the sense that it is a more artificial or manufactured elevation. When I think of buzz, I think of the book community creating the talk, but when I think of hype, I think of they publishing business pushing a book. I know that the two can become intertwined, but we all have our own connotations attached to words. Spin has become too entrenched in politics for me to use as a term with books.

    I still like the word promotion, too. As a blogger and reviewer, I love to promote favorite authors and amazing books, and I think I can get away with beating people over the head with a favorite. It's a passion that just can't be stopped. Get me talking about an author or a book or a series I love, and my enthusiasm knows no bounds. However, I see where authors might hesitate to be as much of a book pusher, and I think there is a line that can be crossed. If the only item you share on FB or Twitter is unconstrained promotion of your book, then I think an author has crossed the self-promotion line. But, I think you have a responsibility to yourself and to your readers to inform about a new book coming out or an event in which you will be participating, either in connection with that book or just as a personal appearance as an author. And, I think most people who say nice things about your books are delighted when you share it.

  3. It's such a tricky line for authors, isn't it? Knowing what works, what doesn't, and how not to alienate readers while still getting the word out. I don't have any answers, Terry. But I will say I'm going to be doing a lot of reading in February, and look forward to catching up on your series!

  4. This is a wonderful post Terry, and that starred review should go a ways in creating buzz for you! Congratulations.

    Joan, you don't need to do one thing differently!!

    One thing publishers can do better than authors is get tons of advance copies out to reviewers, bloggers, and other reading types of influence. That can create buzz, though still the book has to be good or great...as my hub who worked in advertising says, nothing kills a bad product faster than good publicity.

    As Edith said, the line for authors' self-promotion is tricky. I do think it helps if someone else in addition to the writer is drawing attention to the book...

    Off to put your book on my pile Terry!

  5. These are my personal thoughts, just from watching how things unfold:

    Unfortunately, I don't think buzz can be "created." As you say Terry, it is an organic result of a book that is resonating with readers for whatever reason. As a reviewer, I am always conscious of those books that have a buzz about them in the industry - *when* that buzz starts is an important factor I shall get to in a minute.

    But first, we should understand that buzz does not always = GOOD. Plenty of mediocre books sell thousands of copies based on "buzz." And this is what makes buzz so risky, because when that author's next book comes along - the one that really is worthy of the "buzz" - there is the risk that readers will not pay attention. The old "boy who cried wolf" problem.

    At the same time, all hype does not = BAD. I think in this day and age, authors have to toot their own horns to get noticed. I say to share your reviews in moderation - making sure they are truly good reviews and not ones that have to have spin put on them to sound good. And more importantly, share the reviews of books you love by OTHER authors. The crime fiction community is one built on mutual respect, use that to your advantage. Just as the Jungle Reds do repeatedly by having guests here on the blog.

    Now, back to that mention of "when the buzz starts." Those of us in the industry - writers, editors, agents, reviewers - start to hear low buzz about some books very early in the process. That gets filed in the back of our minds (after all, it could be fluffing done by the publisher), but then the ARCs go out and if the buzz increases, people will begin to be intrigued, then the trade reviews and book blogger reviews will start to hit, if those are strong then the buzz is usually unstoppable. This is not to say that a book that generates buzz AFTER publication is less worthy, it just takes longer for the buzz to become a "thing" and sometimes time is not what a book has.

    I would watch what the UK publishers do. For whatever reason, they are much better at promoting their books (early in the process) in such a way as to start that buzz rolling. I do think they sometimes get it wrong, and books with buzz are not worthy of that attention, but more times than not (and certainly more than the US publishers), they seem to hit the nail on the head.

  6. Terry: Thanks so much for writing "An Unsettling Crime For Samuel Craddock". I have really enjoyed reading the previous books, and am looking forward to learning more about Samuel's beginnings by reading this prequel.

    As discussed in previous JRW posts, my TBR piles are overwhelming and not likely to be completed in my lifetime. But I still like to hear about upcoming books. Sometimes I learn about them from on-line "buzz" or publisher's "hype".

    But if I see positive reviews from established book bloggers that I follow on a regular basis and/or see authors profiled on sites such as JRW, then I keep those books in mind, and maybe will add them to my wishlist document.

  7. Kristopher, "fluffing" vs. "buzz": now there's a distinction!

    My brain is mush this morning, so I have nothing more to add, except to say that Terry's books are on my "must read" list since I saw her on a panel at Bouchercon this past fall.

    So many books, so many other distractions keeping me from devoting my entire life to just reading!

  8. Welcome Terry! A starred review (quoted on the cover) does make it stand out... if you're in a bookstore or see it online. But that's the challenge today for writes with readers who rarely go into a bookstore and Amazon controls what they see online.

    Recently I gave a talk for the New England chapter of Mystery Writers of America on how writing/publishing/crime fiction has changed in the last 12+ years (and trying to create 'buzz' for my revised writing/selling your mystery book) and an independent book publicist commented that a client who'd written a zombie novel had gotten a starred Kirkus review and, she asked, know how many books that sold? ZERO! Zombie novel readers don't pay attention to Kirkus. But Terry's readers DO care what Carolyn Hart says.

    So it really is (hate the word, too but it's apt) ORGANIC. Know your audience if you want to create buzz for your book.

    Best buzz I ever got was selling an essay to OPRAH Magazine; it came out when one of my books did and yes, it got people's attention. Visits to my web site shot up. The book did very well.

    But too much attention-getting feels like flailing, and smacks of desperation. The reaction is to look away.

    Bottom line: It's a tricky business.

  9. Karen: Your post reminded me that I do discover many new authors by seeing/hearing about them at mystery conventions. I think I first learned about Terry's books by seeing her at a Left Coast Crime's new authors breakfast. I also do pay attention to the Lefty and Anthony award nominated titles each year. Edgar nominations, not so much.

  10. I also don't have much to add. Buzz is organic, hype is created. Both can be misleading. Who hasn't picked up a book with a lot of "buzz" or "hype" and been disappointed, right?

    As a writer still waiting to get a novel out there, I like to promote writers I enjoy - and a lot of the time I know them, too. Does it work? No idea. But it's genuine and that has to count for something somewhere - I hope.

  11. I feel like buzz is what you get, hype is what you or your 'surrogates' do, and spin is just trying to turn the bad to good.

  12. Terry,

    Welcome to JRW! I found one of your books at Small Business Day when you were at the bookstore in Berkeley. I had been meaning to ask you if I need to read the first book in the Samuel Craddock series. I have the Nonnie Blake book and I wondered if I can start there?

    Though you asked a great question, it is tough for me to answer. I will try my best to answer :-) I think "buzz" is when readers rave about the book. I think "hype" has more to do with getting ads about the book when you are trying to read your emails. The ads come from the publisher? Is "spin" like a soundbite?

    When I "like" an author's page, I always like knowing when a new book will be in the bookstore so that I can pre-order or ask my local library to order a copy. Some authors like Charles Finch often engages with readers like a post asking people what they are reading this weekend.

    For me, I would agree with what Grace said. When I go to a mystery conference like Malice Domestic or Bouchercon, I meet authors and buy their books. Because of a tight budget and limited space, I buy one copy from a new author. I also hear new authors talk about their books at "speed dating" type events at mystery conferences.

    I also discovered new authors (for me) like Rhys Bowen when she was on a panel with Penny Warner and other mystery novelists,

    Third, I discover new authors when I see their blurbs on novels by my favorite authors.

    I agree with Mary Sutton's comment. Sometimes I have picked up a book that got a lot of buzz and I was disappointed. And I try to promote books that I enjoy like Goodreads reviews,


  13. Yay, Terry! I am SUCH a fan!

    I agree--buzz is unreliable and unpredictable--and you cannot make it happen. I was in a bookstore, years ago, and saw a MASSIVE stack of books and a HUGE banner for some thriller--and nothing nothing nothing was selling. And that's hype. With no substance, it's just not gonna work. Because real word of mouth is more powerful than anything, even a pile of money. (It's very clear in movies, right?)

    And the somewhat frightening but somewhat reassuring thing is--the ONE thing authors can do--is write the best book possible. That doesn't mean there'll be a NYT number one--or number anything--but if the book is not "good" to begin with, that'll never happen.

  14. Congrats on the new book, Terry! Another to add to my TBR list!

    Kristopher, Thanks for your thoughts. I never considered the differing approaches used by UK and US publishers. Food for thought.

    I'm with Hank on the idea that the only thing a writer can control is to write a good book. I think the tricky thing is protecting the time required to write the book. I also think you need to protect your brain a bit from buzz, hype, and spin. Even the positive stuff can encroach upon your creativity.

  15. Congrats on the new release, Terry! It is interesting how much work authors have to do to promote their books now, isn't it?
    I agree with Aimee's breakdown. I was an adult fiction selector when I first started my library career, and a starred review for an unknown author - buzz! - was an automatic buy, breakout or big name authors were automatic buys of multiple copies to meet patron demand, but mid-list or new authors without a starred review or an endorsement by a prominent author were a dicey proposition. I used Library Journal, Booklist, NYT Book Review, Publisher's Weekly, and Kirkus reviews as my primary resources and the reviewer really had to sell me on the book, or I had to be looking for new noir, P.I., or amateur sleuth books to fill out my collection. If an author was getting pushed by their publisher and ads were popping up in every periodical - hype! - I would usually buy the book, trusting that the push was indicative of a great new author or book. Sometimes it was and sometimes it wasn't.

  16. I trust my own judgment to know what's good, what I'll like. What I like best is to read the jacket flap and decide if the story is one I want to sample. I say 'sample,' because I'll put it down, pass it on, take it back if I don't like what I'm reading. To find new books, new authors, I'll also read blurbs that favorite authors write for new authors, read blogs like JRW, and look at what's coming out in trade news and read the synopses to see if I want to give it a try.

    And Terry, I've been wondering when I was going to get another Samuel Craddock to read--yay!!

  17. Thanks to JRR for having me today. I'm in the middle of a Texas book tour and am "on." Exciting? You bet! Thanks for the comments. I'll reply individually as well.

  18. Joan Emerson, interesting to know that buzz and hype whiz past you. Thanks for the interest in my book.

    Kathy Boone Reel, as always love your thoughtful take on things. I once read a blog post that helped me understand how important it is to promote your books. If you have written a book you are proud of, you want people to read it and the only way readers are going to find out about it is if you promote it!

  19. It's such a tricky business, and so much of it--other than writing the best book we possibly can--is out of our control. But I also think that authors can do a lot to promote books they love by sharing and by doing blurbs. I'm not all that great at keeping up with lists and awards and trade publications, but if an author I like (or a reviewer that I like) recommends a book I will check it out.

    And don't forget the indie bookstores! If you see a big display of a new book in a chain store, it's because the publisher paid for the space. (Not criticizing! Everyone wants their publisher to do this.) But indie stores, in their newsletters and in hand-selling by the staff, can create a buzz in the reading community. (This is why, when I go on book tour, I end up buying books at every indie store.) And I guess that is what you call organic.

  20. Hi Terry! Tell us where you are today!

    And Terry is right, too. You have to be willing to go to bat for your own book. How did I end up being a huge fan of Terry's books, for instance? I'd met Terry at conferences and she was lovely, for starters. Every good impression you make counts. Then Terry asked me to read her second book for a blurb, and I LOVED it and have been a huge fan ever since. So you gotta get yourself out there.

  21. Edith, it is indeed tricky.

    Kristopher, I love "fluffing" vs buzz. Seems to me that fluffing is a subset of hype.

    What fascinates me is the incredible buzz that some books get that in my mind don't deserve it. Of course there are different tastes in reading, but in some cases my book club has read a highly-touted book and every single person is puzzled about what the fuss was all about. One in particular I just read (not a mystery) had me gnashing my teeth, wondering why anyone would want to read it. It had lots and lots of hype....and buzz, too! The mystery continues!

    I agree with Lucy about publishers being able to send out lots of ARCs. I had a conversation with a self-published author yesterday who is doing well enough but simply did not have the time and resources to get her books out to reviewers.

  22. Hallie, you nailed it! Too little promo, and your book sinks, too much and you look desperate and egotistical (hmmm, don't we know someone who has been in the news lately with this problem?) I think what Kristopher said about promoting other authors is relevant. I do this with no quid pro quo. I want readers to enjoy whatever they read, and if I've read something I love, I want others to know about it. Sometimes it comes back to you in kind, and that's nice, especially if you know it's real.

    Anonymous "Diana" it's nice to know that being at a conference does help an author find readers. It's expensive to go to conferences and no matter how much fun it is, we always wonder if it really helps introduce our books to readers or if it is just away to mingle with readers and writers.

  23. Hank and Ingrid, yes!! You have to write a good book. And you have to remember what is "good" is subjective. Something I have to remind myself is that not every reader is going to love every book. And uh oh, protecting the time to write. Huge.

    Deb, in answer to your question, I'm in Austin, reading at BookPeople tonight. Then on to Dallas. When a book first comes out, it's promo time--and seasoning that time with time to write is really hard. I remember author Sophie Littlefield commenting that it was important that you learn to write in your hotel room and one the airplane. Easier said than done.

    Jenn, it's comforting to know that good reviews do have some effect on book buyers. I was in a bookstore in north Austin yesterday and was surprised not to find any of my new books. So I told one of the managers about the book and that it got a starred review. She looked it up and bought some copies on the spot. More promo. More nudging. Sheesh!

    And one more thing that Deb said, that impressions count. Of course it doesn't count when I'm huddled over my computer, but when I go out I remind myself to put on reasonable clothes, comb my hair and put on lipstick. You never know who you are going to run into at the grocery store!

  24. Terry, congratulations on your new book!

    QUESTION: I have your Nonnie Blake book. Do I need to read the first book in the Samuel Craddock series before reading Nonnie Blake?


  25. Reasonable clothes. Love it. Terry, I read your first three Samuel Craddock books and really enjoyed them. I kept trying to figure out where he lives by his travels. (I'm in Houston). Anyway I've gotten behind with his cases and need to remedy that. I usually "find" new to me authors from interviews, blogs like this, and word of mouth. Also recommendations from indies like Murder by the Book. Buzz can be good; hype sounds artificial and manufactured.

  26. Anonymous, although I try to have each book stand alone, it never hurts to start at the beginning so you can get in on the arc of the stories. That said, I started reading Deborah Crombie's books in the middle and now I hop all over. It doesn't seem to bother me that I know what happens in later books. I just sort of put that info into my mental timeline.

  27. Loved this discussion!

    and yay, Terry! Congratulations! xooxo

  28. Terry,

    Thank you! Now I can read your book :-)