We are all guilty of it. Terms such as hotly tipped literary sensation, bidding war bonanza and the next JK Rowling (Substitute any authors name you care for here, it depends on the genre – Stieg Larsson, Stephen King, EL James etc). These are no more than PR devices meant to engrain in the mind of the casual reader some element of worthiness to their next ‘must-have’ purchase. The same can be said to books which win awards. The reality is that even the Man Booker is no more than a bun fight in a tea shop. Awards are supposed to be a recognition of achievement but often real achievement and worthiness is overlooked in the fog of PR and deep pockets. Deep pockets to fund the PR machine and to pay the fees needed to get a book shortlisted. No, I am not suggesting any impropriety; the Man Booker is open to all publishers as long as they can fund the prize money. By which I mean coughing up £5k if you are shortlisted and a further £5k if you win. So clearly this award does discriminate on a basis of cash flow and circumstance.
So, how do we learn to discriminate between the fluff, puff and hyperbole? Discretion and curiosity remain two key tools in our armoury and forgive me but this is where I am going to praise Amazon for what it is allowing to happen in the book buying marketplace. It is giving the consumer or the reader a little more democracy and choice. It does not discriminate anywhere near as heavily as ‘those who know better’ and make our choices for us. It allows the consumer the chance to find the good, the bad and the downright awful and this allows the cream to rise free from the restraints of PR.
This is not an attack against PR. It is one of the best and most powerful tools that can be used with discerning journalists and editors as long as there is an actual story, but when the story clearly is lacking and it is no more than the contents of a hot air balloon, it pays to pinch yourself every now and then and scratch beneath the surface a little deeper to find the truth and remember not everything you read is true.