Not all publicity is good publicity….

4 Oct

There is an old saying that all publicity is good publicity, the idea being that as long as you (or your product) are being talked about, even if the talk is critical, you are not languishing in the limbo of irrelevancy. Although true to a certain extent, at times negative publicity is just that – negative….

JK Rowling’s new novel The Casual Vacancy, was released with much fanfare but little information. Being something of a fan of Harry Potter, intrigued to see what her first foray into ‘adult’ fiction would be like and keen to review the book for readers of The Supplement, I put myself down for a pre-order. But, the more publicity there was, the less keen I was to fork out quite a bit of money for a hardcover that I wasn’t sure I wanted to read, and, eventually, I cancelled my pre-order.

What hints we were given about the book were not encouraging and I found myself losing interest rapidly. It wasn’t just that there were complaints about sex and swearing being prevalent in the book, nor that Rowling’s pathetically-PC politics with their stench of hypocrisy seemed to have been given free-rein that put me off my pre-order – it was the fact that the plot sounded incredibly boring. Now, I can forgive many things in a novel, but not when they are wedded to a dull plot. I just didn’t think I would enjoy reading the story, especially not at doorstopper length. That such a view is backed-up by the majority of reviews (with even the positive ones largely agreeing that the second half of this overlong volume is better than the first half), as well as a quick peak at a copy in Waterstones, makes me certain that I made the right decision to delay purchase.

Now, it could well be that that the reports of sex and swearing are overwrought and that Rowling’s politics are not as prevalent as has been claimed, but it seems that almost everyone agrees that the book is turgid in both plot and execution. Quite possibly, Rowling went with the adolescent-seeming misconception as to what ‘adult’ means, leavening the volume with sex and swearing,  in the hopes of making the book more exciting or, at least, shocking the reader back to wakefulness as they doze off in boredom from the plot. Whatever the case, nothing yet has made me think that I have missed out in skipping the book for now.

Doubtless, I will eventually pick up a copy as a cheap paperback or second-hand, or even borrow it from the library, in order to see whether it has any merit at all, but the point that I am making is that negative publicity has cost Rowling at least one sale (and I doubt I am alone) and, given the largely negative response to the novel by its readers, it looks as if she has damaged her future chances of success (unless she returns to the tried-and-tested formula of Harry Potter). How many readers, disappointed with The Casual Vacancy, will pre-order her next offering?  Many are likely to be cautious about laying down good money for her next work. Perhaps the effects of herd-mentality, media obsession and heady memories of previous launches will counteract the effect, at least for a while, but I am not so sure, especially as many in the media have chafed at the restrictions placed on them by Rowling and her publishers, meaning they may well be less-willing allies in the future.

Although the negativity was enhanced by the way in which pre-release reviews were prevented and much information was limited to friendly media, I don’t think there was much Rowling could do to counteract the negative publicity as so much of it flowed from the nature of The Casual Vacancy itself. In a sense, Rowling was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t, as far as publicity went – but the problem was very much of her own making (and, perhaps, the fact that no editor would ever dare criticise her faults). By writing a boring and second-rate book, there was little hope of good publicity flowing from it. And, by writing such a book, she squandered all the reader loyalty she had built-up over her writing career.

About the only positive thing I can say about The Casual Vacancy furore is that, by putting me off purchasing it, the negative publicity has freed me up to attend to the many other books on my ‘to read’ list….


One Response to “Not all publicity is good publicity….”

  1. Jeyna Grace October 4, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

    True. Rowling’s new book was hyped up because of the HP series, but being that it is about something completely different, in a genre that is not familiar or commonly read by many, it just set the bar too high. Hence, fans are easily disappointed.

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