We Need To Talk About How We Promote Books These Days

In the past, I’ve mentioned my dislike for the Book Twitter community and how I’ve never felt like it was a comfortable space for me to be myself. Most of that is in part to me feeling like Book Twitter is a place that is more about promoting and selling a version of yourself in order to get likes and follows and everything in between.

But what bothers me most about Book Twitter, regardless of which side of it you’re on, is how people promote books that they think others need to read.

If you don’t know what I’m referring to, basically in the past couple of years, whether it’s readers or authors or whoever, anytime a book is being promoted on Twitter it’s almost as if it’s in a checklist format. As an example, it’ll look a little like this:

Everyone should check out The Hating Game. It has:
– office romance
– enemies-to-lovers
– grumpy cat/sunshine characters

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And for some people, that’s all the incentive you really need to pick up a book. But I’m at a point in my reading life where I need more than checking boxes off my list of reasons to read something. I also understand that, especially on Twitter with such limited characters, by quickly pointing out tropes and traits is the best way to get someone interested and to click on your book but it doesn’t actually tell me if it’s going to be worth my time. Sure, you can have a trope I’m obsessed with, but is the story actually good? Is the writing going to be what I expect? Do you have a story worth telling?

Think of it this way: you’re a chef and you show me a picture of a dish you’ve created. You tell me about the key highlight ingredients of the dish, the spices that make the dish stand out, but I don’t get to see what it tastes like or why the dish works with said ingredients. And I need to know if it tastes as good as it looks.

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The problem with this checklist format, in my opinion, is that it breaks down books to why it’s supposedly good based on simple surface level attributes but not beyond that. Most of these checklists often include a romance trope and any varying degree of representation, which of course is fantastic and further proves how wonderfully diverse YA fiction is becoming, but it still doesn’t tell me about the story. What kind of narrative do you plan on writing? What themes and messages will be on display? What are you trying to say with this story? That’s what I want to know about a book before reading it, not what kind of MBTI your main character is. My point is that you’re telling me what’s in the story but not what makes the story worthwhile.

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I’ve fallen victim to this promo checklist more times than I’d like to admit. Anytime I’ve gotten a book that Twitter or even Goodreads sold me on, because it either included characters with traits I enjoy or a trope that entertains me, the book itself isn’t actually that good or worth its hype. When I found out about The Shadows Between Us, the checklist told me it was “enemies to lovers” and “the perfect Slytherin romance,” which it was, but there wasn’t much to the plot and I had to learn that the hard way. It was a fun book, don’t get me wrong, but it lacked a lot of substance which you only discover after reading it. Just because a book might have these stand out traits that make it promotable to a vast market with a short attention span doesn’t mean it’s a good story at its core.

I want a book to be good because of every element imaginable, not just because it can be broken down to a checklist. I’m trying to believe in books but the way people strip them down to their bare minimum makes me lose hope. “Oh, but that’s why people read the synopsis, too!” Yes, well, clearly you’ve never read a synopsis that told you one thing while the book told you something else completely; but learning not to trust a synopsis is a story for another day.

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