One of the authors I’ve been really fascinated by is L. Ron Hubbard, who’s probably best known for Scientology, his quasi-religion that seems perpetually mired in controversy. I’ve avoided writing about him up until this point, because I didn’t want to put together a post that got involved in that argument, because there’s already quite a bit written about it. What did catch my interests was how Hubbard’s press seemed to artificially inflate their marketing numbers, and game the Hugo Awards back in the 1980s.
The gaming of the Hugos has been a hot-button topic for a while now, ever since the Rabid/Sad puppies realized that putting together a block of voters meant that they could influence what ends up on the final ballot. The Scientologists did this back in 1987 with the Hugo Awards, putting Black Genesis on the Best Novel list.
It didn’t go well, but it does go to show how an effective marketing campaign can really influence things, especially if you have lots of people willing to help. They did something similar (according to LA booksellers) with the novels, gaming the system to artificially put his books on the bestseller lists. As some of his books will be re-released this year, this is language that’s prominent on their marketing materials.
In many ways, this is a publisher and publicity department that understands how to manipulate their materials effectively. Having labels on books such as New York Times Bestseller (or even just Bestselling Author) and Hugo Award Nominee or Winner are extremely effective in getting people to pick up a book. These are tactics that the RP/SP groups have been capitalizing on. Unfortunately, when you manipulate these systems, you undermine the effectiveness of those labels: because they’re considered to be a sort of organic level of broad, public buy-in to the product you’re trying to sell, slapping those labels on there jumps the system a bit – sometimes in actuality, sometimes in spirit.