Managing expectations

When a book is marketed by using comparisons to other pop culture icons, what kind of expectations are created? Do marketing departments think beyond the association that might sell the book to what the tag line or blurb might set up in a book buyer/reader’s mind? And will those expectations be reasonable?

I tweeted earlier about the tag line that I saw in an ad for a new paranormal romance in which the hero is described as being a paranormal M*A*S*H surgeon.

First, the show is widely known as a classic American comedy/drama from the 70s and into the 80s. It ran in syndication nightly when I was a kid and can still be seen on TVLand. Others might remember the movie with Donald Sutherland, and still others may have read the book the movie and series were based on (which I have done). So the tag line does give a pretty distinctive background for the hero. But it’s also a little dated, maybe? Do 20-something readers have the same associations and affection for the show that slightly older readers (like me) do?

Second, the heart of M*A*S*H is Hawkeye Pierce, played by a young Alan Alda. He was funny and smart and angry and snarky and irreverent and a flawed hero in so many ways. Hawkeye is a prototypical hero if you lift him out of television and into genre romance: brilliant surgeon in a bad situation, looking for The One (Hot Lips was totally framed for that in later seasons) but a womanizer in the meantime. That’s an extremely high bar that has been set for the hero.

Even if the hero isn’t Hawkeye-like, the other surgeons of the series are pretty distinctive and interesting in their own ways. BJ, Charles, Trapper, even the Colonel. Plus there’s Cnl. Blake, but his end doesn’t encourage the idea of an HEA.

Is it wise to set such a high bar? Or does the series name recognition offset it when it comes to subtext and sales value?

Afterthought: Sylvia Day attempts to do this in her new series, making her hero Roarke-like. But for me the comparison failed: where Roarke came across as vulnerable and trying to tempt Eve, Cross comes across to me as a controlling and creepy. But YMMV.


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