The psychology behind why we love dystopian books.
What is the cause of our fascination with end of the world and dystopian themed books and movies?
Dystopian novels and films (and their siblings, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic genres) have become wildly popular. What is it about these particular genres that draws us? Why has society become so absorbed with thinking about the end of the world, or how the world will change?
I’ve done some research (and added a little pure speculation) to try and come up with an answer.
7 reasons why dystopian fiction is so appealing:
We feel better about our impact on the world.
We're at a time when the reality of our civilization’s impact on the planet is becoming far more apparent. We are in the midst of a major extinction of species, and we know how destructive our daily activity is to the planet. But changing out lifestyle just isn’t an option. Stories and movies are a way for us to test possible realities in the future, but also to say, "These are awful things and they could happen, but if we work together there's still hope.”
In the majority of literature and film, there are survivors at the end. There is a next chapter. We can feel better about how we are impacting the world, and feel as if it is never too late to change. Consider The Lorax as a prime example of Dystopian literature and film that warns about our impact on the environment. The message is that it is never too late. That unless someone, someone like you, cares a whole awful lot, it’s not going to get better. No matter how far we take our environmental abuse, it isn’t too late to fix it.
The characters are relatable yet strong.
Many dystopian characters are average people in their society who either are born with a gift or through a series of events are thrown into extraordinary situations. These characters, like Katniss in Hunger Games or Tris in Divergent, become the strong, independent person we all would like to emulate. We can connect with them, and through them, feel more powerful. If an average girl from the poorest district can use her bow to overthrow a nation, how much more can we accomplish?
Dystopia appeals to the young adult sense of independence.
Dystopian characters tend to be young and fight against established government. Young adults are inherently independent and bold as they forge their own way in life. They can easily relate to the main characters of dystopian books and film. Even older adults find the sense of strength and independence displayed by dystopian characters appealing.
Death is compelling.
In terms of storytelling, there's always more power when it is a life-and-death situation, and when death is really real. Dystopian and apocalyptic novels, TV, and film do a great job of making our mortality real. Consider the Walking Dead phenomena. Every single moment could be the last for each character—no one is safe. This keeps us on the edge of our seat, and reminds us of our own fragile existence. It is both terrifying and fascinating at the same time.
By creating the promise of imminent death, and reminding readers of that death by killing off key characters, dystopian authors can weave a very compelling story that we can’t put down.
We are trying to predict the future.
Science fiction can be eerie in the way that it predicts our future quite accurately. If you look at things that Jules Verne wrote back in the late 19th century, so many things he wrote about came true, even something like the Internet. So science fiction, far from being just fantasy, might be more of a harbinger of where the human race is headed—maybe our collective human unconscious is trying to tell us something. And therefore taking it seriously is important.
We all want to know what might be in store for us or our children, and through dystopian, post apocalyptic, and apocalyptic literature, we are able to get a glimpse of what logical minds predict the future might be like. By extrapolating current trends and creating a believable future world, these authors are helping us to see what the future will bring.
Dystopian novels provide Escapism.
All fiction stories give us a momentary escape from reality. As our daily lives become increasingly free from the manual labor that used to absorb much of the energy of previous generations, we now have time to focus on the meaning of our daily lives.
We seek a way to escape from the mundane problems of our everyday life. And through dystopian novels, we find characters that are living extraordinary lives, but usually come from a mundane existence in their own world. The average person can achieve something exceptional in this alternate reality, and this is a perfect way to forget, if only for a few hours, the chores and troubles awaiting us in our life.
We can gain a sense of power in our own dystopian world.
Seeing characters overcome insurmountable odds and change the status quo gives us a sense of power in a world in which we might feel quite powerless.
Dystopia is not a deferred future—it's the present that we live in. Our current world is full of corrupt leaders, extreme pop culture, racism, sexism, terrorism (insert your own –ism here), and other themes we see in the future, fictional worlds of dystopian literature.
Through books and movies, we deal with our present dystopia by projecting it into the future. It’s our way to begin to think about what’s wrong with us right now. The Hunger Games comes out of the author's looking at reality TV shows and seeing its logical progression.
Through Dystopian novels, we get the sense that we could have power over the future; that a complete change in society is possible, brought about by individuals who believe strongly. We may have little control over the world we live in now, but in literature and movies, we feel as if the power to change the world is truly possible.
What do you think is so compelling about dystopian or end-of-world books? Share your thoughts below!
What book reviews mean for authors.
I love to read. Before becoming an author, I could read a book or two a week.
But I never left reviews. I either enjoyed the book or didn’t and went along my way.
If I liked a book, I’d buy more from the author. If I didn’t care for it, I would forget about the author and probably never try them again.
This is probably the most common experience for readers. It wasn’t until I became an author that I truly understood the value of reviews, particularly for new and undiscovered authors.
Authors, read my article about how to get more reviews on my other blog.
I also didn’t understand the power of reviews over an author.
I’m sure some writers are thick-skinned; in fact, I do know authors who shrug off bad reviews, unconcerned. Those readers weren’t going to buy another book, anyway.
But I also know many authors like myself who cringe with each less-than 5 star review. It isn’t that we think we’re the best writer since Mark Twain, or that we deserve only top reviews. The cringing, the stomachs flips, the feeling of dejection that settles momentarily with each scathing or even well-worded criticism is tied directly to how much of ourselves we as writers put into our novels.
It is difficult not to take criticism personally. To wonder how we might have crafted our story better, or second guess the decision to include a last minute plot-twist. In all the years I’ve been writing for work, I’ve never felt so personally invested in feedback. Oh, I enjoy getting positive feedback from my bosses or colleagues, and shrug off the sting from well-meant critiques, using the feedback to improve.
Reviews are a crucial part of our digital buying process. When you can’t physically handle or view a product, we as buyers need to rely on reviews to judge its quality. With books, particularly when we are inundated with self-published books of dubious quality, reviews are necessary to protect our time and wallets.
Reviews are also necessary for authors to convince readers their books are worthy of purchase. The best authors get scathing reviews, and even poor authors have fans that are willing to leave good reviews. While it can be tough, taking a step back and looking at each review as a product of a reader’s personal opinion can be helpful. Realize not every reader will have the same opinion of your book, but also take the criticism as feedback that can help you improve.
Readers, try to remember that there is a real person beyond the cover of that book you might want to rip to shreds. Leave a review, but try to be constructive in your feedback so the author can learn and grow.
Authors, use the criticism to improve your writing. You can’t please everyone, but you can have a strong novel that is well-written, and accepting critiques as well as positive feedback is how you can continually improve. Resist the urge to respond to criticisms! Remember that reviews are meant for readers, not for the author. Try to remove yourself as much as possible from that process.
The true secret of Alba...
This quote does a great job of summing up the theme of my series, Secret of Alba. We all have more control over our lives, our happiness, and our worldview than we realize.
Our minds are amazing in function and control. Part of the inspiration for writing Reaper and Patrician was from my fascination with humanity's capacity to choose their perspective, and their emotions. The Technology that plays an increasingly important role in the series is the secret hidden in Alba, but the real secret I allude to is the power each one of has already has within us.
It becomes too easy to feel like a victim; like we have no control over the world around us and our own situation in that world. But I believe we all have more power than we realize to control our lives; not what happens to us, but how we feel. How we react. If only we realized how much power we truly have.
"Life is a series of small choices. Even when we feel fettered and unfree, there is always a choice. Every moment, every breath, is a choice. And in this, is freedom." -From Reaper
What is a blog tour?
I might be a digital marketer, but I'm new to book marketing. If you're like me, you might be asking the same kinds of questions:
I hadn’t heard about blog tours until an author friend of mine, Jennifer L. Allen, shared her blog tour on her social sites. I was curious about the concept and did some research, and asked her about her experience.
A blog tour is essentially a digital book tour. Bloggers sign up to participate in a blog tour (which is generally hosted by a blogger or a book tour service). Then during a specified time period, they post reviews or just the book info on their blogs.
Some bloggers will host blog tours for authors, but many of the blog tour hosting sites I have found require a fee, ranging from $40 up to $300. Publicity cost money, and it has me curious about the true benefits, or return on investment, of a blog tour.
What are the benefits of a blog tour?
You get reviews. In some cases, lots of reviews. Jennifer, the author who told me about her blog tour experience, had about 90 bloggers that signed up to participate in her tour. That is a LOT of reviews, which is great. Reviews are crucial to convincing a reader to buy your book.
Blog tours are also great for search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is a technique, such as content marketing, that will organically (without paying) bring visitors to your website. It is essentially increasing the rank of your website, and making it easier for web users to find you. I’ll blog later about SEO for authors, if you’re interested in learning more. Blog tours will link to your website (if you have one) or your book’s sale page, greatly increasing the free traffic (web visitors) to your website. Search engines, like Google, love links to your site. It gives your website “authority”, which in turn increases your ranking, and search engines will show your website more often in search results.
Does a blog tour increase sales?
Blog tours do increase sales for a short time following the posts. Does the return make a paid tour worthwhile? That depends on factors like the blog traffic and the popularity of your genre.
“As a result of the blog tour, I did have an increase in sales that week and my website, Goodreads, and Facebook traffic increased as well. It wasn't monumental, but it was still more than I would have had without the tour,” explained Jennifer.
Overall, it is doubtful you will recoup your investment immediately, but long term, I believe the value is worth it. And, if you can hit the blog tour lottery like Jennifer, you’ll be in a great position.
After talking to several authors, they don’t spend too much time submitting request for reviews. They suggest doing cover reveals and paid blog tours, which typically have a better response rate (and a paid tour is a sure thing).
Jennifer was committed to sharing her book with reviewers: "When I inquired with blogs for ARCs prior to the release of my book, I contacted blogs via Facebook and email, depending on what information was present on their sites. I contacted maybe 100-200, heard back from about 50 (mix of yeses, nos, and maybe laters), sent out about 25 ARCs and got maybe 10-15 reviews." It is a lot of work for a small response rate, but consider the valuable connection she made with the blogger that hosted her tour. She's also made other valuable connections through the process that are now helping her with the promotion of her second book, scheduled to be released in November.
If I try a blog tour, either paid or manage to get a blogger to host one, I’ll be sure to share my results with you.
Jennifer put in the work to send out her books, and also had a fantastic book, which helped to garner the attention she hoped to find. Another great way to get the “in” with bloggers and promoters? Connect with other authors. I can’t stress enough the value of other authors for a self-published author. They can teach you so many things, and connect you with the people and opportunities that could make a big difference in the success of your book, and your author brand.
Remember, marketing is a time and cost investment. You’ll only reap what you’re willing to put in. Keep learning, be tenacious, and connect with everyone you can.
Want to check out Jennifer's book, Our Moon? It is a great contemporary romance.