So. We’ve all seen this on books whilst perusing the shelves of bookshops to find our next great read… “If you love *random popular author* you will LOVE this” or more directly “This Years *random extremely popular book* ” Its a great way of pulling readers in…is it not? Well. Yes. And No. I thought I’d talk a little bit today about my thoughts on the matter and from a personal reading point of view what might work on me when I am purchasing a novel and what might send me running in the opposite direction as fast as my little legs can carry me. Of course every reader is different – so there are no hard and fast rules and this blathering is simply my own personal little foibles coming to the fore.
In my mind there are 2 types of comparison when it comes to promoting a book. The Direct comparison to a particularly well known and popular novel and the General comparison to a particularly well known and popular author. You could also look at Bloggers comparisons where we bloggers and reviewers may refer to another book or author to get our point across when writing a review. So lets have a look.
I’ll start with the one that is more likely to work on me. That would be the “General” comparison. If a book tells me I might like it if I like Val Mcdermid (which of course I do!) it tells me a certain something about the genre the book is in, what type of tale I might expect and gives me a good general feeling about whether its for me. That along with the “blurb” about the plot gives a great indication of whether or not I should spend my hard earned cash. Of course it doesnt necessarily mean that I will love the book – or that the author has written one anywhere close to being as good as Ms Mcdermid’s – but as a shove in the right direction I might pay attention. There is one exception to this – and I dare say every reader has at least one – if you attempt to tell me that a book is as good as Stephen King or like his, then unless I’ve got a recommendation from a fellow King lover that it is indeed worth my attention I’m going to back away quickly. NOTHING is “like” Mr King or even close to being as good. Never has been for me and I did at one time buy books that had this claim. I was invariably disappointed. Having said that, of course that one is extremely personal to me – so isnt really an actual indication of anything! The next reader will go “ooh I quite like Stephen King so I’ll try it”….
So lets move on to “Direct” comparisons. I actually hate these. I’m not saying at all that it doesnt work when getting readers to purchase…it just doesnt work on me. When I see a direct comparison I will not necessarily AVOID the book but I will be wary. Again in this situation I turn to fellow readers and bloggers and those publishers and publicists that I trust and have never let me down (Yes Kate at Harper Collins, Sophie Goodfellow and Sam Eades I AM looking at you!) – is this book going to disappoint me because I LOVED the book its being compared to? Or is it a fair comparison. And of course its difficult…because people read differently! My own personal opinion is that it does neither book any favours to be compared to each other in such a direct way….expectations can be raised to the point that an author, especially if they are publishing their debut, has no real chance of meeting them. Equally the other way happens. You loved Gone Girl. You don’t think anything will strike you the same way. So you avoid books that are tagged as being “as good as,this years” simply to avoid disappointment. And yet…sometimes…the book is better. Another problem with direct comparisons is the expectation of a certain outcome to the novel. Gone Girl is a great example to use here so I will talk a little bit about it. WARNING – IF YOU HAVE NOT YET READ GONE GIRL ITS POSSIBLE WHAT I’M ABOUT TO SAY MAY SPOIL IT. LOOK AWAY NOW. Next bold capitals will tell you its safe to return!
So. How many times have you seen “THIS YEAR’S GONE GIRL” on a novel? Or have read the “soundbites” on a book and seen that Gone Girl is tagged. Its been a thing this year it has to be said. And what do I IMMEDIATELY think? I think…Unreliable Narrator – nothing new to be found here. Move along. I EXPECT that the person telling the story is lying. That any twist in the tale of a book that is being compared to Gone Girl will invariably at its heart have a character who is not being honest with us, the readers A direct comparison of this nature CAN completely and utterly spoil what the author is trying to achieve. Often a book is better written than GG. And the characters in them are not actually liars. In fact on occasion there is absolutely no real comparison to be made aside from very small ones. One book that was compared to Gone Girl recently was amazingly good – and the only similarity I could find was that it told a story from the point of view of the two people involved in a marriage. The only books I have read that have the “Gone Girl” tag are the ones that have been recommended to me by the good folks I mentioned earlier. If I randomly see it on a novel in a shop I’m not buying it. Sorry!
SAFE TO RETURN NOW…COME BACK COME BACK!
So there we go. I think General Comparisons can be helpful. I think Direct Comparisons can be difficult to get right. If I were a marketing guru (which I blatantly am not!) I would think very carefully before making a direct comparison and be very very sure about what I was trying to achieve. You may win but you may lose out by using this tool. One readers opinion….
To finish a quick word about bloggers using other novels to make their point. This can be very useful – certainly if Raven of Raven Crime Reads http://ravencrimereads.wordpress.com/ amongst others tells me I will like a book because I liked another I’m going to pay close attention. There are other bloggers and reviewers I follow who I would trust on that as well – so certainly comparisons can be useful in the world of reviewing – if you follow a certain reviewer and find that they point you in the right directions then by all means listen to what they have to say. I hope that I can achieve this for people following my blog and general blatherings – but when you are reading it in a publicity release or when they are being used to market a novel then I would say – take some time to consider YOUR own views on this subject, what works for you and stick with it!
Comparisons are not the root of all evil – but they CAN be misleading!
Happy Reading Folks!