Thursday, 30 August 2012

"My Book is Unlike Any Other!"

I'm not an agent or an editor, but I bet London to a brick when they see or hear the phrase "My book is unlike anything else out there," they grind their teeth down a few more millimetres.

Here's why the phrase is not helping you:

  1. It gives the reader nothing to go on.
  2. It can't possibly be true.
  3. It implies the author doesn't read much. OR
  4. It looks rushed and unprofessional

We're not off to a good start, are we? The whole idea of promoting your book is to reach an audience. By stating what your book is like, in comparison to other books, you begin to target the title towards your most receptive audience. And they would be readers of your genre.

1: To reach the largest audience, you have to narrow it down!

Holy moley, I just blew myself away with that. But it's true. Your wonderful book cannot be for everyone. It's simply not possible.

"But, Harry Potter" you say. (Which is the exception to the rule, but also, more people HAVEN'T read Harry Potter than have, so that proves that even the most enjoyable kiddy adventure for the past 50 years is not for everyone.)

Harry Potter is like Terry Pratchett let loose in a chocolate factory inside Tolkien's worst nightmares. See what I did there? I appealed to people who like Terry Pratchett & and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory AND Shelob the magnificent spider.

You want to target the right people. Receptive people. So say what your book is like, rather than what it's not. Give us a genre to start with, then narrow it down.

2: No book is completely original.

As much as we strive for originality, every story has already been done. OK, so I've done talking ferrets, but I bet it was done before. It must have been.
Ideas are not new, but what writers do with with those ideas can be. That's the original part.
And also, Bookdepository has more than 2 million titles for sale. Are you telling me your book is unlike ANY of them? It doesn't ring true.

3: Read more.

Yeah, that old thing. The more you read, the more influences you will gather along the way. You can see my novels are heavily influenced by historical fiction and romances and The Princess Bride, Narnia, The Belgariad, Hitch Hikers and Pratchett's entire oeuvre.
I like saying oeuvre.
Not that I've read all of Pratchett, but I've read a few, and the fun really appeals to me. It's absolutely fine to show your influences. It's who you are. Let yourself go. Read and read and read and then read some more. Just because you can. And also, tax deductible.

4: WHY we want to know what it's like.

I'm a reader. If someone says, "this book is like a Phillipa Gregory" I'm already half way there. In fact, a couple of years ago I received an Anne O'Brien novel that proudly claimed "Better than Phillipa Gregory".
That's a pretty big claim, right?
But it wasn't the author's claim, it was a reviewer's claim, so you slap that thing on there and ride it all the way to the bank.
The book was hugely entertaining. Since then, I've found a second Anne O'Brien and it's on my TBR shelf. Yay!

Saying what it's like is the "high concept". It means your potential reader is already receptive to the idea because they are already imagining it.

"A cinderella story with a fabulous twist" gives potential readers a strong idea of where you're going.

Here's what you do:
Make a list (Thank you Alexandra Sokoloff) of your favourite books of all time. (Yes, books, not movies. Oh, OK, a couple of movies, but come on, you're a writer!)
Keep going.
List, list, and list some more.
What are your favourites? Are they "like" the book you've written? It's asbolutely fine if they are. In fact, it's HELPFUL.
Then say that your book will appeal to readers who like those books.

example: "If you like The Gallagher Girls, then you'll love this."
Many of you will be thinking "who are the Gallagher Girls?" That's fine if you don't know. But if you do know, then you're the target audience for the promoted book. What the author has done is narrow down the promotion to the most receptive readers.

Narrow it down to reach the broadest possible audience.

Speaking of which, time for me to head back into the revisions of my latest work. I could say "it's unlike any other book out there," or I could say "It's a retelling of the 3 Musketeers legend with a gender flip."


Emmie said...

Great post, Ebony! I agree -- knowing if a book is "like" something else does help me make a purchase decision. I think as a writer it also helps in pitching your book to agents and editors.

Although sometimes it can go too far. In the airport the other day I saw no less than five separate books that had stickers proclaiming "If you liked 50 Shades, you'll love this" or some such. Sigh.

Ebony McKenna. said...

It's Out of Africa Meets Pretty Woman, lol!
But also, yes, it can be overdone when they're ALL saying they're like the same book.

My next book is nothing like 50 shades. Phew! Glad I got that clear, lol!

Heather said...

So true, the very phrase makes me cringe! I love the idea of making a list of your favorite books and seeing if they are comps. Excellent post!