Wednesday, April 30

Bestseller Meets Bestseller: A Vague Synopsis

"The Next Harry Potter" is a phrase which makes me recoil.

Comparing an unknown work to such a literary giant makes a sceptic of me, yet it I frequently see it happening. New novels – particularly by debut authors – are often pitched to readers as a combination between two bestsellers, or are marketed as being likely to appeal to fans of certain popular works.

Is this a positive publicity move or potentially off-putting?

"Harry Potter meets The Hunger Games."

"Little Red Riding Hood meets The Godfather."

"Sure to appeal to fans of John Green and Lauren Oliver."

Now, as I stated above, comparisons to well-established titles can put me on my guard and make me more than a little sceptical. Yet, I believe there are both pros and cons to making such associations.

Pro: An unusual combination may provoke a reader's interest.

"Shakespeare meets Star Wars" and "Pride and Prejudice meets Zombies" are both unusual – though intriguing – combinations, which have been well executed by Ian Doescher and Seth Grahame-Smith respectively. If the combination is compelling, and does not strike the reader as existing purely for the sake of coat tailing, their interest will likely be piqued.

Con: Predefined expectations can backfire.

If you set up a book to be a combination of two things, or likened to another author's work, and it doesn't hold up, the reader will ultimately be disappointed. This is also a problem if a reader dislikes the novel you are comparing it with. They may love the book in question, but will never give it a chance because it is associated with a title they dislike.

Pro: Similar writing styles fill a void.

If a title is alike to another work, whether in theme or style, then a good comparison can not only gain the attention of fans of the genre, but also fill the void while they wait for their other favourite authors to publish new novels. When it comes to avid readers, there is always room for more authors to gain a platform, so long as the marketing associations aren't jarring.

Con: Large names can overshadow the synopsis.

I've been reading a few short synopses of books, where "Bestseller meets Bestseller" is followed up by "in this stunning debut." Not only does comparing a book to a major title give me high expectations as a reader, but if made the focal marketing point it also gives me little to go on as to what the story is about. "Stunning debut" is not much of an elaboration, and unless the novel is literally about Eoin Colfer meeting John Grisham, I'm going to need more to go on.

What are your thoughts on books being publicised by comparing them to bestselling titles and authors? Do such marketing tactics make you more likely to pick up a book or avoid it?

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