Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Who are you like?

I had intended today to post a discussion of editing one's work (since I'm busy procrastinating on just that task), but a post on Rachel Abbott's blog about writing blurbs got me thinking.  Not just thinking that there's one more thing I should probably revise (again), but about one particular bit that hit a nerve.

Guest blogger Mark Edwards, writing about writing blurbs, encourages us to use the names of known authors (he calls it namechecking).  You know the thing: "if so-and-so wrote such-and-such. . . ".  Now, I can certainly see the power of this in advertising.  Associating your unknown name and book with a name everyone (or everyone interested in your genre) will recognize is a great way to get some attention, maybe draw in some readers.

And yet.  I have seen this done so much, and so clumsily.  "This book has been compared to 'Harry Potter' and 'The Lord of the Rings'!"  "It's like Steinbeck and Shakespeare met for a few drinks and wrote a novel together!"  Things that sound both boastful and stupid.  I guess if the reviewer for the NYT compares your book (in a positive way) to the work of a best-selling author, you should grab hold and go with that--and give the attribution and the link.  But if your Mom says "oh, honey, you write even better than Danielle Steele" (NB: my mother doesn't read Danielle Steele and would never say such an insulting thing to me, especially as I don't write romances), you might want to rethink the comparison.

Of course, everyone wants to know what your book is like, and comparing it to something they know is the fast and easy way to get there.  But it's a fine line between useful and reasonable name-dropping and something that sounds like a playground boast. 

So here's what I think: I have no idea where the balance lies.

My inclination is to use words like "reminiscent of" and "in the spirit of" or even "inspired by the likes of."  Actually, so far my inclination has been to avoid any such comparisons.  But now I'm thinking about it, and thinking about a little revision of my blurbs to include some.

"The Ninja Librarian is a tall tale in the (slightly outrageous) spirit of Mark Twain and Robert McCloskey's Homer Price."  (This might at least attract the attention of the parents and grandparents of my juvenile readers, though I'm not sure how many 4th graders will recognize either name, more's the pity).  Or maybe "Hank the Cowdog would feel right at home in Skunk Corners."  (Adult readers without children may, in their turn, need to look up who Hank is.  Great fun for family read-alouds.  Sort of like the NL.  Check it out).

Is that too weird?

What do you think about "namechecking" in blurbs by unknown authors?


  1. Wonderful article, Rebecca! Hmmm...yeah, I don't mind if a reviewer were to say it, but for me to say stuff like that about my own work feels too boastful. I participated in a Next Big Thing hop about my WIP and it asked for a comparison. I was at a loss. Although I know books that it's similar to, I wasn't going to place myself in those circles...I'll let someone else do it.

    I'm going around to all of the wonderful blogs today to wish you a Merry Christmas (and they're ALL wonderful, otherwise I wouldn't follow). Have a safe and happy holiday, Rebecca!


  2. I feel like you. Too well trained not to boast. I do find it helpful when a book is compared to another I know. . . by a third party. When the author says it (which includes book blurbs), my tendency is to discount it, as it usually sounds like hype.

    And have some grand holidays yourself!

  3. This worried me also - sounds like pretention and bragging and makes me uncomfortable. However, I've seen it recommended by several 'authorities'. It is supposed to guide your readers in making choices. As in 'it's more like Stephen King than Bram Stoker if you like horror stroies'.

    I was once told by a writer's group friend that something I wrote was like an author I admired. He prefaced it by 'now don't take this wrong - it's not as good as...' But what he said was true enough and I had not noticed. So, I got guidance without getting swell-headed. Maybe a potential reader would look a little closer if he or she liked that kind of fiction. Still, how do you draw a distinction between a script that's like, say, Shakespeare and not like Tennesee Williams even when you want your audience to know that? Like Rebecca said, it would be discounted (and rejected) as hype. I don't like that even from a publisher generally but I will admit I have taken closer looks for having read that kind of blurb. Of course I've also rejected books out of hand after seeing those comparisons on the cover.

    Happy holidays

    1. That's the dilemma, isn't it? Helpful distinctions, but sound pretentious and overblown. Though I might have it easier, comparing myself to a 70-year-old bit of nonsense and a contemporary writer of many, many books with more amusement value than literary value. Still--I can only wish I could do it as well as they do! Maybe I could get away with "Historical fiction, but more in the spirit of "Centerburg Tales" than "Gone with the Wind" (though come to think of it the former is only historical because it's been 70 years since it was written. Back then, it was contemporary fiction. I think.).


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