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Posts Tagged ‘Jim Butcher

One of the things we are often told to include in a query letter is the comp title, which is the title of at least one book which is available for public consumption and which you the querier believe is relevantly similar to your own work. That’s just the basic concept as I understand it. If the age of the work in question is a concern, I wouldn’t know, but since we are told to also keep current in our genres, I suppose at least part of the reason for that is so that we can be aware of current books for comparison purposes.

I can think of two reasons for this, which are basically that the further back you go in time to find your comp title, the more likely the story you are trying to promote will seem trite and old hat. I can’t imagine any publisher wanting another LOTR-clone, or a vampire story. A friend of mine, Sean Hayden, created a vampire story that he promotes as urban supernatural. The main character is a girl with the outward appearance of a vampire, but very different origins and capacities. If he were to go on about the vampire part, the prospective customer would wonder why he needed another one.

The other reason is that a current title means that there is a preexisting brand, fresh in the readers’ minds, that the publisher can hook this story on to. “If you like The Hunger Games, then you’ll love Kieryn NicolasFlawless Ruins!” (Which you will, by the way.)

Publishing is a business, for good or ill, and the business perspective of publishing requires something that would justify someone in charge saying ‘Yes, let’s spend money on this.’ The comp title is your way of hitching your book to someone else’s wagon, giving those decision-makers the confidence to put company money behind you. It’s also the reason why so many books and movies made today look and sound like so many other books and movies made yesterday.

Real originality is not a desirable quality, to the “entertainment industry.” The more of it your work has, the less they’ll be willing to take a chance, because the chanciness will be greater too. So in that sense, the explosion of self-published titles is a good thing, since many of these titles could be works that are as different, original, unique, and possibly more like your own unique work that the latest Hunger Games clone on the shelves. Finding it is the hard part. I stopped reading new books, in large part because they were all starting to sound the same, and I just got tired of it. (There are of course other reasons, such as the expense, or more structural issues, but they are for another time.) I follow some authors, whose voices I can usually count on to have something new and unique, and I go to the library often to see what might jump out at me, but less seems to lately.

My own work is as completely unique as I can make it, so naturally I expect no great success in my writing career. Fortunately I don’t write to make money, but because the story is there and demands I write it. I only wanted to be published because that was at the time the only way to get my books into the world, but that is no longer the case. I have one completed unpublished novel (everything else I’ve written has been published), and I’m not sure what I’ll do with it. The only comp title I can think of for it is: It’s a lot like The Dresden Files, but without magic, fae, or multicolored vampires.

Let me know if that works for you.

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(First of all – the tags, not my idea. Take it up with WP.)

I was told once that Jim Butcher created his Codex Alera series as a bit of a challenge, to write a story that combined the Roman Empire and Pokemon. I liked the series a great deal, up until the politics and military shenanigans outweighed the personal stories of the lead characters.

I like cross-genre stories, in fact, I believe that most of the great stories are inherently cross-genre. (Which means all of my books have a shot, yay!) The issue is one of character-creation, as opposed to mere characterization. When a character is created, his attributes, preferences, history, are all waiting to be discovered by the author (that’s me). Characterization is what it sounds like, the attribution of certain qualities to a basic template. Prescription, as it were. I can tell you which activity I prefer, but by now you probably know.

Cross-genre stories by definition have multiple dimensions in which to explore a character, which allows them to be people and not the cardboard cutouts they tend to be in single-genre stories. Certainly Sir Henry Merrivale is a step up from Poirot on the character scale, but even so we get almost nothing about him as a person. I’d rather read about Viscount Saint-Just, even if the romance and paranormal elements cut into the mystery-solving a little bit.

There’s a lot to be said for cross-overs like that. Certainly it spreads an interesting and unusual light on both topics. I can only hope to get some for my latest story, invented when I combined one of the signature lines of the Phineas and Ferb cartoon series with Laurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, back when it was good.

P&F is a cartoon about two brothers who want their long summer vacation to be as chock-full of fun and adventure as possible, so they routinely break many of the laws of physics to stage a new adventure each day. At various times during these adventures, some adult will ask them, “Aren’t you boys a bit young to be doing…” whatever. Piloting a fishing trawler. Building a rollercoaster in the back yard. Lots of different things. The Anita Blake series is about a woman who starts out as a raiser of zombies (and part-time vampire hunter) and ends up as Queen of the Undead in some bizarre fashion. Somehow the zombie part got left behind after book 2, I don’t remember much talk of it.

So one day I came up with the line, “Aren’t you a little young to be raising the dead?”

Lots of places to go with that, don’t you think?

Many of us have read series that started out great and lose us along the way.  I was just reminded yesterday of the Dragonriders of Pern series, which I stopped reading at Dragondawn.  To my mind, the series up to that point was a fantasy series, despite the occasional bit of tech that showed up.  Mostly those bits of tech stayed in the background of the main series, while the Harper Hall trilogy and filler books like Moreta and Nerilka were blessedly free of them.  In Dragondawn they got shoved down my throat and I stopped reading, but I’m wondering why.

I read the Harry Potter series up to book 4.  I stopped reading Goodkind in book 2.  I gave up on Anita Blake after Obsidian Butterfly.  I loved the early Codex Alera books, and the early Dresden books as well.

Why?

Well, in Goodkind’s case the answer is simple.  I hated the books.  Characters who come back after they’re dead?  Characters who mutate into supergods entirely by internal development?  Pain as a teaching tool?  Killing as an expression of Love?  No thank you.  Finding out he was an adherent of Ayn Rand was just icing on the…well, not cake.  Cow-patty, maybe.

Potter and Blake are different.  Both of them changed the tone of the books as the series progressed, and I didn’t like the change.  Harry got dark, with the murder of Cedric, and Anita just had too much sex.  I tried to read the fifth Potter but the quality of the writing had declined as well.  I understand she was able to prevent any editing of the book and it showed, but really I lost interest because of the war.

The Butcher books just got too overly plot-heavy.  When the focus was on Tavi and Harry, fighting the good fight in spite of all the obstacles they were good and fun.  The introduction of Imperial politics just turns me off.  I haven’t gotten to that point with the Vlad Taltos series by Brust, but that’s getting a bit tangled too.

As for the Pern books, I’m not sure.  I don’t mind technology in a fantasy novel, Dave Duncan’s Seventh Sword series is one of my favorites.  I don’t mind magic in the guise of technology, as Heinlein did so often.  It was much more of a SF novel than the rest of the series, and the characters just didn’t grab me somehow.   Maybe it was just more plot-heavy, like the Butcher books.  That can be a curse of prequels, trying to fill in the holes of what has already been presented as history, presenting characters as actors on a predestined stage rather than as people.  Maybe it just went on so long I grew away from it, which argues for series coming out over a short time.

What stops you?


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