Monthly Archives: July 2014

Comparisons

Do you like ____? Well, then you’ll LOVE ___!

This new title is like ___ and ___ by way of ___.

___ meets ___ in this exciting debut!

Literary comparisons are excellent for publicists. A new book can’t sell based purely on strong characters or great style, because readers haven’t read it yet. That’s the whole reason publicists exist. For readers, comparisons can be beacons toward books and authors they might love, but they can also be traps that ruin an otherwise grand experience.

The marvelous Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan was touted by many as “The Next Harry Potter.” Unsurprisingly, the most common criticism in its reviews is that it’s not. Of course it’s not—a comparison is a metaphor; it’s not literal. Eragorn is not The Lord of the Rings. Divergent is not The Hunger Games. Percy is not Harry. Taken simply as books with a kindred spirit, these titles would likely have swept their grumpiest critics along for a pleasant ride, but instead they sank under the weight of what they are not… what they were never meant to be.

When I was five or six, I went through a big science phase. I would fill petri dishes with anything I could find that was smaller than a petri dish, sketch funny looking insects that I found in the garden, and cruise through as much baking soda and vinegar as my parents kept stocked in the house. For weeks I wore a little white lab coat and safety goggles to play in the back yard (embarrassing but completely true).

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My parents couldn’t afford much, but to support my enthusiasm, they bought me a magnifying glass. It was a slim plastic thing I could slip into the pocket of my wee little lab coat—and it had a handle that made it look like it was just an ordinary pen. It was like a secret agent’s magnifying glass, and it WOULD have been the perfect little trinket to accompany my happy obsession, had it not been prefaced by an incredibly helpful comparison.

“Mom and dad got you something that looks like something else,” my sister hinted. I assume she had been instructed not to reveal the gift, but she felt no qualms about dropping cryptic clues.

“Something that what?” I asked.

“You know… like a cane that’s really a sword when you pull on the handle. It’s something that looks like one thing, but it’s really something else.”

There it was. I could not comprehend that the comparison was figurative. I was 100% eagerly anticipating a freaking samurai katana blade concealed inside a stylish British walking stick… and my poor parents handed over a nifty plastic magnifying glass. For a little kid, that is the emotional equivalent of a Wile-E-Coyote painted wall prank. I was done. Science was ruined. I never wore my white lab coat again (tragic and melodramatic, but also completely true). It’s too bad. It really was a fine little magnifying glass.

It’s a quarter of a century later, and I’m still not scientist. Instead, I make up stories in which things often appear to be something they’re not. Also, I own a katana concealed within a walking stick. Don’t judge. That stuff sticks with you.

My book, Jackaby, is currently being publicized as SHERLOCK meets DOCTOR WHO. On one hand, that’s a solid comparison, and I love it. An eccentric detective with impossible insights—a down-to-earth yet indomitable companion—a grim yet cheeky caper with a supernatural twist. It all fits, and it’s a brilliant beacon for precisely the sort of fans likely to enjoy Jackaby. On the other hand—crap! “WHOLOCK” is the fandom equivalent of a freaking katana blade concealed inside a stylish British walking stick, and I DIDN’T WRITE WHOLOCK. I didn’t even try to. I wrote Jackaby.

All I can do is hope that readers will find a way to love my little magnifying glass for what it is. It’s exactly the magnifying glass I set out to write. It’s a really good magnifying glass, and it could fit right in the front pocket of your lab coat, close to your heart, if you let it.

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