Marketing Gain or Writer’s Pain?

From Publishers Weekly:

“Count Tolstoy,” the marketing director said, “your book’s pretty good, but we need a couple of comp titles.”

“Comp titles?”

“Listen, tovarich. Who wants to read a brick called War and Peace if they don’t know what other book it’s exactly like?”

In disgust, Tolstoy threw his arms toward the sky and vowed never to write again, thus depriving the world of Anna Karenina.

Okay, fine, that didn’t happen. But most authors have a similarly miserable conversation with their publishers nowadays. True, it’s not miserable for all writers. There are those who are taken with a particular bestselling author and choose to emulate that person and their work. In those cases, the comp is part of the very DNA of the new book. All power to them.

For the rest of us, however, the insistence on comps is the outcome of the triumph of the marketing department over editorial. (Just to be clear: I love my marketing team. If I have more kids, I’m naming them after you.)

For some reason, the creative folks in marketing (and I mean that sincerely—their job is to be creative) have been persuaded that readers and bookstore managers are so dim-witted that if we can’t tell them this new book is exactly like a book they loved, no one will want to read it.

Even in this information-overloaded space we inhabit, I have more faith in readers and bookstores than that.

Perhaps it’s the result of the decline of physical stores and the triumph of online purchasing and e-books: no longer do readers hold a prospective purchase in their hands, decide if it feels good enough to spend time with, read the back cover and, if still intrigued, turn to the first page to see if they like the author’s style and whether this might just be the book for them. The comp titles might be a shortcut for decision-making, but they are a significant downgrade from what so many of us love about buying a book.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Adding his many hours working in the stacks of a university library to a zillion trips to bookstores and libraries in wide variety of locations, PG cannot remember ever taking a physical book in his hands to see if it feels good enough to purchase.

Old leather-bound collections of books are an exception, but anything created by a 20th century trade publisher feels exactly like everything else created by all the other trade publishers. How the dust cover feels varies by how many other people have handled the book before someone feels the dust cover.

Regarding comps, etc., PG will also note that anyone with a scintilla of marketing talent can earn far more money with that talent in a zillion other places besides traditional publishing.

1 thought on “Marketing Gain or Writer’s Pain?”

  1. In this age of reboots and ‘just likes’ maybe we actually WANT something unique? Reading the same thing over and over is boring – just changing characters and a few details doesn’t make that same plot and theme more interesting. I don’t want to choose a book that is just like another book. I want to read the description and go, “ooo that sounds fresh”

    Also, I agree with you PG, why would the physical feel of the book matter? I don’t read the paper, I read the words.

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