Thursday, June 17, 2021

If you liked Babe Ruth, you'll love Madison Baumgartner! by Catriona

 Q: Publishers and agents usually ask you to compare your book to somebody else’s and want to know that you are up to date on what is popular at the moment. How much importance do you place in writing for the market?

Short answer: what Cathy said yesterday.

Slightly longer answer: No really what Cathy said yesterday - even the fact that I write three different sub-genres of crime fiction and have different "comps" for each.

Real answer, since those first two don't constitute a blog . . . 

I can't remember having to come up with comps. I must have (or maybe it's an American thing and so I never did ???) but once you've got a few reviews with pull-quotes that drop names, the critics are doing it for you. So I'm mostly going to be talking about what other people have said, mystifying as that sometimes gets.

But here's a fresh take. I'm reading CHASER right now, which is Dharma Kelleher's series opener about a bounty hunter in Phoenix, AZ. There's a lot to love (53 pages in): Jinx Ballou's "fairy drag mother" Tia Juana; a heart the size of Brasil connected to a potty mouth of the first order; a plot that's new (to me); and the chutzpah of this little exchange as Jinx and a journo talk about the dearth of women in the bounty business - 

Journo: What about that gal up in New Jersey. God, what's her name?

Jinx: I know who you mean. Met her once when one of my fugitives fled to Trenton. ... Not the most professional bounty hunter I've ever worked with, but she gets the job done. Somehow.

I've got to admit I had a chuckle. Nicely done, sister! It's so much better to admit that no one can write a woman bounty hunter without a bit of Plum juice getting on the page. But here's where Cathy's point from yesterday, about relevant and irrelevant similarities, comes into play. The world of Jinx Ballou and the world of Stephanie Plum are a Venn diagram of two circles with one single glancing touch. It would be bonkers to say "For fans of ..."

Now, I have been compared to Janet Evanovich and very nice it was too. I've also been compared to PG Wodehouse (which is the crown jewel for any comic writer) and to . . . Barbara Pym! (Cue such an overwhelming chorus of "Who?" that everyone's papers just blew off their desks). That jacket quote was simultaneously no help at all for marketing and my proudest moment, because for the few people who know who she was I imagine it would be straight to the buy-link.

It might seem odd to treasure being compared to Barbara Pym, when I've also been compared to Agatha Christie and Dan Brown. But I think those comps are akin to what I call "Catriona's baseball lore". For the writer of procedurals who compared my historical detective novel to Dame Agatha, it was code for "old-fashioned but good". I will take that all day long, by the way. When a reviewer said "Dan Brown" I honestly think he meant no more than "this could sell". And I will take that too. It's like when there's a pub quiz question about baseball players. I don't listen to the details; I ask another one of my team, The Vincibles, "living or dead?" and then decide whether my answer is Madison Baumgartner or Babe Ruth. That is the sum total of my knowledge, split neatly in two.

I'm really not complaining that these comps were broadbrush - can't overemphasise that. I really do think Cathy was right to say that the setting and sub-genre are meaningless when we're trying to decide what to spend our book bucks on or pester our library for. I mean, I'd be surprised if anyone who liked my standalones didn't love Alex Marwood, or if anyone who admires Dandy Gilver didn't have a soft-spot for Flavia de Luce, or if anyone who enjoys hanging out at the Last Ditch Motel didn't happily devour Kellye Garrett's Hollywood novels.

BUT notice that these books are not Scottish, or from the 20s, or about fish-out-of-water therapists. Finding an accurate comp is all about the voice, tone, sensibility, and ambiance. I think I can prove it to you too.

I was recently lucky enough to read Leslie Budewitz (writing as Alicia Beckman) 's ARC of BITTEROOT LAKE. Once I'd sent the quote - it's really good, by the way - Leslie emailed to apologise and assure me that she "didn't know". You and me both, I thought, before I asked her "know what?". "Know that I wrote a book so similar to yours," she said, managing not to open with "Duh" or end with "idiot". "Eh?" I said. "Which one?"

Which one. And I meant it too. 

Then I started laughing because I had done exactly the same to Lori Rader Day when I read LITTLE PRETTY THINGS. I got in touch to rend my garments and try to persuade her that I "didn't know". "Know what?"  "Know that I wrote your book." "Which one?"

Because it doesn't matter at all that Bitterook Lake and Go To My Grave are both "about" reunions. It doesn't matter that Little Pretty Things and Scot Free both take place in a motel. As Lori said, I should be grateful I can prove that the Last Ditch predates Schitt's Creek, because that's the real comp - different genre, different medium, different country and all. 




Leslie Budewitz said...

LOL! And it got worse, with every book I read for a good six weeks. Finally I just decided reunions at fabulous houses near the water are bad news and you should Just. Say. No. But what would be the fun of that?

Catriona McPherson said...

It's astonishing, isn't it? My worst ever experience was that I dreamed up a book about about a young woman living in a city, working as a fortune-teller, who inherits a house in Cornwall from a relative she didn't know she had. Then I read Ruth Ware's THE DEATH OF MRS WESTAWAY. Thank God I *did* read it - that was too close for comfort

Lori Rader-Day said...

But remember when you and I both wrote books about friends coming back together and murder ensuing and I had a character named Pear and yours had one named Peach? I mean...

Catriona McPherson said...

That's the same book that freaked Leslie out. It's like we're the reunion disciples. (Apostles? Evangelists? The four blokes who all told the same story.)

Leslie Budewitz said...

"Always thought that I'd be an Apostle. Knew that I could make it if I tried. Then when we retire we can write the gospels and they'll all talk about us when we've died."

Your earworm of the day, or more. You're welcome.

Thank God the only fruit in LAKE is in pie. I think, she said, eyes wide as she plowed through her failing memory.

Leslie Budewitz said...

But it's PEACH PIE.


Keith Raffel said...

Love Barbara Pym!

Josh Stallings said...

" Finding an accurate comp is all about the voice, tone, sensibility, and ambiance." That is really great advice. Thanks!