A rose by other names, please

The Daily Intel blog of New York magazine turns its attention to blurb comparisons. Some examples:

"F. Scott Fitzgerald or Edith Wharton: If you write about society, you write about rich drunks, or you write about crumbling marriages and decadence, you're one of these two. If you're a boy, you're Scott; if you're a girl, you're Edith. If you're a girl pretending to be a boy, maybe you get to be George Eliot."

"Malcolm Gladwell: If you find a fascinating new way to state the obvious, you're a Malcolm."

"Hunter S. Thompson: If you are a crazy writer who did something adventurous, and your publicist couldn't even get through the book but sensed it would be transgressive, you are a Hunter. If your publicist could get through it, you are more like a Jack Kerouac."

This certainly translates into crime fiction. Here's a few of my suggestions:

  • If your book has anything to do with cutting up dead bodies, you are like Patricia Cornwell.
  • If you set your novel in Scotland, you are the next Ian Rankin.
  • If a book has a lawyer in it somewhere, the author is compared to John Grisham.
  • An exciting book – James Patterson. (Or "a female James Patterson" as was written on the blurb of a book I read recently).

Although this practice is lazy, it does have the effect of conveying very briefly the broad outline of a book. However, the comparison is often wrong. Just because a book is set in Scotland does not mean that the contents will have any similarities whatsoever to the Rebus books – I have read a few of these so I know. And such comparisons put quite a burden of expectation on an author.

Perhaps the best thing a potential reader of an untried and unreviewed author can do to rely instead on a blurb written by a popular author. In that case, you might note the ubiquity of Val McDermid, Mark Billingham and Harlan Coben. In another genre, Stephen King is legendary in this regard.