I went to Goldsboro Books on Saturday to sign limited edition, numbered copies of City of Ruin. Check out the mighty window display. It was a very relaxed affair, which is how it goes sometimes, but it was lovely to meet those who managed to swing by, and I’m always interested who’s at the other end of these blog posts. After that, I cracked on with signing the rest of the 150 copies, nattered to the lovely David and the gang at the store (and Chloe from Macmillan), and we all drank some wine. More bookstores should offer wine.
Young Sam Sykes has made a very interesting blog post on the issues of new writers being compared with established writers.
What we shouldn’t be doing is treating the atmosphere like an episode of Highlander, in which there can be only one author and everyone who is not him is dirt. Saying “this voice does not work for me” is fine. Saying “this voice does not work for me because this is not Joe Abercrombie’s voice” is not. That’s not a criticism. That’s just unfair. It’s unfair to an author because it’s basically saying that the only way he can succeed is if he’s someone entirely different. It’s unfair to a curious reader because all it does is observe that said author is not someone he never claimed to be. It’s unfair to the readership at large because it cultivates an air that is hostile to authors who are not as established and readers who are not following the established names.
And, in the comments, Scott Lynch echoes this concern:
It’s an especially unhelpful comparison when it’s “[debut author in their 20s] is no [experienced author who’s been doing this for years or decades].” Christ, find some relevant comparisons or cut the poor bastards (or maybe that should be ‘us poor bastards’) some due slack.
You should read the rest of the post, since I very much agree with these sentiments. Having received such criticism in the past, I can tell you that it’s very frustrating. We live in a culture where people need to make quick comparisons, and that’s fine in the world of marketing, or to shift units, but feeling cheated because these are not the authors you’re looking for is not a valid statement on the literature. Tell me why I’m rubbish for my own reasons, please.
I liked this blog. But it’s no Sam Sykes.
As I said on Sam’s site, it’s water cooler conversation. It’s a shorthand for speaking about entertainment when the full critical tool set isn’t available or suitable. Let’s face it, this technique is used very successfully by marketing.
Surely the door swings both ways? I don’t see this complaint when someone is called “the next Scott Lynch”. Are we really looking at the full picture here, or just complaining about the negative side?
But when the shorthand is used in a professional review or blog post, then I think it’s not so much unfair on the author, as lazy work by writer of said review or blog post. They should own the tool set to be able to pick apart, to analyse and compare.
Is all comparison wrong? I don’t think so. Apples aren’t oranges but they’re both fruit and round. It depends how deep you take the comparison, however that should be properly framed so that the reader doesn’t read too deeply and then complain that “but this Apple is green”.
[Please note in the distant future, if I complain of comments of “Adrian Faulkner is no Mark Charan Newton”, you are not allowed to link me back to this post]
I think when people make that first positive comparison, that heaps on pressure and sets off all the negative stuff. It places incorrect thoughts in people’s minds, which only makes others kick off further down the line.
I’ll be the first to remind you!
Can’t really add anything to what Adrian said – it is cultural shorthand.
Also, although I’m slightly missing out on the context here, but Sykes seems to be going a bit bonkers.
If a reader (or reviewer) says, “I don’t like Sykes because he’s not writing like Abercrombie”, I don’t see much fault with that (other that it is lazy reviewing). That’s unfortunate for Mr Sykes, but readers are allowed their own personal taste… and at least this one is being up front about it.
I guess I can understand this as a utopian literary ideal, but are readers really not expected to compare books to one another?
(And Abercrombie, with 4 books to his name, isn’t exactly Harlan Ellison.)
I’m sure Sam wouldn’t mind being accused of going a bit bonkers… But I do understand those frustrations. At the heart of this is the writer ego, the one that says “treat me as an individual/pay attention to me, me, me”. That’s cool, I can live with that.
I think it’s fair for authors to vent their frustrations on slap-dash reviewing, and also this quest to seek and/or destroy the Next Big Thing. It’s certainly a problem that new writers get more than established ones.
My issue with this is that it’s the industry marketing speak slipping through the review process, rather than the books being judged on their own merits. So yes, utopian to an extent: we can but dream of an internet free of shite.
It’s not so much that I’m speaking against comparisons; as I say, publishers do it for their own writers. What I am saying is that it shouldn’t be considered a genuine form of commentary.
It’s fine to say “I don’t like Sykes because he’s not Abercrombie.” That’s your opinion and nothing more need be said. It’s another thing to say “I don’t like Sykes because he’s not Abercrombie” and have that pass as a reason why other people shouldn’t like the book.
Let me just clarify that: by “genuine form of commentary,” I mean “genuine form of review.”
I think comparrisons should be made on aspects, rather than a whole.
If you asked me, Mark Newton is a bit like a cross between Kevin J. Anderson and Brent Weeks. Mix of politics and intrigue with enough action to be interesting.
Doesn’t mean he’s identical to both of them, or even writes in similar settings, just similarities in a couple of aspects.
Kevin J. Anderson. Are you kidding me? Shoot me now.
What if I just compared you to a dead author, say Lord Bulwer-Lytton? 😉
The only acceptable and favorable comparisons are to Superman, George Washington and The Myakkan Skunk Ape.