No, seriously. I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t find any comps for my own work, and that is a Big Problem. So I would be delighted if you could prove me wrong.
I am trying to find a way to say all this without being negative, but I’m having a hard time not going into rant-mode. Thank you for bearing with me as I try again.
Conventional advice, for authors who want to be traditionally published, states that I need to read, read, read so that I can demonstrate my knowledge of the market and so that I will know, when the time comes, what books and authors to use for comps. And! That’s not good enough: said books need to have been written within the past five years; said authors need to have debuted in the past five years. It’s the latter part of this I’m having tremendous trouble with.
I have tried! I have tried and tried and tried, over the past five – OK, more like ten or even more – years, to find a new author, new books to love. I have, for the most part, failed. I even joined a book club that specifically reads and discusses fantasy books. They have introduced me to award-winning books by modern, traditionally published authors once a month. I have paid good money for these books, and forced myself to try to read them. I confess, I have finished few of them. My unedited gut-response would have been, “I enjoyed cleaning my toilets this week more than I enjoyed reading this book” if I weren’t trying to be nice at book club meetings.
Part of it is that I have reached an age where I realize life is too short to spend what little free time I can find, forcing myself to read or watch “entertainment” I am not enjoying. But, since I have started writing books, myself, much of my difficulty is that I utterly fail to understand why I should “just give it a chance. It finally stops being dreadful and begins to pick up and get good around page 100 or so…” when I know that I, as an author querying my own work, could never, ever, ever get away with that sort of thing! (I’m sorry, Meg La Torre, but I hated Nevernight. I really, really tried, but I haven’t been able to pick it back up since I put it down somewhere in the middle of chapter four.) It makes me want to tear my hair and yell “WTF!” Only, not the acronym.
I have, of course, also heard people in the publishing industry saying “OMG you should never let anyone in The Industry hear you saying you think everything coming out today is crap! That’s an insult to them and to all their clients and readers. How can you expect them to support you when you just got done insulting them?” And this is a legit point! But I’m not saying the books coming out in recent years are crap. They’re just not for me. I’m saying I really don’t think I could, or should, force myself to read, and then write, stuff I have never enjoyed and almost certainly never will, in order to obtain representation by claiming my own work is comparable to said other work. And I don’t think there’s an industry professional out there who would advise me to try to do that, anyway!
But it’s not like I’m not a reader and therefore don’t understand good storytelling. I used to read voraciously! From the time I was a pre-teen (um, that was in the 60s) until recently, I would literally read two or three books per week. Even when I was a parent of young children, living paycheck to paycheck and had to get up and go to work at 5 a.m., I would stay up late to finish that book, because I was enjoying it so much I couldn’t put it down.
These days, though, it feels like I’ve already read everything I might ever have enjoyed, and nobody is writing anything new for me. I swear I am not speaking in hyperbole when I say I would literally rather re-read a book I already own, over and over (and have done so) than read most of the stuff that is coming out nowadays. Did I say “most of?” I would actually settle for just a handful of new books I could enjoy, once in a while. Would, say, three or four a year be too much to ask?
Unfortunately I have, in the past five years, read two – count them: two! – traditionally published books I actually enjoyed. They were really good, too! I recommend them to everyone I talk to about books. One was Glimmerglass by Marly Youmans, and the other was John Dies at the End by David Wong. But I can’t use these as comps because neither of them is 1) in the genre I write in or 2) published in the last 5 years. (I have also enjoyed several self-published books, to which I have been exposed through networking with other writers. But I can’t use those as comps. Or can I?)
So, is it that there literally aren’t any good books coming out these days, or is it just that I’ve grown old and am unable to adapt anymore to “all that stuff kids today seem to think is so keen – get off my lawn!!!”
And, even if I, personally, don’t like the kind of stuff the kids on my lawn like, surely there are other readers out there my age? I’m a fekking Boomer, FGS! You would think there should be lots of readers like me out there, and other writers writing for their huge market-share. What are my contemporaries reading? Are they reading stuff they don’t enjoy, either, just to have something to read?
I am quite serious when I say what finally pushed me over the edge, after decades of intending to write a book “someday,” was the fiftieth or so time I left the bookstore disappointed and empty-handed because I could not, even with the help of the knowledgeable staff at my lovely indy bookstore, find anything I wanted to even take a chance on reading. That was when I realized I had to write it myself. Surely I can’t be the only person in the reading world who is looking for the kinds of things I’m looking for? In fact I know I’m not, because people (of all genders, but also of different ages) have told me they really enjoyed my work and hope there is more of it coming. (Only a couple of these were relatives, so you can stop right there with that line of response!)
What, exactly, am I looking for (and writing) then, that is in such dearth out there in the world that I not only have to write it myself, but also can’t find any comps in order to traditionally publish what I write? Because you know what happens when an author dares to say “But I can’t find anything like it.” The response is always:
“Oh, don’t be so precious. You are not that unique! Everyone thinks they’re writing ground-breaking stuff that nobody else has ever thought of before!”
But no. Seriously. I literally, honestly, absolutely am not kidding or even exaggerating when I say I Can Not Find anything like 1) what I want to read or 2) what I write.
So FYI, if you’ve made it this far and think you can help prove me wrong (and believe me, I want to be wrong about this!) here is what I want to read / am writing:
- First and foremost, it is written for adults, with adult protagonists. There’s a reason, dammit, why 70% of readers who purchase Young Adult fiction are actually Adult Adults. It’s because there are so many adult readers who want magic and wonder in their lives. They are forced to resort to the children’s section of the book store because Everyone Knows magic and enchantment cannot happen to grownups. At least, if it does, said magic can only be dark, miserable, painful, and end in dismay, making you regret for the rest of your life ever having wished for magic in the first place. To expect real enchantment without having to pay a dire price for it is childish, right? Once you grow up, you need to accept the fact that life is only about horrible things winning in the end. I think this is a terrible message the modern world is trying to ram down our throats, and the statistic above bears out my belief that I am not the only one who refuses to accept it.
- The magic (within the context of the book) must be real. Not some kind of Scooby-Doo trope where it was all just someone tricking the protagonist all along or, I don’t know, the fact that the protagonist was nucking futz the whole time.
- The female lead has to have a brain. Usually when I beg people to please, please, please direct me to a book or author who writes according to the first two criteria above, they inevitably say “Oh, sure! There’s this author who writes this whole Wacky Witch series!” and I go to Amazon and “Look Inside!” and realize it’s chick-lit. The entire plot revolves around the female lead being unable to stop making ditzy mistakes. Kind of an anti-Mary Sue sort of thing, I guess. If she had a brain, there’d be no story – it’s a laugh a minute.
I honestly have no problem with chick-lit and a little mindless entertainment once in a while. I’ve even read a few of these stories, while floating in the pool with a margarita in my hand. The trouble is: it’s not what I write, so I can’t use it as a comp. Maybe I could do one of those cross-comp statements like: “My work is Kim Harrison meets an MC who is smarter than a hairbrush.” Might that work?
- Gore for the sake of gore, gratuitous violence, rape, incest, and (especially) suffering or endangered children are RIGHT OUT. Also I am completely over vampires and werewolves and other shifters, serial killers, and demons who have OCDs about not letting people’s guts stay inside them. I want (and write about) paranormal magic and entities, yes, but it is not automatically necessarily evil. Regardless of what Ed and Lorraine Warren tried to teach us, ghosts and demons are not the same thing. Get a dictionary! Anyway, a ghost does not have to want to rip your lungs out for you to be afraid of it, when you first meet it. The supernatural naturally frightens humans, just because we are not comfortable with The Unknown. It is this sense of “there is more to the world than we can possibly know” that I am after – not just the fear, for its own sake, which this realization initially causes. Besides, when a story becomes all about lovely people dying in grisly ways, for me, it is no longer scary – it is now tragic. I feel more pain than fear when forced to read or watch this stuff. If I wanted to pique my jaded modern emotions with profound sorrow, pain, and tragedy, all I’d have to do is turn on the news.
- Now we are getting into “preference” territory. That is to say, what follows are things I would love, love, love to see in books I might potentially buy, but am unable to find, no matter how hard I look. So I write them instead, which is why there really, literally, actually are no comps available, in modern literature for me to use. (Please prove me wrong! I would be so happy if you did!) These things are:
- The stories take place in the modern age. Not in ancient Ireland or in some dystopian future. (I was over dystopia almost before it ever hit the scene, anyway.)
- The stories take place in an ordinary setting wherein any one of us might find ourselves through no extraordinary means.
- This ordinary setting is even, oh my god, is it even possible? In the good ol’ US of A! Rather than in some inaccessible, magical place such as Through A Portal or in the Cotswolds or some other place like that which doesn’t really exist. (No, I don’t believe the Cotswolds actually exist. After all, MS Word doesn’t believe they exist!)
- The stories happen, as I’ve said, not only to actual grownups (with brains, remember) but to ones who are over twenty nine years old, who have some life experience. Maybe even have grown children of their own!
I could get away with using a story as a comp if the protag is only 27, or if it takes place in, say, modern-day Madrid, or ancient Ireland, or on another planet. One difference like this could work – two or more would be stretching it too far. With just one difference like this, I could do a combination-comp, along the lines of: “My work is like Amazing Positive Adult Fantasy That Takes Place In Ancient Ireland meets Contemporary Small Town USA. All I have to do is somehow find and read Amazing Positive Adult Fantasy That Takes Place In Ancient Ireland, published within the last five years. And I am legit having real trouble doing that.
The point I am trying to make, with my work, the sense I am trying to create, is that you, yes even you, a grown-ass adult who is successfully slogging through a standard adult life, could accidentally stumble at any moment into a world of magic and wonder. You can find out that dragons exist. Right here, right now, in your podunk little boring town. When you do, you will be able to bring your life experience to bear to not only survive this strange, new life, but also defeat the dragon, or maybe even make it your ally.
If you can point me to a book like that, I might be able to use it as a comp. Even if it wouldn’t work for me as a comp, I would be grateful because I would finally be able to read a new book all the way through!
If the kind of book I’m trying to buy/read/write is not edgy enough for you, fine. You do you. I am not writing for you. If you think the only people who like this sort of thing are laughable, weak-minded children, get off my lawn.