If, Then

Remember those Designer Imposter cologne commercials? If you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry–it just means that you’re young… and that you probably have better taste than we did in the 80s and early 90s.

Designer Impostor fragrances were a line of imitation colognes, and they were obviously popular enough that they generated enough revenue for the company to afford to produce a state-of-the-art (for the time) commercial featuring an animated bottle of Primo! (their answer to Giorgio, which was THE scent among high school kids and young adults of my generation) walking the red carpet at a Hollywood premiere.

“If you like Giorgio,” the commercial purred, “then you’ll LOVE Primo!”

Well, I didn’t like either. I wore the original Calvin Klein, “Calvin,” in the blue bottle, but I digress…

Apparently the price was the thing that would make you choose the poor man’s version of Giorgio over the original, which was the whole point of Designer Imposters. And I guess, for the most part, the ones I recall smelled enough like the originals that most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, but had I given in to the marketing, I would have known, and that wasn’t okay with me.

My point–and I do have one–is that there is no substitute for the original. I wrote about this in my first blog post “You Are Not Stephen King (And Why That’s A Good Thing),” and I would have left it there if I didn’t see, on a daily basis, indie authors on Twitter try to sell their work by saying things like “If you’re a fan of the books of (insert name of bestselling author), you’ll love (insert title of author’s novel)!”

I am a reader as much as I am a writer, and I am an indie author who wants very much to support other indie authors, but when I see this tactic used in the marketing of a book or (worse) in the book’s description on Amazon or Goodreads, I am turned off immediately and I flashback to that godawful Designer Impostors commercial.

To begin with, this cheapens both the original work and the work being compared to it in the hopes of increasing sales. If the book is good, and the writing sound, and the characters likable and relatable, and the situations intriguing, why would I have to be a fan of, say, the works of Charles Dickens in order to appreciate and enjoy a novel about an orphan boy in Victorian London? And Oliver Twist is one of my favorite books, but that doesn’t mean that I will automatically love every other novel written about orphans and pickpockets and Victorian London since.

Which brings me to my second point: it insults the intelligence of the potential reader (in this case, me) to have an author tell me up front that regardless of merit, I am going to love their book because I liked another one. It doesn’t work that way, I’m sorry to say. As a writer, your work should stand on its own merits, not on the fact that you think it’s just as good as this or that bestseller. The reader will decide that.

I make it a point not to compare my book to other books, mainly because I want it to stand on its own. As writers we are absolutely inspired by other writers whose work we admire. It’s inevitable. But when we resort to name dropping other authors and their works in an effort to sell our own, it smacks of desperation and, worst case scenario, that we know it isn’t good enough to succeed on its own merits… but if you like THIS OTHER NOVEL, then surely you’ll LOVE mine, because mine costs less! Just like Designer Impostors.

Don’t do it. And if you’re already doing it, stop right now.

Tell me about your book. Use the best words in the best order to make me want to read it, and I probably will. I read everything, from old Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys to current NYT bestsellers, and I pick what I read based on a catchy title, an impressive cover, a description that hooks me, and maybe two or three reviews on Amazon. If there’s a sample of the novel available, even better! A review on NPR has been known to work, too.

But don’t cheapen your work by feeling you have to name drop in order to sell it. No one benefits from that–not the writer, not the reader, and not even the author whose work you’re comparing yours to.


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