I’ve said it before: I’m terrible at talking about my books. I guess I’m just not the relentless self promoter I need to be. I am getting better, but I still have issues. This is kind of strange for a guy with a Master’s Degree in Speech Communication; I should excel at talking about my books. The problem, I think, stems from the question of “how do you distill tens of thousands of words into a brief pitch?”
The answer really should be to fall back on that blurb that took you almost as long to write as the book did in the first place. Unfortunately, some of Hollywood’s “Deadpool meets Gandhi” pitch tactics have started flowing over into the book world. This isn’t as common in the book world, but I still hear people describing their books as “x meets y”. You can substitute anything for x and anything for y. For instance:
“My book is an action-packed, Ninja-themed punch to the adrenal glands with trains! It’s Thomas the Tank Engine meets Kill Bill”
“A woman gets dumped and rather than being all maudlin about it she goes on a brutal rampage. Think of it as Thelma and Louise meets The Terminator!”
There is no way either of those could be good things.
And it’s not necessarily because the source references were bad, it’s because the combinations were bad. Like orange juice and toothpaste, there’s no way Ninjas and Thomas the Tank Engine could possibly taste good. So why do people do it? X meeting Y is a good place to draw in a couple references for the audience, but it suffers from some drawbacks a couple drawbacks:
- It assumes your work is derivative of other works
- It relies on your audience having the same notions of those other works that you do
It also implies there’s nothing really new or exciting about your book.
According to Ecclesiastes 1:9, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” The key part is the “no new thing under the sun” line. Bear in mind The Bible was written quite some time ago; so it should be a given that what was true then is true now. But that’s not entirely accurate. Kind of a lot has changed since The Bible was written.
I’m not saying The Bible is wrong, so put down your pitchforks and torches.
What I’m getting at is fiction has explored areas that were unbeknownst to the world at the time The Bible was written; things like computers, the Internet, television, cars, and The Rock on simply didn’t exist back then. They’re beknownst now and there are always new things popping up all the time. The point is I’ve met too many people who think there’s nothing new under the sun and everything has to be related to something else – something that already exists and can be used as a comparison point. This kind of intellectual dishonesty should be anathema to writers because there are plenty of new things under the sun and we’re not just retelling the same stories over and over again. There’s creativity, process, sweat, drunken rages, and furious typing at work. There are new worlds being born all the time and they have to be populated with living, breathing things.
Think about this way. If you’re a writer, how many words did you string together to make your last book? How long did it take to write it? For me, The Clock Man was around 110,000 words written over the space of about a year or so. I used to say writing came easily – and it kind of still does – but there was a lot of time spent choosing the right word, making sure the stories were as fresh and original as I could make them, and pondering how to get someone out of a fix I’d created for them. It took a lot of time and a lot of work. That’s not counting the months of editing time and folding in recommendations from my beta readers, and then editing it again.
So after all that time and all that effort, am I going to simplify the whole thing as “some famous thing meets some other famous thing”?
Well, maybe “a fifth of bourbon meets your blood stream”. That might be an apt x meets y descriptor, but anything else would be doing a disservice to my own work.
See, here’s the problem with x meets y. Not only are you saying your work is derivative of something else, but you’re relying on someone else’s preconceived notions of what those other things are. Communication Theory refers to this as “The Triangle of Meaning”. The general gist of the triangle of meaning stems from the fact that words have inherent meanings and interpreted meanings based on experience. If I say, “Cat” you might think “purring furball” because that’s your experience with cats. Someone else might remember that scratch that got infected. You have zero control over someone else’s experiences and, therefore, zero control over their interpreted meanings of your words.
For instance, let’s say you’ve got a superhero story set in the early 1900s. Cool. That could be interesting. Tell me your story is Daredevil meets Downton Abbey and I might think, “Okay, that might be cool.” At least now I would, because I’ve watched Charlie Cox playing Daredevil recently. Before that I would associate Daredevil with the Ben Affleck movie. Then your cool turn-of-the-century superhero story is going to look like a giant bag of suck. (Apologies to Ben Affleck, it wasn’t his fault the movie was mess.)
BTW, I’ve only recently started reading the Daredevil comics, which is why I still tend to associate him with the shows.
At the very least, if you’re still absolutely insistent on saying your book is x meets y, at least have a little fun with it. Rather than just taking two inspirations and smashing them together to create something new, try twisting the old saying itself into something new. You’re a writer? You just finished writing the most epic novel ever? Be creative with your pitch and instead of comparing your book to an existing book or movie, play with the meme and make it your own.
- Henchmen is: A politician meets some angry bad-asses in a dark alley. A beat down ensues.
- Arise is: Bad guys meet worse guys. A beat down ensues.
- The Clock Man is: Unpredictable weapon meets unpredictable weapon. A lot of things ensue.
This way you can still say “my story is something meets something else” but it won’t look lazy and you won’t have to deal with someone else’s preconceived notions. For a more in-depth – and movie focused – take on x meets y, check out this blog post on why you shouldn’t do this.
The only real thing meeting some other thing I’d like to advocate is my books meeting readers. Everything else is just gravy.