This year, my “live event” book selling has been scaled back from last year. But I did want to point out something I see at every book fair, convention and author event. I call it “Special Snowflake Syndrome” and it really frustrates me, because I see it costing good writers potential sales.
Indie and small press authors often get into writing and publishing to tell the stories they want to read, but can’t find. Then they define their book’s value by how different it is from everything else. What they don’t realize is, readers don’t always value originality that much.
Writers can get so fixated on what’s unique about their book, they don’t realize their pitch isn’t connecting. They are so proud of their “completely different from anything you’ve ever seen” story, they miss the look of polite disinterest on the buyer’s face.
People may complain about predictable, cliched commercial fiction. They may gush over a ground-breaking movie or book. But rarely do you get the luxury of selling on originality as a non-famous, non-bestselling author.
People like the familiar. They like the sure bet, or at least want to hedge their bets. As a small press or indie author, you are an unknown quantity. You also have to overcome their skepticism about why your books haven’t been published commercially.
Frustration with cookie-cutter commercial publishing might be why you chose a different publishing path. But you will have better luck if you start by comparing your work with something they already know.
One approach is the “Hollywood/elevator pitch.” This is where you take a familiar author, book, TV show or movie and use it as a point of reference. “It’s Sharknado meets Little Women in ancient Rome!”
Okay, that example is kind of ridiculous. But it does give a reader some idea of the tone (Sharknado = B-movie, satire, farce), the plot (Little Women = female coming of age story) and the setting (ummm… ancient Rome). Or maybe Sharknado is the plot (man against nature) and Little Woman is the tone (family drama). Either way, if any of those piques their interest, then you have an opening to explain what’s different, special and unique about your story.
The reason you wrote the book may or may not be the reason someone else wants to read it. At a sales event, always be ready to share which well-known books, movies or other media have elements in common with your work. Or to share which books, movies and media inspired it.
That doesn’t mean positioning your work as a knock-off. On the contrary, a lot of inspiration comes from wanting to fix the problems that kept you from enjoying a popular work. If you had those problems, other readers may have as well, and that can be a powerful hook.
For example, one reason my novel Mirrors & Magic is set at a turn-of-the-century circus is because I found the wildly popular The Night Circus a bit disappointing. While I loved the setting and descriptions, the meandering plot didn’t deliver the adventure the blurb promised. A look at the Goodreads reviews for The Night Circus tells me many other people had the same problem. This lets me know there’s an audience for a book that’s like The Night Circus, but with more action and a faster pace.
(This is another argument for why writers should be avid readers. But that’s probably a whole other post.)
The truth is, your book is a special snowflake, in the sense that only you could have written this particular story in this particular way. However, readers understand their own taste through what has succeeded and failed to hit the mark in the past. Using those known entities as signposts can help guide your book’s ideal audience to it.