Mike Underwood is an author and markets for Angry Robot Books. He’s written a great insider post about publishing secrets. A lot of what he says make a great deal of sense and it isn’t as if we all didn’t know it. So it was interesting to see how it might apply to what I write.
Those of us writing preteen or upper MG books for readers who spill over into early teens know it’s the Cinderella of age groups when it comes to books for all sorts of reasons:
- Gatekeepers, not readers make the buying choices.
- It’s almost impossible to reach the target audience with any online presence.
- Paper and ink is still the weapon of choice and not ebooks.
Need I go on.
Mr Underwood has a lot of interesting stuff to say. He tells us that marketing is just buzz. It’s people talking about your book in as cool a way as possible. And in so doing, there is no point getting antsy. You have to have log lines.
“If you like Percy Jackson, then you might like mine.” Or, “It’s a story about the hunt for a mysterious artefact in a haunted house.”
It’s all about positioning and there is no point being shy about it, because you will end up selling your book to one person at a time, be it an agent, publisher, reader at a convention, or someone who’s asked a question vie your email. How does that work?
Underwood says this:
“Step one is to figure out where you book fits – what genre shelf should be its home? What books is it comparable to? Does it have a non-western fantasy setting like N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms? An intense anti-hero reminiscent of Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns? The pop-cultural self-awareness of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One? The heartwarming optimism of Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor? Combine the snarky dialogue of Jim Butcher with the world-building of Douglas Adams as with DC Farmer’s The 400Lb Gorilla
Every book is its own thing, but humans? We’re comparison monkeys (apes, yes, but monkeys sounds funnier), we put things in boxes and use comparisons to get a handle on things we don’t know directly. He’s anyone who comes along, makes a comparison and says nothing more. Yet, you’re more likely to get people invested if you call a book “Michael Crichton but with even better science” (Nexus by Ramez Naam) than “It’s a cool science fiction book with action and technology.”
The down side of all of this when it comes to preteen is that we’ve had a tsunami in the form of one JK Rowling and Harry Potter come in and sweep the mind of every reader with its magnificence. I was, and remain, in awe. But ever since, almost any book for the 9-14 age group is auto sorted by consumers into ‘Sounds like Harry Potter To Me (SLHPTM)’ if it contains any of the following.
If the protagonist is Male– SLHPTM
Haunted house— SLHPTM
If there is anything paranormal— SLHPTM
If there’s a child of 10 or 11 involved — SLHPTM.
Dead parent (s)— SLHPTM
Red hair — SLHPTM
Toad — SLHPTM
Old house — SLHPTM
It’s easy to see how this happens when something as culturally immense as the HP phenomenon happens.
For example, you want a group of 4 as your proactive gang and for balance, two males and two females. But the fourth only joins towards the end of the book—so we begin with 3 — SLHPTM.
You begin with one and stick with it–would it not have been the chosen one? Therefore SLHPTM
One of my Amazon reviewers said, ‘though he uses the Harry Potter Formula…” Crumbs, If only I knew what that was! Bottom line, there is no point trying to fight this. Forget the fact that there are no wizards or witches or wands or magic, HP is too iconic to try and hide from and fighting it is absolutely hopeless. Best embrace it and accept it is going to happen and see how you can make it help you.
So my own stuff, a five book series called the artefact quintet, SLHPTM? Yeah, sort of, except with no wizards or magic or boarding school or dragons. But aimed for that age group and involving kids. So if you like HP then, hell yeah. What I wouldn’t recommend is ‘The Obsidian pebble. JK Rowling, but without the magic’. That one fails on an awful lot of levels. So how about; ‘The Obsidian Pebble: a fantastical adventure sure to delight followers of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.’
Oh, and by the way, I didn’t say that, someone else did.
The Beast of Seabourne is the follow up to The Obsidian Pebble. SLHPTM–only different.
(You can read more of Underwood’s article HERE.)
Feel free to comment.