Best Advice for Writers: be Anybody But Yourself

Thanks to Publetariat, I just came across the most revolting piece of “advice” I’ve had the displeasure to read. To be fair, if you’re a genre writer who hopes to be compared with well-known writers in your genre, this “advice” may be just what you need. If so, be happy. But for anyone who aspires to more than, however subtly or unsubtly, appealing to readers who simply want more of what is being churned out by the hundreds of thousands, it’s anathema. Yes, I’m that pissed off. Anathema.

The advice, on Duolit, boils down to these two simple rules: 1. The Unique Twist Algorithm. Choose “a well-known author with a similar writing style and genre. “take that author’s work and add a twist that describes why you are not only different, but *better* than that author…” Which leaves you with something like: I’m like Nicholas Sparks, but with more laughs and less tears. I’m like Stephanie Meyer, but with stronger female characters.

And 2. The Love Child Theorem. This one works for writers who mix genres and/or styles. Pick two more authors, each different from the other, but similar to you in some way. Put those two together and declare yourself their unique love child.

Figure out which of those two equations fits you best, and you have a way to describe yourself as an author if anyone asks.

Since humor doesn’t always come across well on the net, I wanted to think that post was meant to be funny or satirical, but the author’s replies to (approving) comments squashed that pretty quickly.

For any reader of this blog who doesn’t know what my position is on the importance of being yourself as an author, and the concept of writing “for the ages,” let this be your wake-up call.




15 thoughts on “Best Advice for Writers: be Anybody But Yourself

  1. Catana, I’m glad you chose to post this.

    I’ve also read that post, and yes, it’s deadly serious. I was left perplexed. What if I’m not like other writers? What if I have my own brain, my own style and am writing what I want to write? It doesn’t necessarily fit into a genre, but tough. That’s my work. I want it to be original, not the same story told by others.

    I do understand that they’re trying to help authors showcase their work. Myers fans might like someone’s book about vampires, for example. They’ll search for Myers work and up pops said authors novel. But it’s not good advice for anyone actually want to find their own author’s voice.

    1. In essence, they’re saying that your author’s voice should resemble the voice of someone that readers already know and like. A weak imitation of someone else. It reminds me of some pathetic blurbs I’ve seen, with the writer doing “if you like xxx and yyyy, you’ll love my book.”

    1. As trite as it is, the saying is still useful — To thine own self be true. Of course, it was said by a hypocrite, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less true.

  2. I suppose this advice might be useful to authors who were aiming to make money with as little trouble as possible. I suppose also there are readers who want to devour one cookie-cutter book after another in their genre. May those authors and readers find each other and leave some room for the rest of us!

    1. i just wish posts like that weren’t written as if that’s the right thing for everybody. One thing I’ve thought about, off and on, is that even though we’re competing with tons of cookie-cutter books, there isn’t nearly as much competition for truly original work. As a reader, I know it’s hard to find, but worth taking the trouble.

  3. After reading your commentary on that post I must say I honestly feel better about my own writing.
    I can’t write to be like other people. Sure, there are authors in the genre I write in that I absolutely love and would be proud to one day be a smidgen close to their level of awesomeness, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to revolve everything I ever write around their styles.

  4. Catana, I think Clodia hit the nail on the head: if you want to make a quick buck, this is what you do. I did it years ago with Louise Forster: We wrote a romance novel that won the Australia/New Zealand- wide Emma Darcy Award for Romance MS of the Year 2000. We did it for the money, which we both needed at the time. But it was just a project, not a piece of writing coming from the heart, that you hope might touch someone somewhere and even, perhaps, help them in some way. I think, in the long run, writers who write from the heart, hoping to create something beautiful/worthwhile will always end up happier than if they sell themselves for the dollar. So we’ll all go on doing what we’re doing. Maybe we’re on the way to oblivion, but we’re going OUR way. Good luck to us.

    1. Believe it or not, I actually admire someone who can sit down and write something that they have no personal interest in. It must take incredible self-discipline, even when there’s a desperate need for money. I’m not sure I’d even know how to get started, and I’d probably wind up starving.

  5. So glad to be tracking acerbic and skeptical bloggers like you. I read the post you referenced and found my stomach roiling. Apart from anything else, it sounded so patronizing–as if authors and readers are all 5th graders (4th? 1st? preschoolers?) who need to be given a formula because they can’t come up with an original thought about who they are.

    Okay, rant over. Taking a deep breath… I do understand where this comes from. As both a marketer and an author–and a miserable marketer of my own work–I know that good marketing is really hard. The comparison-plus formula (“like X only better”) is an old standby to help with positioning your product. BUT in my marketing world, your positioning statement is not your book cover blurb! It’s a starting point on which you build your message.

    I could go on and on, but I’ve said enough. Thanks for giving me a good “grrrrr” moment before bed.

  6. I get the benefits from a marketing standpoint—readers want an idea of whether or not your book is for them and there’s only so much a sample can do.

    Given the overall theme of this blog, I’ma pretend that is the only thing they were referring to. It helps me sleep better.

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