The Author As Adjective

Many book jackets, recommendations sites, and other prose advertising iterations, include a variation of proof by association: for fans of…, the next…, if you loved X then…. I have issues with this, both as an author and as a reader. Books have more than one quality, as a minimum they have style and content.

With two books out, I have spent a not insignificant amount of time compiling requests for book reviews and site listings. A common question is a variation on “Fans of which authors will like your book?” Which is a question I have spent months mulling without a solid answer.

In an attempt to gain insight, this morning I put An Unquiet Calm (collection) through I Write Like. And insight I received, although not necessarily that which I sought. The results were:

  1. Thieves in the Night: Cory Doctorow

  2. Washed Clean: JK Rowling

  3. Some Secrets: Chuck Palahniuk

  4. Blossom: George Orwell

  5. An Unquiet Calm (story): Gertrude Stein

Out of five stories there are no duplicate comparisons. So I write like a number of authors. And as it only provides the first result, there is no way of knowing whether any of the stories narrowly missed being assigned a different (potentially duplicate) author. Not immediately insightful.

However, the small print reveals a potential insight: the comparisons are based on “word choice and writing style.” Based on the assignment of Rowling to a story about a witch trial, I experimented with a review of Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery and received Dan Brown. So, word choice (in this case conspiracy-based words) has a high influence where the writing is not highly stylised.

Which seems to make the issue with using the algorithm clear: mention of specific words, use of mostly short or long sentences, and other measurable things, do not provide a full picture of a book. While I would be happy for someone to compare one of my works to Doctorow, people seeking more of his future-shocking, social-media-pervaded, neologism-ridden narratives would not find it in Thieves, set mostly in an agrarian religious community in the modern-day.

But the situation is made more complex by some authors being known for more for their style than their content: Gertrude Stein for example, is famous for use of reader-interpretation, repetition, and word play. Someone seeking more of what they enjoyed in her work might find it in the use of inference rather than revelation in An Unquiet Calm (story).

And Chuck Palahniuk? Some Secrets is about a barista, so could well have the like-people-really-speak style Palahniuk is known for; but was originally written for a romance compilation, so in no wise contains the visceral transgression of Fight Club or Guts.

So, having started with no real idea how to pick an adjectival author for An Unquiet Calm (collection), I am now wondering if it is possible. However much criticism some successful-selling authors might direct at every neophyte who cannot describe their work in terms of being loved by fans of X, the collection can be easily described as five stories that see the world in one of the ways I do; and poorly described in terms of a single author.

If I cannot find a single adjectival author for a collection written entirely by me, then you will be unsurprised my efforts for Fauxpocalypse (a collection specifically aimed at showing the different perspectives and styles of 11 different authors) has been less than successful.

If you are an author, how do you decide who your books are similar to? If you are a reader, do you look for a similar style or similar content?

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6 thoughts on “The Author As Adjective

    1. Not being the sort of reader who seeks authors out because of whom they are compared to, I have no idea if a publisher would get it more right than I.

      However, having someone else do it could have advantages, in both the slightly less involved perspective and not having to do it myself.

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        1. Depending on where you draw the line between connected to and not connected to writing I actually quite like most of the business: some of it takes effort, but I find it more emotionally rewarding when I have the finished product.

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  1. having time to kill this morning I anlayszed parts of my wip – one chapter came out Arthur Clarke and the other JD salenger. Good for a laugh

    As a writer I do not compare myself to other writers and as a reader yes if an author is similar to someone I like I would consider the book

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