When I sold my first novel, one of the first things I was asked by my editor and Berkley’s editor-in-chief (at that time) was: which authors did I most admire? Which books did I think my book was most like?
That was easy. I was a big fan of Sidney Sheldon. I’d learned a great deal from reading his novels and was quick to say so. I didn’t realize I’d opened my own personal Pandora’s Box. The marketing chimps took that and ran with it–to the extreme. I was launched as an author of glitzy romances with knock-off Sheldon titles that made no sense whatsoever, when what I had meant was that I wanted to write fast-paced thrillers with an international backdrop. The glamorous backdrops in my first two novels simply suited the plots–it had never been my intention to always look for glamorous settings. But it seemed I’d painted myself into a corner as far as the marketing department was concerned.
I’m still trying to figure out those nonsensical titles. Sheldon’s came from the epigraphs in his novels, but mine? I have no idea. A Time for Legends? I guess that was taken from The Sands of Time. Angels at Midnight? The Other Side of Midnight and Rage of Angels. Dance of the Gods? Windmills of the Gods, of course!
No author who wants a long-term career wants to be a copycat of someone else. Trying to be the next Stephen King, the next Dan Brown, the next J.K. Rowling, or the next anybody never ends well.
I was thinking of this the other day. Collin and I were watching Iron Man 2. Tony Stark found himself butting heads at a Senate hearing with a longtime rival, dorky Justin Hammer. Hammer is a Stark wannabe, but he never quite makes the grade. Why? Instead of being himself, drawing on his own strengths and abilities, he’s constantly trying to be something he’s not: Tony. He fails because he lacks Tony’s genius, his charm, his wit.
Even when he shows up at the Stark Expo with a whole platoon of battle drones, doing a little dance onstage onstage–again, in an attempt to emulate Tony–Justin Hammer just ends up looking foolish. He’s trying too hard to be something he’s not, and it shows.
It never works….