Jan 07 2010
1. Because the editors and publisher’s assistants that pick manuscripts do. When you submit a novel manuscript or comic book script to a publisher, the person evaluating your submission has probably read hundreds of novels or comic books in your genre and rejected thousands more. Being familiar with many works by a variety of authors makes it somewhat less likely that your writing will be unacceptably cliche.
2. The more sources you have, the less likely your book will feel like a ripoff. If you’re writing a fantasy book and half of the fantasy authors you’ve read are named Tolkien or Rowling, it will show. Everybody’s familiar with famous authors, so it’s easy to detect their influence on a work. In contrast, if you’re familiar with a wide variety of obscurer authors, your subconscious will steer you away from easily-identifiable knockoffs.
3. You’ll be more familiar with trends in the field. If you were a superhero author that had only read a few superhero stories, your protagonist would probably have some notable similarities to Superman (such as being rarely morally conflicted, having a list of superpowers as long as your arm, etc). But Superman and similar heroes don’t sell notably well today. Being familiar with current trends in your field makes it less likely for an editor to say something like “I would have loved to work with this forty years ago, but the market isn’t there today.”
4. You’ll be more familiar with what worked for authors in a position similar to yours. For example, let’s say you’re a superhero author deciding how large your cast should be. If the only superhero stories you were familiar with were Justice League and X-Men, you might try a cast of 7+ characters. But that would probably overwhelm your readers. It worked for Justice League because so many of the main characters are well-known that they hardly needed to be introduced to the audience. You don’t have that luxury. When you write your first work, all of the characters are completely unknown to your readers. For that reason, I’d recommend starting with a smaller cast (probably around 1-4 main heroes). If you’d like, you can introduce new ones as the series progresses.
5. Unless you’re familiar with the competition, you have no way of knowing what distinguishes your work. Publishers and agents may ask you to complete a “comparable works” section to your proposal describing why readers will select your work rather than the competition. Pop quiz time! Let’s pretend that you’re submitting your book or comic book right now. Complete the following sentence for three different competitors: “Readers will buy my story rather than [COMPETITOR] because of [REASON].” This needs to be second-nature for you because it will be painfully obvious whether you are familiar with your field or an amateur. For example, let’s say you were evaluating proposals for a book about how to write superhero stories. Which author sounds more competent?
- Author A: People will buy my superhero writing advice rather than The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics because mine is good.
- Author B: People will buy my superhero writing advice rather than The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics because even my table of contents is stylish. Instead of chapter titles like What are Comic Books? and A Full-Script Versus Plot-First, my chapters have titles like “It’s Time for You to Die,” He Explained: A Guide to Superpowered Dialogue and How to Write Titles that Will Turn Heads and Blow Minds.
Author A’s explanation is an opinion without any evidence. In contrast, Author B provides some evidence that his book really is more stylish than the competition. Author B also sounds more like he has a better understanding of his readers and the competition.