Same Author, Different Books
Authorship has a way of affecting readers. Even if all we know is the author’s name and nothing more, the name matters.
Take one of my favourite authors, Jessica Martinez. I adored her first three contemporary books. They were stylistically straight to to the point and I liked her approach to characters and setting. Then she brought out a mystery novel. I absolutely want to read it but only because she wrote it. The synopsis alone wasn’t entirely convincing to me. In any case, I bought the Kindle edition of Kiss Kill Vanish and am curious if I’ll like it just as much as her other books.
Drawing Comparisons between Books
Then there are readers who are comparing A Court of Thorns and Roses with Throne of Glass. Both books were penned by Sarah J. Maas. Both are works of fantasy, though the former is targeted as NA while the latter as YA. I’ve only read ACOTAR, so I can’t say much about the comparisons that have been drawn between the two. But I’ve seen a couple of tweets about automatically comparing the MCs.
Personally, I’ve never had that sort of trouble with differentiating characters from the same authors. I find this problem applies more to same narrators for main characters in different audiobooks. Weirdly, it seemed some people wished for Feyre (from ACOTAR) to be more like Calaena (from ToG). I would probably only end up comparing if characters were too similar, and end up doubting an author’s ability to craft distinct characters.
Given these observations, I’ve been wondering, how much of an impact does authorship have on books? Are these experiences more widespread than I imagined or is this just a concentrated phenomenon?
On a positive note, through the author’s name we can easily find books in a particular genre or written in a certain style. That’s a contributing factor when established authors use a pseudonym when they publish a different sort of book. They want to cut the ties to expectations that arise from selling a different kind of book under their established name. That shows the power of the name of an author.
A less favourable outcome is reduced enjoyment that comes from comparison. J.K. Rowling is a prime example. She took on the pseudonym Robert Galbraith because the fame and success of Harry Potter was too overwhelming to balance against any other additional books she writes.
Publishers Encourage Comparisons
Theoretically, each new book could be published under a different name. Marketing-wise, that wouldn’t be such an ideal solution. In fact, publishers seem to love comparing books all the time. Every other synopsis I read points to books from other authors along the lines of, “X meets Y in this exciting new book,” and, “Perfect for fans of Z”.
This phenomenon is especially true for debut authors’ books. Their clean slate is so shiny, perhaps publishers fear readers won’t pick up those books. The recognition factor is missing, so to help these books stand out, they print names of popular authors. When an author is established, then the name alone might be able to carry sales.
Comparing for Similarities & Differences
Since there’s such eagerness to compare new books to other popular ones, publishers surely wouldn’t want to pass up on the marketing opportunity the name of an author brings. Comparing John Green’s protagonists, they bear a lot of similarities yet his books regularly are on bestseller list. Does this mean readers don’t compare? Or do they compare and like all his books precisely because they like a particularly sort of main character that they can consistently find in his books?
At the same time, comparing books from one author also allows us to see the differences. Over time, authors hopefully mature and surpass their previous accomplishments. For instance, I read Vicious because V.E. Schwab wrote it. I saw her brilliance in The Archived and The Unbound. Thus, thought I might find it in Vicious too, although I hardly care for stories involving superheroes.
Knowing that their next book will be just as good or even better will motivate us to continue reading different books from the same author.
First, I’ve just come across your blog, so I’m wandering around reading different posts, and because you have so many interesting ones, I keep commenting on old posts. I hope that’s not obnoxious.
On to the point: In many cases I will pick up a book by an author I’v enjoyed because I figure this person knows their stuff. Even if they’re trying something new, I have faith in their ability to pull it off. This is true often enough that I will keep on doing this.
However, there are times when I’ve picked up a book by an author I’ve loved before and just–nope. A Casual Vacancy? Nope. Elizabeth George–my very favorite living mystery author–writing YA mysteries? Nope. Molly Gloss writing sci fi? Nope. Erin Bowman’s dystopian trilogy? Nope. The things all of these have in common is a radical departure from the genre I discovered them in. Which isn’t to say that genre changes are bad. Patrick Ness writes all sorts of stuff, and I love it all. Ursula le Guin can wow me in sci fi. historical fiction, poetry, short stories or essays. C. S. Lewis is the same (although then there’s the whole question of reading books as an adult that you loved as a kid and noticing all the questionable racism and sexism…). Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novels are wildly different from each other, but all so good.
If an author starts a different series, I do rather hope it won’t reflect their first one in terms of plot or characters. I do hope for the same spirit, the same sense of humor or macabre or heartache or wisdom or whatever other tone characterizes their previous work. Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins mysteries are bleaker than his Joe Sixsmith series, but both use the format of a mystery to explore racism in our society. Even within a series, some authors change things up in ways that are very satisfying. Margaret Whalen Turner’s Attolia series has first person and third person installments, and the first person voices are not the same from book to book. I love this!
I think authors for different series create a different set of expectation than if it was for different authors, and in the case of SJ Maas, it created for me this hyper-awareness of how certain elements were similar to that of Throne of Glass, such as the possible love triangle. And in the case of a bestselling author, I think people would be expecting something more or see the author write something different.
I think Leigh Bardugo is a great example, in the way that she stays in the world of Grisha, but Six of Crows is a radically different story from the Grisha trilogy. Cassandra Clare’s TMI and TID series are also a good example for me, because they both have two very different stories at their core despite being in the same universe. It’s fantastic to see authors get better and better with their craft.
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Cait @ Paper Fury says
I ask myself this ALL THE TIME and it’s a really good question because…gah. What is the answer?!?! I mean, I think John Green’s characters do all sound the same. But I like it? I know it’s a John Green book when I go to read it so there’s a sense of comfort knowing what I’m going to get and enjoying it!
But then sometimes it does feel like the author can’t write anything new?
And sometimes I compare author’s books and it really isn’t fair…because like it’s a different genre or whatnot. But how do you stop!? It’s like one needs to read a book without knowing who the author is sometimes. XD I compared Demon Road and Skulduggery Pleasant just automatically. SO YEAH. I think comparisons are part of readerish life, tbh. But I’m not sure it’s always a good thing…
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This is an interesting topic! I feel like we shouldn’t really compare. After all, all books are independently different in their own right. Characters and their personalities are meant to be different and not similar to that of the authors other book/s.
I think when publishers use comparison to market new books, it can be fairly misleading. I’ve definitely seen the negative misleading effects of it.
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Joséphine Simone says
On one hand, I agree with you that each book is different and therefore there isn’t an equal basis for comparison. On the other, when we pick our favourite books, they’re picked through comparison of what we thought was better. I think in the midst of comparison, we have to remember what you said — that characters are meant to be different.
And yes! I’ve had so much rage over misleading publisher-led comparisons in the past.
I definitely do compare and judge books by certain authors based on my opinion of their previous works, and Sarah J. Maas is a prime example. I have loved all of the Throne of Glass novels so far, and whilst I liked ACOTAR I did think ‘well it’s not as good as Throne of Glass’, whereas if I hadn’t known it was by the same author whilst reading it I probably would’t have compared it and would just have thought ‘that was a pretty good book’. I think comparing books with other books you’ve read by that author is inevitable, but it can effect your enjoyment of the book if your expectations are too high based on previous books. Or alternatively you could end up thinking ‘wow, their books just get better and better!’, so it could go either way.
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Joséphine Simone says
In the case of ACOTAR, it sounds like it’s a good thing I’m not letting my hatred of the book stop me from picking up ToG. Heh. I had so many issues with that book but I don’t expect those to carry over to ToG, even if Sarah J. Maas wrote both.
And yes, that wow factor when an author’s books get better and better are worth comparing for. Though I do get sad when my expectations are shattered because an author doesn’t deliver as well as before.