Monday, June 8, 2009

I Want to be a Paperback Writer

Every now and then, when I'm roaming the aisles of a Borders or a Barnes & Noble, I come across one of those promotional aisles for new fiction. They're usually prominently displayed, and are arranged in a style of "if you liked X, then you'll love Y!" Most recently, these shelves have been stocked with various Twilight ripoffs, like Chosen: A House of Night Novel:

Chosen: A House of Night Novel (House of Night Novels)

Or Frostbite: A Vampire Academy Novel:

book cover of  Frostbite   (Vampire Academy, book 2) by Richelle Mead

These kind of generic brand drugs are sure to be able to ride the coattails of the Twilight books just enough to sell oh-so-many copies as to be profitable. This kind of false branding is as old as advertising itself*, but it's only been since the Harry Potter books that I began to notice it in publishing. But this model of book-making isn't nearly as exciting as what I like to call the "Frankenstein" method of book writing. For example, I just now came across an internet ad for the new bestseller, The Last Patriot, by Brad Thor.

The Last Patriot
On its product description, The Last Patriot describes itself as follows:

In a pulse-pounding, adrenaline-charged tour de force, Navy SEAL turned covert Homeland Security operative Scot Harvath must race to locate an ancient secret that has the power to stop militant Islam dead in its tracks.

This is awesome. It's like writing your best-seller along the lines of Mad Libs. It's like cobbling together your own book out of the used parts of a John Grisham novel, The Da Vinci Code, and the inside of Glenn Beck's mind.**

I mean, just try it yourself:

In a (adjective), (adjective) (noun), (profession) turned (adjective) (profession) (name) must race to (verb) an ancient (noun) that has the (noun) to (verb) (adjective) (noun) in its (plural noun).

Try this:

In an intelligent, lucid thriller, water polo player turned famed symbiologist Robert Langdon must race to break an ancient code that has the potential to ensnare the corrupt Catholic Church in its lies.


In a brilliant, breathtaking conclusion, orphan turned heroic wizard Harry Potter must race to recover an ancient artifact that has the ability to defeat the evil Death-Eaters in their final conflict.


In a sexy, swashbuckling adventure, ne'er-do-well turned captain Edward Reynolds must race to recover an ancient rod that has the potency to endow the bloodthirsty pirate Stagnetti with the largest saber in the Caribbean.

See? It works for everything.

* And not just in advertising products. In 2004, pro-Russian factions in Ukraine ran Viktor Yanukovych in the Presidential election, partly because his pro-West opponent was named Viktor Yushchenko. The politicians were hoping that the similarity of the two candidates names would confuse voters, and cause many of them to mistakenly vote for Yanukovych instead of Yushchenko.

** I'm not kidding, either. Here is the transcript of an interview between Beck and Thor. (Which, if it had been a conversation between the 90's alternative rocker and the ancient Norse god of thunder, would have been awesome.)

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