Monday, May 24, 2010

James and the Giant Zombie

by Jim
Sometimes a book will become a bestseller and we suddenly see dozens of knock-off queries. There were about two years when everyone said they wrote the next Da Vinci Code. The thing is, you can’t tell if they were working on something that ultimately felt comparable to the original title or whether they’re peddling a quickie novel they pounded out to fit what they perceive as a market need. Ultimately, it doesn’t really make a difference as long as the quality is there. But, well…it usually isn’t.

There’s another rash of query-alikes happening right now, but this time, I KNOW they’re just ripping off a formula. And for some folks, it’s working.

First came Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Then Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. And since then, dozens of similar literary mash-ups have been acquired and hundreds have been written (or at least queried).

My question to you: isn’t this a gimmick that gets old after the first time? Even the author of the first book moved onto something different right away: Abraham Lincon, Vampire Hunter. Now THERE is an idea….

26 comments:

  1. I don't personally like it, but does it sell?

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  2. What I hate is the opposite, you work on something and right when you're ready to pitch it, something else is hot that totally makes you look like the cheesiest idiot ever. I was working on this Caveman book for years, it was hilarious, very old-school versus new-school, and literally the week I was ready, that dumb-a** ad with the Geico mascot got picked up for a TV show and was all over the news.

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  3. Definitely a gimmick that I don't appreciate.

    I loved "Hark, a vagrant"'s take on this trend:

    http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=263

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  4. Anyone interested in my manuscript, "Wuthering Heights with Ghosts"?

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  5. @Gil... er, didn't the original come with ghosts?

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  6. I'm not sure Fawn. I watched the first 25 minutes of a BBC version- I don't remember any ghosts.

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  7. I'm with most of the others. I'm not a fan of the trend.

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  8. At first I thought it was a great idea to have zombies roaming across Hertfordshire. In the end, it appeared to me as merely a shallow addition to the text; furthermore, it was bothersome at times... I was lead to believe - by the front cover!!!- that the book implied a clever appropriation of the original but, in all honesty, even Mrs. Bennet's vomiting failed to produce the faintest chuckle. I don't think that re-interpretation is wrong in principle, it's just that P&P&Z felt poorly executed.

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  9. I picked up "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" at the book store, thinking, "Clever," read the first page and put it back on the shelf, thinking, "Clever, but I don't want to read an entire book that basically takes Austen's words and throws some zombie references into it."

    However.

    *nerd alert*
    A few weeks ago, I attended Free Comic Book day at my local comic book store. One of the free comic books offered contained the first few pages of the graphic novel version of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." I found that telling of the story to be pretty funny, to the point that I would perhaps buy the graphic novel version.

    I'm not a fan of this fad as a whole. But I think the idea is clever and maybe it needs to be presented in a medium that is different than the original. I don't want to read Jane Eyre, Alien Hunter. But maybe if it was presented in the correct medium, it could work, which, at least in the case of PPZ, is a graphic novel.

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  10. I was thinking the same thing when I was at Borders. The first was clever. The rest are like movie sequels- never as good as the first and lacking substance.

    blech.

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  11. I'm going for something completely new! Expect my query for Pride of the Living Prejudices. If that doesn’t interest you, I also have a story about magic school where all of the students are vampire superheroes forced to compete in a starvation competition! I call it Vampy New Moon and the Hunger Competition of Fire (with a vengeance). Also, there are dragons and the vampires are always looking at their lack of a reflection in broken mirrors, which serve as a metaphor for their shattered perspective. Tempting, yes?

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  12. I agree. I loved PP&Z but then kind of got tired of hearing about all the new book that were doing similar things. (Little Women and Werewolves...really?!) I think you're always going to have coat trailers though like Twilight did with all the teen angst ridden vampire shows/books now.

    Oh and I would totally read that book about the vampire superheros! I'll be looking for your query middle grade ninja! :)

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  13. I agree with those saying PPZ was a bit clever, but that the trend seems to be getting ridiculous (although my roommate enjoyed Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters quite a lot). However, I have been enjoying Gail Carriger's books, which are Victorian comedies of manners with supernatural creatures thrown in, but original stories instead of appropriations. I feel there's more room for innovation there.

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  14. I got about halfway through one of them and was already sick of the trend.

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  15. I read P&P&Z and enjoyed it, but I did tire of the gimmick after a while. Once I'd read that book, I didn't feel the slightest interest in reading another mash-up like it.

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  16. Does Abraham Lincoln; Vampire Hunter fit in that genre? I had to read it for a bookclub and I was in the minority. Everyone else loved it and I can't figure out why. The history part was interesting, but I could have found that in a well-written biography. The story itself was boring and I hated the style of writing. It's just not my cup of tea, I guess.

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  17. bitter and twisted24/5/10 10:12 PM

    O-kay the first of these novels was fresh and found a market and I can understand 2 or 3 more making sales, but after that?

    So why all of a sudden dozens of acquisitions? Why would agents look to promote a book that is so alike to a book already written? In doing this at the expense of ignoring a manuscript that has an original concept the book buying public are being treated like they are not capable of making a choice. Offering a book just like the last book you read will force the choice of not buying a book.... another nail in the industry's coffin.

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  18. Please oh please just tell me nobody's done Anne of Transylvania Gables yet. Gilbert Blythe as vampire would just about be the end of me.

    Where did I put my nitro glycerine?

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  19. When I heard of the first book, I rolled my eyes and vowed not to read it because it just didn't appeal to me. I like the classics to be just what they were, IMHO. :-D

    I don't use gimmicks in my own writing and I hope my work comes across as such. My WIP has angels and now I see loads of books about angels. **head desk** But I will still rewrite/revise/edit/polish my own work and hope that it stands out.

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  20. "So why all of a sudden dozens of acquisitions?"

    Because the first sold a million copies (literally), and most small fantasy and humor imprints are happy with sales of, say, five thousand, particularly when they don't have to write a whole new book, just slip in a few new bits.

    Or, to put it another way, if everyone who bought P&P&Z just bought *one* of the follow ups, the market could sustain two hundred titles.

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  21. P&P&Z was clever, but that's where it ended for me. I was ruined because I'm a big fan of both Jane Austen and zombies. I really didn't like how the bits of Elizabeth that I especially liked got changed into ninja/samurai/martial artist stuff. I couldn't even finish this book, so the other ones just seem silly.

    That said, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter seems interesting. . . mostly because it isn't bastardizing a book I already know and love.

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  22. bitter and twisted25/5/10 9:21 PM

    Good explanation anon, but you miss the point.
    Lets say the market can take 10 of these titles selling better than 100,000 nice money for all involved. Now the other 190 titles that are going to "sustain" have just as much agent and publisher involvement in bringing them to the bookstore. So why not instead of all that effort promoting a work that is bordering on plagiarism, why don't agents and publisher use that energy to promote something more original that has its chance in the market of selling just as big as the book we were fist talking about.

    This way, if everyone who brought a copy of the million-seller brought another similar they would sell in the hundreds of thousands. The demand by those who crave this sort of thing would be met and meanwhile a lot more titles would be on offer and some of the book-buying public who don't buy books any more might return to the bookstore. These non-book-buyers wont return if their choice of something to read is take your pick of any of the 200 of lady with her hair in a bun give a flesh eater a blow job to see how he likes having his flesh eaten.

    If all the butchers in the city sold only pork; would there be more or less people eating meat?

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  23. Who wants to read my query for Mansford Park & Man-Eating Plants?

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  24. I actually like and appreciate the trend. I read P&P&Z and enjoyed it, and once I get some of my more pressing reads out of the way, I'm looking forward to S&S&SM. I'd agree that there does seem to be a bit of excess (2 different adaptations of Little Women?) but, honestly, if it's done well, what's the harm? And if you don't like it, don't pick it up.

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  25. "If all the butchers in the city sold only pork; would there be more or less people eating meat?"

    OK ... we're not there. There are plenty of other books being published, too.

    A book with a very simple hook that's easy to copy sold very well. Not all the imitators will. But publishers, particularly the smaller ones, are going to try to surf the wave ... as always.

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  26. bitter and twisted26/5/10 5:07 PM

    Anon, your right, we're not there.... yet.

    Your right again, they will all try to surf the wave, but when there are so many on one wave collision is inevitable. I just find it sad that they don't realise there is another wave coming along and another one after that and if they are the first one on the new wave the ride will be so much more fulfilling.

    Surly taking a gamble on something new is not that much more of a risk than punting on something for which the market has already peaked.

    As for plenty of other books - sure, next to the 200 titles of girl with her hair in a bun ther are 200 titles space adventure trying to pretend they are science-fiction and next to that 200 titles of mystery that are in reality Sherlock Homes rehashed and next to that... you know how it goes.

    And meanwhile there are people walking past the bookstore who used to step inside.

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