I happened across this book at WorldCon. It’s not particularly notable except for one thing: it looks exactly like the books Jim Butcher writes. If you’re not familiar with Mr. Butcher, he’s the highly successful author of The Dresden Files, which is my favorite currently active book series. He also writes fantasy and steampunk, but Dresden is what I like of his stuff.
The reason why I’ve elected to slap up a picture of Mr. Buckner’s work is to talk about appropriation. Usually when we discuss this term, we’re referring to culture, as in an oppressing culture taking symbols, terms, and icons from an oppressed culture without regard for the context and meaning. In this case, it’s branding.
My initial reaction upon seeing this was surprise and guarded delight. I’d never heard of the ‘De Novo Syndrome’ book and thought I’d somehow missed an entry in a series I follow somewhat obsessively despite having come across it shortly after Storm Front, the first book, came out. The cover art seemed a little off, but it’s changed a few times over the life of the series.
Then I looked closer and got confused. Jim Buckner? The DMB Files? Huh?
This author, bless his heart, decided to mimic the fonts, style, and name of Mr. Butcher. Legally, there’s nothing Mr. Butcher can do about it. He doesn’t (and thankfully, can’t) hold a copyright on any of those things. His publisher can probably get…er…shirty about it, though Del Rey will have to take care not to turn Buckner into a beloved underdog if they do.
To me, an author who hasn’t really “made it” yet, it looks kind of crass. On the other hand, I almost admire his chutzpah. However, I chatted about the subject with a marketing person who works specifically in book publishing. Despite not working for Mr. Butcher, Del Rey, or anyone else who profits from the sales of the Dresden Files books, he was livid.
In his eyes, this amounts to laziness and rudeness. An artist was paid to come up with the style of Mr. Butcher’s covers, and to create branding, which imparts a kind of trust. The Buckner covers are false advertising of a sort, as someone like me could have not paid quite enough attention and snapped it up. The author undoubtedly knows this, as the blurb clearly indicates that fans of Mr. Butcher’s work will enjoy it. The reviews left so far refute this assertion.
The point? Originality and branding are both important, and so is paying attention. I might have given the author’s book a try had I not been turned off by the blatant visual ripoff. It led me to believe the story within would also be a blatant ripoff. Had I not paid close attention, I would have wound up supporting that’s author’s bait-and-switch play, which amounts to inviting others to do the same. Cheap knock-offs exist for a reason, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea in art.
Lee French has published several fantasy and superhero novels, and is a member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.