I'd like to share with you an experience from a few years back. I was having a drink with a few friends (does it still count as 'having a drink' when said drink is non-alcoholic? I think so. It's more about the situation, and anyway, most of them were drinking). This was, as it happens, also the evening that happened to spark a whole clutch of zombie soft furnishing stories for me, so those who remember it will know that it really was a while ago.
I happened to mention to one of my friends that I quite liked the work of Tom Holt. To this, she replied that she didn't really see the point of reading him because Terry Pratchett was out there. This friend was not, I should point out, some kind of weirdo. She was certainly an avid reader. She just didn't see the point in reading more than one comic fantasy author.
It's a point that has stuck with me, because I have heard stories of exactly the same conversation occurring with publishers, but what interests me here is the either/or nature of the reasoning. Is there something about books, or about the genre, that suggests reading one author means not reading another? Is it something unique to the genre, or has anyone else come across instances of it elsewhere?
Or is it simply that some authors occupy such a central place in their genres that everyone else comes off to potential readers as merely a copyist?
It's an intriguing thought, particularly for someone who is going to be published in that genre come January (there are no giant turtles in my work, but hopefully you will forgive me that). I'd guess though that it's also a relevant thought for plenty of other people out there. After all, we all need to provide people with a way to understand that they should read our stuff as well as the most well known person in our field (it's at this point that I'd like to suggest that the way Tom Holt switched from those almost Pratchettesque front covers to strange minimalist ones may have played a role for him. It's not that they were ever that similar in terms of writing).
Or perhaps we should be asking ourselves a different question: how do we become that central figure? Hmm... in my case it might involve locking a number of other authors in cupboards somewhere. Just excuse me for a moment, would you?