Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 20 comments
Quick question of the day: have you or will you use comparison books in your query letter?

What if it's extremely difficult to find a few apt comparisons? I think my work is a little bit like about six current YA authors, but not strongly like any one or two. My approach and themes and plot are most similar to Susan Howatch, whose adult literary/mainstream crossover Starbridge series books were huge bestsellers in the early 1990s. But would most agents care or be the least bit excited by the prospect of someone writing Howatch-like stories for teens? Is this comparison too dated? Or does the fact of her enormous commercial success bolster my chances?

Would it be most wise to leave this part out of the query, since it could confuse rather than clarify?

Opinions?

20 comments:

  1. I'd use either YA comparisons, or none at all. It might come across as not knowing your genre if you put an adult writer.

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  2. I think you're on the right path. If you reference books that aren't popular now you might date yourself, and it's essential not to do that in a teen book query. I'm not a fan of comparisons in general, only because you don't know if that agent might hate the very books you're referencing and wouldn't want to represent them. Just my two cents :).

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  3. Good debate. I wonder about this, too. I go back and forth. Look forward to hear what everyone says. :)

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  4. I don't think I will put comparisons in my letter, but I will query the agents of authors I think are similar to me - although it is so hard to know 'who' I am like!

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  5. I wouldn't make any comparisons if I were you unless the agent states that this is a part of their criteria. :o)

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  6. That’s a good question. After reading the comments here too I think I’m leaning for not using comparisons.

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  7. Personally, I chose not to compare my book to anything else. My query was already a little on the long side, and there really wasn't a good place to squeeze it in so it was just easier to leave it out. And my query had a 50% request rate, so do with that what you will. :)

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  8. That's a tough one. Most of us think of our work as our own, not like someone else's. I tried to come up with a couple and did but wasn't sure about it. I would definitely not use authors from other genres.

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  9. A couple of times, I've heard advice to compare books. But they're not supposed to be books that are too big (Harry Potter) or too obscure. And you're still explain how your book stands out. I've decided to drop it from my queries. When blogs like Chuck Sambuchino's post query letter that landed agents, I've never seen book comparisons.

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  10. It could help to say you book would appeal to readers of such and such a book, just to give it context.

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  11. I do not use comparisons in my query. But, when I went to a writer's conference, I attended a session on face to face pitches by Kim Lionetti from Bookends. And she said to know what author your work is similar to. And when I sat with her for my pitch session, she sure did ask me. So glad I had actually given it some thought. Would felt real dumb if I didn't have an answer!

    So...I think it's good to know who you compare to...but it might not be necessary to say it in the query. Your best bet is to read each agent's submission guidelines and see what they want in the query.

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  12. Nope I won't. I'm advertising my own book as something fantastic and new and i don't want it compared to an already existing book.

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  13. Honestly, I don't really plan on comparing, but I'm so far being ready to query that it is a little early for me to say I've formed a solid yes or no opinion on the matter.

    Sorry I haven't commented on your blog for so long! I've missed you. For some reason, I had 11 unread Laurel-items in my reader. I always feel like I want to savor your juicy posts -- read them when I have peace and quiet and uninterrupted time. (That NEVER happens, and the baby isn't even here yet!!) I'll be catching up soon. Look for some comments on week-old posts. :)

    Anywaddle, happy summer!

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  14. I'm leery of comparing as well. I think it's risky - but can have very high pay offs if it works. I know a few author friends who've used them successfully in queries, but I still think I'm skipping it. :)

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  15. Like others, I'm a bit wary of comparing. I mention my favorite author(s) represented by the agent if my works are similar to theirs, but aside from those agents, I don't think I'll mention it.

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  16. Just to add -- my critique group uses comp books in queries, and we generally get positive feedback about agents regarding the comp books (during conference critiques and stuff). It shows you know the market (as long as you're not comparing to harry potter and twilight), and I had one agent get really excited about my query because she loved the comp titles. I don't think it hurts you that much not to have it, but it's a plus if it works.

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  17. I am interested in the comments and this debate because I've gone back and forth on this so many times. I decided the only books I would compare mine to are only books that an agent represents that deal with similar themes. It scares me to compare it to a book an agent might severely dislike. You know for sure that they love the books they rep.

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  18. Livia: I've seen some comparisons along the lines of "[YA author] meets [adult author] with a touch of [descriptor]" and thought a pitch like that could be effective. Not sure I'd attempt it at this stage though. Maybe with an agent's help I could create such a pitch for publishers.

    JEM: Yes, the possibility of aligning one's self with books an agent hates is the risk--but isn't that kind of the point? If the agent hates work like yours, she isn't the agent for you.

    Janet: it looks like the nays have it so far in this debate.

    Jayne: great stragegy. I'm starting to compile and updated lists of new agents to query and have found some potentials in "acknowlegement" sections of books with similar style or themes.

    AA: the trick is the ones who want you to have worked out a marketing plan already.

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  19. Southpaw: Looks that way. The fact this has been giving me such a headache for over a year indicates that it's like a bad plot twist that needs to be cut from a novel. :-)

    Shannon: That's very, very helpful to know. Thank you!

    Tricia: The few I've come up with I have no confidence in either--cherry picking voice, style, theme, approach would only confuse. Thanks for the feedback on the adult comparison. I'd never tried it in a query, so it was helpful to hear if my gut feeling was right.

    Theresa: the practice does seem to be falling out of fashion, I think.

    Elle: I'd tried that last year and got a lot of rejections, thus I'm reconsidering just how helpful it really is.

    Stephanie: great point--do the reasearch even if you use it later marketing efforts rather than the query itself. Now I feel better for having invested so much time trying to find apt comparisons.

    Nicole: I always fear that my perception that I've written something excitingly new will be met by "There is nothing new under the sun" cynicism or accusations that I'm ignorant of the market.

    Amber: Glad you came by! I haven't been the most interactive blogger the past month and a half--getting ready for submission has been rather all-consuming.

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  20. Jemi: That's my feeling--it can be effective IF you have really apt comparisons and fit well into an existing market. If you're a pioneer, comparisons don't help.

    Sandy: good point--comparing to the agent's clients in a custom query.

    Livia: My inability to find solid comparisons would work against me, if what I'm trying to prove is how well I know the market. Seriously, I've searched for three years and still haven't found a solid match.

    Melissa: I've found some good comparisons on separate elements--the topic (grief), the theme (judgement Vs. understanding), the voice (sassy), the mix of humor and lyricism, the plot, the approach (positive portrayal of faith). Here are some of the disparate authors I am a little like: Sarah Dessen, Caroline Cooney, Megan McCafferty, Jandy Nelson, Sara Zarr, Madeleine L'Engel, Susan Howatch.

    I think most agents would just say "yikes!" to such a complex list!

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