Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On Query Writing

There is a common trend in writing to state in the query letter both who your writing is similar to, as well as potential characters, books or movies that it might be a blend of. This is actually a great way to set the tone of the reading for the editor or agent and get us thinking in one particular direction. But there is an issue with this that, I am afraid many writers fail to miss.

The comparison must be true.

When Greyhaus first marketed Bronwyn Scott's PICKPOCKET COUNTESS to the editors, we found it best to describe the story as a female Robin Hood taking on the industrialization of Regency England. The idea works because Scott continues through the story really doing the same things that happened in the Robin Hood stories. No, this does not mean she lives in the woods, wears green tights and so forth. It was the theme of the book that continue right on through.

But here is where many authors make a mistake. Sometime during the writing and critique process, someone told them that a particular scene they had was very similar to, Author X and Y. With that comment, the author somehow built up the entire story in his or her head of being similar to that author, when in reality it isn't.

Right now I have seen a rash of writers submitting YA's to me telling me the story is very similar to Harry Potter and Twilight. First off, these are two VERY different stories so finding a blend between the two may be really tough. Honestly, seeing something like that might be interesting, but please, don't start submitting (or writing stories) that you believe fit this. Please listen to what I have to say here. With these authors, they have teenage characters, a little magic and/or vampires, and a little love. That is not a similar theme.

What we want to see in an author is setting that authentic voice in our head so that when we start reading, we can say, "yes, I see what you mean" followed up by, "and yes, you did this through the entire book."

Sometimes a great strategy would be to use technique and voice to make that comparison. For example, we marketed Michele Young's NO REGRETS as a regency that has the depth of a Madeline Hunter or Jo Beverley by not just looking at characters but providing layers of secondary characters and plot to make the read three dimensional. In this case, we are not saying we use the same themes, but we use the same strategies.

Finally, when you make the comparisons, please make sure that you don't slam the author you are comparing your writing to. I did have a writer once, right after Twilight came out, tell me that her writing was similar, but so much more better than the Twilight. REALLY? Watch the ego there.

O.K. Have fun writing this week.



  1. When I write, I 'hear' and 'visualise' characters created by, Catherine Cookson or Barbara Erskine. I could never say my book is like any of theirs, but that is the 'feel', I get when writing.

    I have read a lot about comparisons in a query letter. I assume it is O.K. if you don't include one.

    Informative post, thanks Scott.

  2. Glynis,

    It is certainly fine to not include a comparison in a query. Remember that when we discuss elements of a query, we aren't saying to use everything. What works for one person may not work for someone else.

  3. Ah, thanks Scott, your reply has helped.