Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Using Comparable Authors In Queries

A lot of authors take this approach. Some ignore it. So the question today is, "Should an author include comparable titles in a query letter." Well, like everything in this business, it all depends and there isn't one fixed rule.

Let's first understand the concept. In essence, when you describe your book to an editor or agent, you compare it (like, no duh, that's what the word means) to other authors. You would some how describe though this comparison how your voice, style or structure is the same. The idea is simple. This comparison should give the editor or agent a sense of the voice you are using before reading the story.

But here is where things fall apart.

First of all, we see, far too often, people just telling us their story can be compared to another author but not telling us why or how. It really seems that authors forget that rule they live by in their stories of "show and don't just tell." If you tell me your story is similar to Tolkien then explain why. Is it how you layer in mythology into your story? Is it the use of incorporating legend and classical styles of storytelling into your narrative. Be specific.

Secondly, many people try to make too many comparisons, or even worse, making comparisons to stories that aren't even similar. Telling me your story is similar to Tolkien and Fanny Flagg is not going to work. These are two completely different styles. And no, you cannot somehow try to say you are doing this in such a way that no one else has. Pick one and stick to it.

Next, I see people making comparisons to authors the editors and agents are already working with. While you might see this as a way of "kissing up" it just sets up the answer, "Sorry, but I already have someone writing this way, why do I need a second?" You also have to somehow show that you are, in a way, better than this person who the editor or agent has already devoted time to. I think a good example of this are the authors who have made comparisons to my two oldest clients, Ann Lethbridge and Bronwyn Scott. Sorry, but you have to show me you write better than they do, and that is going to be tough.

Finally, I see people make comparisons to stories only the obscure reader would tap into. I liken this to a lot of modern day poets who believe using references to 3rd century Mongolian Lesbian Literature (I am not sure if that even exists but you get the idea) is going to make an impact on the reader. If we have not read it, those references are a complete waste of word space.

So, should you make the comparison? Only if you can and only if it works. If there aren't any stories or you can't think of those comparisons, then don't worry about it. Use those words to further sell us on the high concept of your story or the plot. Should you decide to make those comparisons, make them meaningful. And please, don't forget to explain why!

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