Monday, September 2, 2019

Query Letters and Comps

One common strategy used in a query letter is adding comparable titles. The idea is pretty simple. Since this is the first time the editor or agent has ever heard of you or your novel, you compare it to a known book or author on the market now to give them a sense of the book. Unfortunately, too many authors simply screw this step up.

Let's take a quick step back here and talk about "comps" in the real estate market. If you are like us, we have always hated this. Whenever we talk to the banks about refinancing, or we have looked to potentially sell, the realtors or banks "pull up comps" theoretically from homes in our area. They have either found homes 3 miles away, or homes that are no were closed to what our home is.

And that is the first problem authors have. They compare their book or their voice to something that their story is no where close to.

Often, writers will make comparisons to authors and books they wish to be like or to voices they really "think" their story sounds like. In reality, they might have one character or one scene, or even one or two lines that sound familiar, and then they try to build it even further. Look, you might have a snarky detective, but that does not make your novel similar to Janet Evanovich. There is much more to it.

The other issue is that writers often try to compare their voice to several authors. Again, they run into a huge issue when the two or three authors they have selected are vastly different. "My book can be compared to a Nora Roberts and J.K. Rowling..." Really?

In the case of these two prior problems, this does several things to their query letter. First, it shows the reader you really lack the skills to dissect and study other authors. If you can't figure out what makes the books from these other authors tick, then how do you know what makes your story work?

The second issue is that comparing your book to a lot of authors in an attempt to meet the needs of everyone just muddles things up. It's like serving a Thanksgiving dinner for the extended family and trying to make sure EVERYONE is happy. It never works and becomes that epic failure. The only positive is that it is likely you will never be put in charge of the dinner again.

So let's move on to another mistake authors make is the selection of authors for the comps. Picking authors that no one has ever heard of is not going to help. Sure, you and your fellow book club readers might read obscure Himalayan Culinary Women's Fiction Paranormal, but the odds are, the editors and agents who are working on a specific genre and style are not into that. Your comp failed.

Finally, and this one is a writing craft problem, writers fail to tell us "HOW" your book compares. Remember the phrase, "Show Don't Tell?" This is it. You have to explain to us how and why your story is similar. What are the characteristics of your story that make it similar?

I guess I always like to remind authors, if they cannot come up with a comp, then don't use it. Leaving it out is at least not going to hurt you and your pitch. Adding it and screwing it up WILL hurt!

anet Evanovich

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