Sunday, February 14, 2010

More on comparisons

I've ranted at length about the dangers of comparing your books to others.

Here's a new reason to be wary. A colleague of mine sent me this exasperated email about a querier who used comp titles:

He can't have read any of the specific books, two of the authors hadn't been published yet and one of the books will have a different title when it IS eventually published. And I may be the ONLY thing those books have in common.

Notice the different title reference?

If you use Publisher's Marketplace, or even Amazon, to cull titles for comparison, be aware titles change, and sometimes they change AFTER they're on Amazon or BN.com or other lists.

You don't need a comparison, but if you just can't resist, use books you've read. ***

There are all sorts of pitfalls for the unwary querier but this one can be avoided pretty easily. As such, when I see this mistake in a query, I draw conclusions you're not going to find flattering.



***an interesting and valuable question from the comments
Just a thought - but I'm on a couple of writer's forums and a lot of us have read each others arcs and manuscripts. I would have assumed that the querier had read the books before they were published - but I've also been accused of being a bit on the naive end of things.

Would you say it's bad form to compare your book to pre-published books whether you've read them or not b/c it just looks bad?

If you're using unpublished books as a comparison, say how you came to read them. And you might mention you also know they are not published yet.

12 comments:

Amy Sue Nathan said...

I only add comparisons to my query when an agent's submission guidelines specifically asks for that -- and some do. I always add how the books are similar, not just titles or authors.

I prefer to leave it out, allowing the query reader (not always the agent) to draw his or own conclusions.

CNU said...

It's like "Gone with the Wind"....
but in SPACE!


-C

Mystery Robin said...

Just a thought - but I'm on a couple of writer's forums and a lot of us have read each others arcs and manuscripts. I would have assumed that the querier had read the books before they were published - but I've also been accused of being a bit on the naive end of things.

Would you say it's bad form to compare your book to pre-published books whether you've read them or not b/c it just looks bad?

Margaret Yang said...

Using comp titles seems like you're trying too hard. It's as if you don't trust your query to be compelling in itself.

Furious D said...

My book is like the one you really loved the best of all time, only multiplied by 1,000!

How's that for a comparison that can't be beat! ;)

Travener said...

I use a comparison to a single author just to convey a sense about the kind of book mine is, but I decided some time ago that trying to tailor a query to a specific agent by comparing my book to one of his/her client's was a big waste of time. And, as you note, a potential minefield. I figure if the query's compelling enough the rest of it doesn't matter.

Stephanie McGee said...

Wow. It wouldn't even cross my mind to compare my work to something unpublished. I'm not sure how I feel about comps in a query, but I imagine that if selected perfectly well they can help push your query over the edge. But that's about a one in a gazillion chance of hitting a bull's-eye with comps if you're not a professional in the industry. (Just my opinion. Don't pull out the pitchforks.)

Christi Goddard said...

Mine is like Jurasic Park meets Candyland. Only there's no gumdrops and the giant lizards are really mutant leprechauns.

(Ignore me. I'm feeling silly.)

DebraLSchubert said...

I went to a writer's conf in NYC and we spent an inordinate amount of time trying to come up with two books to compare our work to. The group leader said it was "imperative" to accurately compare your book to others. I thought it was a bunch of bunk then, and I still do.

If there are books that naturally come to mind for you to genuinely compare your work to, fine. But I don't think writers should stress about it, and they certainly shouldn't feel they "must" have comparables. IMHO.

Jennifer said...

Furious D, you crack me up. :)

I'm with Travener on this. Not so much that I think personalization is a waste of time, but I'm always so afraid of making the wrong comparison, even in regards to not using something represented by said agent. I'm always concerned that my comparison won't make sense, or that I would use something too obscure and give the wrong idea, or use something too common and having the agent think I'm too full of myself.

That last part is particularly true considering, of the books I've read anyway, the one which most feels like my own in terms of tone and pacing, etc., happens to be a title by a famous author. I certainly don't want to actually *say* that, though, because I'm so afraid that if I did the agents in question would think I was trying to...well, do what everyone does when they say they'll be the next Harry Potter or Da Vinci Code.

I'm fighting enough of an uphill battle as it is with this thing. I figure I'm safer not personalizing at all than screwing it up.

mallard said...

To all querying authors: Feel free to compare your novel to my unwritten manuscript titled . For a modest fee I will then gladly write a book similar to yours, only slightly better.

Baley Petersen said...

Lol@Mallard!

I feel like it's far more conducive--if comparison is required--to use statements like "I am inspired by the artistic works of such-and-such author, and though my writing style is unique from theirs, there are some similar elements such as....."