Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Query Question: but I *am* unique

I’ve completed my first book, a memoir, and did my homework prior to writing a book proposal. I’ve read many memoirs to get a feel for style, focusing on those that are popular. I’ve studied books, websites, and blogs about how to write a good book proposal. The market analysis and complementary and competing titles sections are giving me fits. Everything I’ve read says don’t ever say your story is unique, because it’s just not true. However, I’ve honestly not found another story like mine. I’m not bragging here. After months of research, I’ve found no other book about a woman who became one of the first female forest firefighters. Plenty of books by men about firefighting exist, however most are self-published. (That leads to my second question.)

My questions: Do I dare say my book is unique, or should I just focus on published memoirs and how mine differs? Also, should I mention complementary and competing titles that were self-published?


You're mistaking what agents mean by unique.  You may have been the first female forest fire fighter, but your memoir is "first female fill in the blank."

And you are assuredly not writing the ONLY book wherein a woman is the first of something.

Thus you will not now or EVER say you haven't found a story like yours because that only says to me you haven't read widely in your category and that is a HUGE Red Flag (one might say it's a hotspot.)


Don't focus on the firefighting aspect when you look for comps. Look for "first female" and you'll have a better list.

As for what books to choose from for comparable titles:

1. Front list or within a year of publication is best. Thus, you want books pubbed in 2013 and 2014.

2. Do not use self-pubbed books unless they sold so well that editors will be impressed. Most self-pubbed books didn't.  How to tell? Well, Amazon rankings are helpful. Number of reviews on Amazon are a good indicator. When in doubt, leave it out.

3. You'll want to use books that got review attention. Good review attention is best, but BAD reviews offer a place to show why you are better/faster/stronger/hotter.   Books that have no reviews or only blurbs from authors are less useful as comps.

4. If there is a classic in your category (and in your case it's most likely Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean) you want to make sure you've read it thoroughly and can clearly state why your book belongs  on the shelf with it.

11 comments:

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ya know Janet, after reading a post like this I wonder why the hell I even try.

Going to play Solitaire now, the only other thing I do alone on the computer that makes me feel like a winner...sometimes.

El El Piper said...

Carolynn, I know how you feel! I am in the middle of a major revision right now that involves enough plot/character changes that I am realizing I might have to abandon cut-n-paste method and do a total rewrite of the whole 95k saga. Then when I read a post like this I feel like I am even further from my goals than I can comprehend. But we can do this! Will you open up a file today and attack a paragraph or two-or three-that has been vexing you? I will if you will!
Chin up! :)

Brent Salish said...

Thank you for mentioning Young Men and Fire. It _is_ a classic, and unlike, say, War and Peace, it's a one-night read... and very hard to either put down or forget.

But it raises an interesting question, O Sharque d'Querie: For comps, how would you rate subject-matter comp vs. POV comp? Young Men and Fire has the same subject as its background, but it isn't a memoir per se. (It is, sort of, being a memoir of Maclean investigating a tragedy that always intrigued him, but it's not a memoir about being a firefighter.)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

El El you're on, I will. It feels like three steps forward and two steps back sometimes.
BTW, how are you feeling?

Mary said...

I think this is funny because I just wrote a memoir about the same subject and am shopping it right now. Nothing new under the Sun.

alaskaravenclaw said...

Re #2, a caveat: Beware of books that have a large number of reviews and a terrible sales rank on amazon. There are websites where authors gather together and agree to give each other 5-star reviews. I know because I occasionally receive invitations to join such websites.

So if you see 97 5-star reviews and a sales rank #6,798,414... that's probably what's going on.



El El Piper said...

Alaska: helpful tip
Carolynn: really turned the corner end of last week, feeling much better. Thanks!

Pamela Toler said...

Hands down the best description of how to choose non-fiction comps that I've ever read.

Thanks for all you do.

Linda Strader said...

To clarify, I did research "first woman" books other than firefighting and there are very few-all more than several years old.

Jenz said...

Linda, then broaden your search terms. You're looking for a correlation, not an exact equality. Books about male firefighters, about the first anything in any field, something with the same kind of tone, a similar overcoming-the-odds.

It does take a while to get the hang of searching for comp titles, so don't get discouraged yet.

Linda Strader said...

Thank you, Jenz, I've done that too, and that's where I found some. I appreciate all the great advice.