Wednesday, June 26, 2019

I heard agents no longer want comps

I'm poised to start querying, but yesterday learned that agents no longer want comparables in the query letter. Do agents state this in their query instructions?
Beware of blanket statements like "agents no longer want comps."

 I don't know who told you agents don't want comps but they're nuts.
If it was an agent, maybe s/he doesn't want comps, but that doesn't apply to the whole bloodletting lot of us.

If it's an author, they're playing an agent online. Badly.

But to the larger question: do agents tell you what they want in their query instructions?

Yes.

And to the unspoken cosmic fear  all y'all know so well:   do they leave things OUT of the query instructions just to frustrate you, and make for an easy pass cause you didn't include it?

No.

Query guidelines, despite all evidence to the contrary, is NOT the literary Hunger Games.
Honestly, the wounds we inflict and the angst we cause are just bonus material, not the actual intent.

The intent is to tell you what we need to evaluate your query.
If we need/want comps, we say so.

22 comments:

AJ Blythe said...

Remember when it was a race to be the first to post? The reef sleeps late these days.

I don't like comps. I'm more likely to not read a book because of a comp than I am to pick up a book. I kinda figure an agent would be the same way.

I also worry they'll mistake the reason I've used a comp - the setting, tone, voice, plot, style, characters...ARGH! How will the agent know why I chose that comp? If I can make my query letter sing I assume a comp won't be necessary. I choose that option.

K. White said...

Comps give me indigestion worse than writing the query or synopsis. I try to be well read but my writing never seems close enough to other novels.

However, an agent panel at last weekend's DFWcon gave some useful advice. Go to bookstores and ask to speak to a bookseller who reads in your genre. Ask her/him for "books that have such-and-such plot elements or characters".

I haven't tried it yet, so I can't vouch for the success rate. But it's worth an attempt before I go completely bald ripping my hair out over comps.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I LOVE comps! Or rather, I like the descriptions that say things like "this is Hamlet + Practical Magic" though, presumably, these works are too old to validly be called comps. So is my beloved American Gods (though I do hope the TV series is bringing more people to the book, because the book deserves it). Wow I need to start reading books again. Do you hear that brain? Heart? Get your act together!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

It is getting harder to comment. Our queen says all there is to be said. Read the guidelines. Ignore blanket statements. Research the agents you query closely. Maybe read some of the books they represent to get to know the sort of authors that have caught their attention in the recent past. Good luck, OP. Comps are not so frightening as you might think. Especially if you do as all writers must - read widely in your genre.

Colin Smith said...

Elise: Agreed. It's okay not to comment if you have nothing new to add. What's really frustrating is when you offer an insight, and someone repeats that same insight a little later, as if (more than likely) the person didn't bother to read previous comments to see if what they were going to say had already been said.

And for those who are curious, that about sums up why I've not been as present here in recent months. :)

MA Hudson said...

Comps are a nightmare. I can never find ones that are similar to my WIP's, and as much as I'd like to think that makes me super original, I'm afraid it just makes me look unprofessional.

Jennifer Mugrage said...

Some agents do a great job on their website describing what elements they want to see in a query or proposal. Others absolutely don't. They just say "send query to" or "send proposal and covering letter to" an address. In these cases, it's implied there's an industry standard and everyone knows what's in it. That's probably what OP was asking: are comps default in the industry standard, or should they be included only if the agent's web site requests them?

Now, maybe there ISN'T an industry standard, but many agents appear to believe there is.

Beggars can't be choosers, but I prefer to query agencies that give a medium amount of information ... Not "read my mind" but also not "You must NEVER do (lists 20 things, some them innocuous)." That latter method gives the impression (faulty or not) that the agency is pretty darn fed up with these stupid people querying.

roadkills-r-us said...

I attended a Texas Writers League event last week; the speakers were an agent and editor from large publishing houses. One of the questions was around an absolute regarding what agents (and editors) want (or don’t). They spent several minutes saying what Janet said here, and came back to that several times, including pitching, querying, and life once agented.
We all need to really stop stereotyping.

Irene Troy said...

I belong to an online writers group (Scribophile) which I very much enjoy most of the time. I credit several other members for helping me develop better skills. Nonetheless, misinformation runs rampant on these type sites. I've heard: never offer comps; only send queries to one agent at a time (YIKES!); include information about your daily life so the agent can know the real you (really?); If your work is complicated, it is okay to send a query longer than one page; it's okay to ask an agent why s/he rejected you; most agents never accept anyone who has not already been successfully published...and the list goes on endlessly. I've learned to get my information from reliable, proven experts, such as reading the instructions on an agent's site. I've never understood those who think they can improvise instead of following the guidelines most every agent posts on their website.

D.H. said...

Irene, Scribophile works fantastic when you use it as a method to find beta readers, but the information can definitely be... questionable, at times.

Insofar as comps, they're difficult, but I get why a lot of agents like them. It tells them you have a head in the market and know where your story fits. Like a more personalized, "If you liked OLD TITLE, then you'll love NEW TITLE!!"

And some find them annoying. But even those who do, I've never heard one say they'd reject a query/pages for including comps.

JEN Garrett said...

Fellow hamsters, here is an example of the dangerous Online Community Maze. Don't fall prey to its crushing turns just because it's different from the Exercise Wheel of Worry!

Instead, fellow hamsters, let's write brilliant stuff, query widely, and be our best hamster selves so those agents know how easy we are to work with!

Hamsters unite! (Or something like that.)

Craig F said...

After I had sent out somewhere around ten queries, I was getting close to finding a comp or two.

When those queries became rejections, grabbed things by the throat and shook. Ready to start over with a slightly different focus to the whole thing.

Those comps I had dug from under some rock in Idaho are trash now. I am going to move on without them, because, right now, nothing I have read is close to what I have written.

Where There's A Quill said...

Semi-related:

When I was struggling to nail comps for my novel, I complained to my nearly-70-year-old father, who then spent the next two months researching, devouring, and recommending YA fantasy books like it was his new day job.

MA Hudson said...

Where There's A Quill - that made me smile. What a lovely Dad! Reminds me of my friend's mum who reads the school newsletters for her and summarises the bits relevant to their family.

AJ Blythe said...

K. White, excellent advice, except the bookstores here have never heard of my genre. Makes it tricky *Grin*

julie.weathers said...


I love the handle "Where There's A Quill" and I love what your dad did.

At my last Surrey conference the question of comps came up at an agent panel and unsurprisingly, they split down the middle. Half definitely wanted them and half hated them. The ones who wanted them said it gave them a better picture of where the book fit. The ones who hated them said things like, "What if I hate that book you're comping to, but I really kind of like what you're written? You've already poisoned the well."

It all boils down to reading the individual instructions on each agent and following them. Agents are not like muumuus. One size does not fit all.

Jennifer Mugrage said...

Ooo this is so cute! And just the right amount of humble.

Katja said...

To be honest, Colin, I'm 'mildly shocked' at your reasoning as to why you've not been as present here in recent months...

AJ Blythe said...

And I've just read a blog post from an agent where she says a reason for rejection is:

there are certain comp titles and authors that lead to an automatic pass from me

roadkills-r-us said...

AJ, did they not mention which ones?

AJ Blythe said...

No. She said she didn't want to name names.

roadkills-r-us said...

That’s useful.