Wednesday, January 22, 2020

more on comps cause where would we be without X meeting Y at the corner of Zed

Hi Janet*,
I have one comp that's recent and is a good fit for my MS. My other comp is James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans. I can hear your sharkly teeth grinding. However, if played for laughs, I wonder if it would break the rules in the right way as you mention on the Query Shark blog? Cooper's novel shares some significant themes with my MS. Did I mention that my MS's genre is sci-fi? And--you know--not written in 1826.

The comp section of my query:

[TITLE] will appeal to fans of John Scalzi's The Collapsing Empire and anyone who thought that The Last of the Mohicans would have worked better in space.

*Your Sharkliness?
This is clever and funny.
And pretty useless.

The purpose of comps is not to prove how clever and funny you are.

Comps are intended to do a couple things: give the agent a sense of who will read this book right now, today. That's one of the reasons you want to use current books.

Second comps give us a sense of tone or style.

Mostly though, comps are so when you tell me it's SF/fanstasy and your comp is Anne McCaffrey, I know it's fantasy.

Or if you tell me it's comedic noir like Agatha Christie, I know you're seriously deluded.

Don't try to be clever or funny with comps.

Leave that for your pages, or #PitMad posts on Twitter.

31 comments:

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Good comp advice. Yes, I know the following has been asked. But as I am truly about to pull the trigger on the query thing, I need validation. Is three comps enough? Too few, too many? All have been published in the last two to three years, one is almost three years on the shelves? Is three years too old of a comp? What say you?

Janet Reid said...

Three is fine.
Three years old is fine.

You're doing fine.
Probably time to hit Send, and pop the cork on that champagne you
should keep in your fridge to celebrate being brave!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I am waiting on feedback on my query from my bestie betas and then I plan to jump into the query trenches on my birthday. I am dragging my heels on polishing my two synopsis as I am pushing agents that want them down the list. It should make a triumphant birthday. I figure, how many can reject me on one day? Probably safe to do on my birthday which is only a couple weeks away.

For the group, I plan to query the first ten agents on my list. Then as answers come in, go to the next agent on my list until I have gone through the whole list (a hundred and three strong). Is ten too many to start with? Should I start with five? What do others think? I am worried if the query is not strong, I don't want to burn through the list on a poor query. (I don't think the query is poor but still, you never know).

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

well I've finally actually started writing my query! It's interesting to me, in the early drafts of the query, how focused I've become on one section of the novel, while certainly there's more to it than that. I guess I'd better revisit the troubled waters over at Query Shark!

Also, as a library employee who lives in the same county as Cooperstown...nobody's checked out our copy of Last of the Mohicans in eight years or more. We actually moved a bunch of classics to their Dewey numbers in the adult non fiction as opposed to in the fiction section, in the hopes that it would revitalize their circulations. With some it's helped and others, well, they were felled in the Big Weed of 2019.

Colin Smith said...

Elise: Having dipped my toes into the query pool a few times, these are my thoughts. First, how many queries you send out at a time is up to you. Be aware that if you query new agents, it's possible you may get quicker responses than if you query seasoned agents. Also, new agents are more likely to request a partial or full since they are hungry and eager to build their lists. If you're querying for the first time, there is something to be said for sending out a few queries to newer agents first because a) there's a chance you'll get a quicker response, and b) the response is more likely to be positive, which is a nice encouragement for your first time.

However, you may prefer to send to your top five or ten agents first. If they respond favorably, then you can focus your attention. But you may be waiting a while for a response--if you get one at all (NORMANs are way too prevalent these days).

All that to say, consider your expectations as you strategize your querying. It's not wrong to start with ten, but you could just start with one or two. It's up to you. The most important thing to remember is to mention you're a regular Reider when you query Janet. And that's WHEN, not if. :)

Fearless Reider said...

What a spectacular way to celebrate your birthday, Elise! I have no expertise to share, but wish you the best of luck!

OP, I think that's a fascinating premise, but I wonder how many readers will have even a passing familiarity with The Last of the Mohicans these days. All it brings up for me now is a waterfall-soaked Daniel Day-Lewis promising "I WILL find you!" Do they have waterfalls in space?

Karen McCoy said...

Elise: I usually do batches of five. Wishing you luck!

I'm also about to dip my toes in the River Styx once more. My goal is to start querying in February. Let's hope my website is back up again by then, sigh. This week is for the birds.

Linda Shantz said...

Is there a support group for about-to-query writers? *puts hand up* I think I've re-written my letter to death. I have a piece of leftover Red Velvet birthday cake waiting for when I'm brave enough to send the first one away! The shelf life of such things is only so long, so I need to keep that in mind!

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

I'm also querying in February per the Lennon Faris Optimum Querying Period Theory. Good to know that 3 year old comps are okay. The Nix by Nathan Hill,though, was published August 2016 so it's 3 1/2 years old. Can I use it if paired with The Lost Man by Jane Harper(2019)? Split the difference? No?

Craig F said...

I'm still looking for comps too. I have not found any that really fir the vehicle that I am driving. All the sci-fi is from a universe long ahead and far away. Not mine.

I'm querying anyway. Got what I think is a smooth reading, insightful query and have cast it out onto the waters of agentdom. No bites yet, but I am just using Query Tracker and I have some questions about why some of those agents are on the sci-fi list.

E.M. Goldsmith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
E.M. Goldsmith said...

Let me try that again

I whole-heartedly endorse the querying support group for February. I don't know why I am so scared. I know the book is solid. But then I start thinking, I could make this bit a little more tense. Or I could change this character's name to Bill for no reason at all. I have never felt this scared and excited.

I have query written for our queen (my first query). However, I am waiting for all the bandages, whiskey, and such to arrive in order to deal with the response. Positive or negative. Anyway, Amazon ran out of the bandages - back order. I don't know how much bleeding to prepare for.

so yes, support group needed.

Karen McCoy said...

*Raises hand* happy to join the February querying support group. I also feel good about my book (beta reads have been very positive) but am also *terrified* (and a little excited).

Linda if you would like an extra pair of eyes on your query, please let me know.

JulieWeathers said...

Elise I do ten at a time. When one rejection comes in, I send out to the next agent on the list. I do a mix of top agents on my list and new agents so if I have to tweak the query ( I think it's in pretty good shape), pages (they're also in pretty good shape), or synopsis, (who knows as I haven't even started on that demon spawn.

I suggest you send the query to TheQueryShark.com. I used it and can't say enough good things about it and y'all know me. I am seldom at a loss for words. Truly, the next time we meet up, I owe Janet the whole watering trough and not just a drink.

Keep note of the comments agents send, length of time between submission and response, etc. I set up a spread sheet with all pertinent data.

Good luck!

"Three years old is fine."

Now, to comps. So, I guess Gone With the Wind is straight on out.

Don't kill me. It was a joke. I can't stand Scarlett and besides, iconic literature and all.

I don't know what the answer is with comps. I'm ordering the audio book of Cold Mountain and Varina, I started CM, but no quotation marks drives me bat crap crazy. I cannot tell you the depths of how much I hate authors when they do this. Words cannot express the levels of hatred. Not even the nine levels of hell raging in hottest fury matches mine.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Reef February querier support group? Sign me up!

Alex Johnson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex Johnson said...

Thanks for the input, Janet. Longtime lurker, first time poster. Not the answer I was hoping for, but that makes sense. Off to edit my query once more!

Next step in coming out of my bottom-feeding/lurker hole--time to finally throw my hat into the flash fiction ring!

Claire Bobrow said...

Alex: I thought your comp section sounded like a pitch, and I was buying it! Good luck and thanks for asking the question. I've found Edelweiss Plus (you can create a free account) useful for identifying comps.
See you 'round the FF pool.

Put me down for the February Querying Support Group. I'm polishing mss as we speak!

Katja said...

Lots of people query in February, it seems. It doesn't surprise me because lots of people will think "Oh I wait until after Christmas and when the agents have worked through the big piles waiting for them in early January".

Maybe early January would have been the time to do it, hmm. Because I have once read an agent say, "Guess which day of the week I get the most queries in my inbox: Tuesdays. So if you want to query me on another day..."

February seems like a Tuesday, given what 'everyone' is saying. Maybe wait until Wednesday if now doesn't count as a Monday any more...

Happy querying, supporting groups, and celebrations on your birthdays! With cakes and pom poms.
I'm not querying but I'm eating my cake from yesterday. Right now.

Good luck to all!

Lennon Faris said...

E.M., Linda, Karen, and Cecilia - Hi, my name is Lennon and I am also a February querier...

Anyway, Alex - good luck. Comps are annoying, but a sci-fi Last of Mohicans sounds cool to me.

And a comedic Agatha Christie could be (terrifying but) interesting...

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Claire,too,is Febquerying.

Are there lurkers out there who want to join us?

Peter Taylor said...

I'll join you and probably query in February, though I'll query anytime an agent is open and wanting queries. They'll mainly be read in order...sometime unknown.

I find comps the hardest element. My current middle grade story will be relevant internationally and I'd love a US or UK agent, but I live in Australia. Our titles may be unfamiliar, and few US ones make it on to our store shelves. Sigh!

In the present version, I say: '...It mixes present-day school and family episodes with real-life WWII accounts—think: Ruth McNally Barshaw’s spunky Ellie McDoodle and her comical interactions, blended with prisoners’ anecdotes from George Weller’s First into Nagasaki. George Weller's book is old and for adults...Hmm.

Colin Smith said...

Wow. This place is going to become really quiet later this year. All these writers who will have agents and be working on revisions. Elise, Linda, Karen, Cecilia, Peter, we'll miss you.

It'll be just Janet and me talking about all the folks we knew back before they were famous... *sigh* :)

AJ Blythe said...

I'm hoping to hit the query trenches in May, so I'll join Colin on the sidelines in Feb *passing popcorn to Colin*. Good luck to the FQR (February query Reiders).

Katja, read this earlier post by Janet on when to query :)

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Colin If I query in February, it'll probably be too early. Unless it isn't! Who can say?

Katja said...

Thank you, AJ, I just read that post. It's really funny, to be honest! I wasn't around here in 2015, so it's good you put the link. :)

I didn't really mean to say I believe in any good time for querying. Maybe I didn't express myself well. :/

I just saw that someone had said here that February was the optimal time for querying, and I was like "Well if we all think the same way (cause all the February querying folks popped up from every corner;) ), we'll all do the same and then it's no optimal time any more because the agents get too many queries at one time".

That's what must have happened with Tuesdays, maybe - writers try hard to figure out the best day (not Monday because it's too early, but not Friday cause it's almost weekend etc. - like with Tuesday-cars, ever heard of that?).

But then everyone happened to think that way and Tuesdays turned out to be the worst/busiest to query.

Anyway, I really wish everyone good luck!!!!

Dena Pawling said...


I'm hopeful to start querying my MG manuscript in September or October. I plan to follow Janet's #1 query rule - Query the Shark first, then everyone else =)



Laura Stegman said...

Colin, I'll still be here, so that's (at least) two of us. As Janet says in the "when to query" post, "You have ZERO control over when an agent reads your query." Which is why I started querying in January last year, five a week till I got to 100 and ran out of MG agents. Although I got requests pretty quick and from a decent percentage, in the end, after all my requests resulted in turn downs, I queried small publishers and got a three-book deal (it's a series) within a couple of weeks. I would have loved to have signed with an agent (and absolutely would have queried Janet if she repped middle grade fantasy), but I'll happily take my debut novel coming out in September. Still, in the midst of spending most of my off-work time writing the second book, I never miss reading this blog and the comments on a daily basis, nor would I no matter how "famous" (ha!) I (don't expect to) become. I'm just grateful my books will be seeing the light of day and for the community Janet so kindly fosters here.

Laura Stegman said...

Actually, as an addendum to my post, quite some time ago I queried an agent at the firm Janet works for whose outdated wish list for middle grade fiction turned up in a Google search. Janet very kindly replied with a "pass" and the news that the agent had moved on. It was my first-ever email from her, and boy was I thrilled! So, TECHNICALLY, I DID Query the Shark. ;)

John Davis Frain said...


Wow, I got that answer as wrong as I possibly could. I thought for sure that was going to be hailed as a clever way to propose comps, and held up for everyone to follow.

But I thought the iPhone was gonna bomb, so Janet's answer should have come as no surprise. If I tell you it's gonna rain tomorrow, feel confident leaving the top down on your convertible and go to sleep with a peaceful mind.

Linda Shantz said...

Karen, I'd love that, if you were willing!

It was fun to check in this morning and see so many relating to the need for a support group, haha. Who's starting the FB group? ;-)