Tuesday, October 29, 2019

What you write vs what I read

What you write: My book has no comps. There's nothing like it.
What I read: I haven't done any research whatsoever and if I don't know about it, it doesnt exist.

What you write: The audience for my book is women 18+ and up.
What I read: I don't understand anything about how/why readers choose books.

What you write: I intend to produce 10+ novels in the next three years.
What I read: I don't intend to write them of course. Plagiarism is so efficient.

What you write: Enclosed please find...
What I read: I'm old school to the point of writing things that don't actually make sense any more.

What you write:  If you ignore this email you are really going to kick yourself when the book is a best seller.
What I read: I'm an idiot.

What you write: I'm querying you for dino porn. Given your interest in thrillers, I thought you might be interested.
What I read: I can't proofread for shinola.

What you write: This is a project that will be easy to sell!
What I read: I don't know a damn thing about selling, and I won't value any of your skills and expertise cause your job is so easy any Girl Scout could do it.


nightsmusic said...

I'm shaking my head here and feeling very glad that I don't have your job. I am curious though, do you immediately hit the delete button, or is there ever a time that you really do read the pages sent?

Craig F said...

I will admit that I have listed no comp titles. If you choose to think I didn't try, that is okay, I know better. All of the hard sci-fi out there is from a long time away and in a galaxy far, far away. Mine isn't.

Other than that, I am hoping that the query is an enticing enough morsel to do its work while standing alone.

Luralee said...

I really need to buckle down on my comps search. Google has been no help at all. I can find examples of time travel with repeating days, and paranormal clones in alternate future settings, even possessed musicians. But so far nothing is even close to a good fit, let alone recent and not a movie/ bestseller.

-clunks head on desk-

‘Cuz, Stranger Things meets Groundhog Day meets Terry Pratchett’s Soul Music isn’t gonna fly. Nor is it particularly accurate.

Perhaps as an inability to write a query indicates a problem with the plot, inability to find comps indicates a problem with genre? I think I’ve almost solved the first (I hope). I’m off to the library to attempt to solve the second.
Wish me luck....

Colin Smith said...

Craig: I wonder if Janet here is railing more against the attitude than the action. That is to say, it's one thing to omit comps, but another to draw attention to the fact that you have deliberately omitted comps because your book is peerless.

Clearly comps help, just as an awesome log line can help, and a great bio can help. But are they really that much of a deal breaker?

IMO, if comps are obvious then include them. But trying to force comps because you think you need comps can be a minefield. Mis-comping your book could be as bad as mis-categorizing, could it not?

Janet..? Am I being flayed-alive-with-a-wet-noodle-worthy wrong about this?

E.M. Goldsmith said...

At least this removes a good chunk of the slush pile? How often do you get these kind of things? The one that "there's nothing like it..." is a definite red flag, one that says "I don't read much". I hope there are lots of these, not to make your job harder, your majesty, but I need some kind of advantage to work my way through the slush pile.

Semi-related question - I am horrified to find that I have lots of comps to choose from. Maybe too many similar books published in the last twelve months. The comps I plan to use have done pretty well as far as I can tell. I have really enjoyed reading them. How many should I mention? Is two too few, ten too many?

I am a bit worried that the market is over-saturated. That is not something I can control. I suppose it will come down to the writing to overcome that. I am querying this book even if the apocalypse actually comes and Hell actually freezes over. I've worked too hard to put this one aside without giving it a go.

Brenda said...

I attended a class this weekend that was taught by a Very Big Deal New York Agent (although not nearly as big deal as La Sharque). He said that not only do you want comps, ideally you want a best seller comp, a pretty good seller comp, and a respectable-but-don’t-quit-your-day-job comp.

Ask your librarian to recommend your comps. Outline your plot and watch in horror as she reels in a laundry list of similar books.

And I thought I was so clever!

Unknown said...

And then the other thing about comps is, the agent can say, this has already been done, there are too many books like this already out there. So ... comps, no comps. Do I want to shoot myself in the left foot or the right?

Kate said...

Luralee... I think the important thing to remember about comps is that it's not about finding books that are exactly like yours - as in, you're not looking to match plot for plot or voice for voice. If yours is a space battle book with betrayal, you don't need to find another space battle book with betrayal. Rather, they're about identifying your audience.

For example: For readers who enjoyed [xxxx] and [xxxx]...

Claire Bobrow said...

Re: comp titles, you can create a free account on Edelweiss+ and learn a lot.
Here's how they describe themselves: "Edelweiss+ is an online digital catalog platform that allows publishers to efficiently manage their catalogs and review copies as well as their sales and marketing processes."

Pick a book you think is similar to your manuscript and type it into the search function. A number of comps will usually be listed.

Lennon Faris said...

Luralee, I understand. I have a hard time comparing stories (not just mine) because they all seems so different to me. Maybe a beta reader can give you ideas.

I do like these posts. They give insight into the 'other side.'

AJ, not sure if you're reading these comments today but in reply to your comment yesterday -my significant other didn't get my entry, either, and I honestly didn't know if anyone would. It was about a girl named Drew who had almost jumped off a bridge the year before. A stranger had stopped/ helped her. She comes back to 'her' bridge every morning, and in the story, she is that same nick-of-time friend for suicidal Mike. I left it ambiguous as to whether she still contemplates jumping, but I choose to think she won't.

KDJames said...

I love these lists. They're so cringe-worthy, but also so relatable to the time when I knew NOTHING about agenting or publishing. Or writing.

Since we're discussing comps: I think finding them depends on how specific vs general you get. I doubt many people would comp The Wizard of Oz with the first (fourth?) Star Wars movie, but they're oddly similar in a broad sense:

Bored orphaned teen (Dorothy/Luke) runs away from dreary life on aunt/uncle's dreary farm after pet/robot (Toto/R2D2) is kidnapped, meets wise oracle (Prof Marvel/Obi-Wan), gathers trusty sidekicks (ScarecrowTinmanLion/HanChewyC3PO), sets out on a journey of wild adventures involving unusual creatures, discovers great but heretofore unknown personal powers, defeats evil.

Of course, the details differ. As do the endings: Luke receives great acclaim as a hero and goes on to have many more adventures, while Dorothy resolves to be a "good" girl and never leave home or take risks or have adventures ever again (I LOATHE the message of that story with the heat of a thousand suns).

Anyway. If you're having trouble finding comps, go broader (although maybe not quite as broad as above). Your details might be unique, but your story is not.

Joseph S. said...

Good point, KD.

Unfortunately, now I've got this stuck in my head:

"Headhunters of Ireland" is similar to Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz, only bloodier.

KDJames said...

HA! Yeah, this is nothing new. It's an ancient monomyth, popularized as The Hero's Journey by Joseph Campbell. If you pan out far enough, you see it in almost every story.

MA Hudson said...

Always comforting to note that I haven't carried out any of these misdeed's. Probably made a shameful amount of other blunders while querying, but not these particular corkers. Phew.

Jennifer Mugrage said...


What about "attached please find" or "below please find" ? As in, please find the synopsis/sample pages that you requested? And thank you for considering my work.

Colin ... Some agents actually require that you list comps ("similar books") on Query Tracker. Sometimes I find myself listing them twice, once in similar books, and once in "Who will this book appeal to?" ("Fans of ... the comps I list below.")

Lennon ... I "got" your entry on the third time that I read it, then really liked it and felt kind of stupid that I hadn't gotten it sooner. She is paying it forward. And she knows where people go to jump and pretty exactly how they are feeling.

The Noise In Space said...

@KDJames-- you know, I never thought about it, but even those companions match up: "gathers trusty sidekicks (ScarecrowTinmanLion/HanChewyC3PO)" can drill down to "gathers one clanking metal man who worries a lot, one very furry animal who makes a lot of noise but isn't aggressive at all, and one scruffy one who's a lot smarter than people give him credit for." Weird how well they match up.

NLiu said...

N00b question: how do I find comp titles?

I read a lot but only via an online ebook library because a) no money and b) live somewhere people don't speak English. Consulting a local librarian is not an option (unless I want blank stares and "English?" said at me in a puzzled voice.) I have read or at least investigated all of the books in my category in the online library and none of them are great comps, except maybe for voice. They are also all published too long ago. If I search for recently pubbed books in my category on Amazon or Google I get books that are either too old or too popular, and sound nothing like my book in terms of plot or setting.

What am I missing? Is there a magic website somewhere I don't know about?

Please help, I don't want to be eaten by sharks.

KDJames said...

@Noise-- I hadn't made those specific comparisons! Very astute of you. Uncanny, isn't it, how universal and prevalent some storytelling archetypes can be.

When I took Deb Dixon's GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) class, she warned that we'd never be able to read a book purely for enjoyment ever again. And at the beginning of Alex Sokoloff's class breaking down story structure in film, she warned that she was about to ruin movies for us forever.

Both were right. Once you see this stuff, you can't unsee it.

@NLiu-- You're probably too close to your work to be objective. It's not easy, that's for sure. Maybe try analyzing your reading. How do you find books (by new-to-you authors) to read? What about them makes you think you'd enjoy them? What do they have in common? A certain theme or trope or setting or journey? What makes you say, "Yes, this one" and "No, I won't like that." After all, that's what readers will do when they consider your book. Evaluate the stories you read in a more abstract (less specific) way and see how yours fits in. I think that's what agents really want to know when they ask for comps.

AJ Blythe said...

Craig I think Colin is on the money.

EM, I totally agree. Less in the slush pile *grin*

Lennon, I'm late but here. Now that you've told me it makes perfect sense! Sorry for being such a doofus (although glad your other half is in the same category as me).

NLiu said...

KDJames: thanks so much for the great advice. I am off to distance myself from the beast and have a good think!

KDJames said...

So . . . today I googled similarities between the two movies discussed above, just out of curiosity, thinking surely I wasn't the only one who had noticed and maybe there were more . . . AAAHAHAHAHAHA.

SO. MANY. COMPARISONS. Turns out even the Star Wars cast members talked about comparisons between the two, way back when SW was released in 1977.

And I thought I was so clever. Well, perhaps clever, but certainly not original. Just wanted to set the record straight on that point.

I'm rolling my eyes so hard at myself right now.