Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
“To my knowledge, nothing like this has ever been written. Ever. It is utterly fresh, mine, and complete.”
This was a line in a query I received a few years back. I have always remembered it because of how confident it sounded. The author didn’t realize that agents and editors get pitched everything under the sun, are typically well-read, and are aware of what’s going on in the publishing marketplace. To us, a book might be unique (and we are always looking for unique!) but it’s unlikely that nothing similar has ever been written.
When pitching your work, you have to walk a fine line: Be confident, but don’t come off as grandiose. Stress your original and fresh voice, yet don’t be afraid to acknowledge there have been other books similar to yours, whether in plot, style, topic, or theme. You want to be unique, but you can’t make wild claims that just aren’t true. Every book published has some similarities to something that came before; yet yours must also have something fresh and different about it.
In non-fiction book proposals, we always have to provide comparable titles (the “Competition” section) and increasingly, editors are asking us for comps even for fiction. Many authors write something like, “There are no books similar to mine.” What it says is, “I haven’t taken the time to properly research the market and I have no idea what other books could be compared to mine.”
Contrary to what some writers think, it’s not bad to be able to compare your book to others. It’s good. It helps people begin to capture a vision for the type of book you’ve written. If you can point out the ways your book is similar and different, and why you think yours is a good complement to the other, you can help a publisher understand what your book is all about. Don’t ever claim “There are no books like mine.” If that’s your impression, go back to the bookstore and find some.
You don’t have to give comp titles in your query, but when you are in a meeting or writing a proposal, you may need to know what books are similar to yours, so it’s a good idea to be ready.
Of course, if the book in question really was amazingly fresh and original, my response to the query would not be quite so negative. Alas, it was not the case. Often when people try so hard to tell me their book is awesome, rather than just showing me their book and letting me figure it out for myself… it’s not awesome.
Unsurprisingly, the same writer who told me their book was utterly fresh responded to my pass letter with the observation: “This is probably one of the most spectacular works of fiction ever written.”
Maybe so. My loss then.
Can you compare your book to others? What have you learned by going through the process of finding comparable books?
When pitching your work: be confident, but don’t come off as grandiose. Click to Tweet.
Stress your original and fresh voice, while also acknowledging books similar to yours. Click to Tweet.
Contrary to what some think, it’s not bad to compare your book to others. It’s good. Click to Tweet.