Did we really just get to spend the entire weekend together? Thank you very much, SCBWI!
Two days of writerly quality time with my writing BFF was amazing. And while I'd like to say the THEME of the weekend was friendship, it seems the hunt for competition took over as top topic for the weekend.
No not this kind of competition:
We spent the weekend looking for THE competition.
Well, our book's competition in the marketplace.
For the querying author it is important to know what books your story will compete with for a reader's attention (and marketing $$$).
During our last Novel Nuts & Bolts class with Empire Literary agent, Carrie Howland we talked about developing research skills to find our competition in the marketplace as well as how to research comparison books that convey the tone and/or the theme of our stories.
Let's slice into those research skills one at a time.
|"I GET THE FIRST SLICE." |
(Quote not fact checked.)
Why seek out the competition?
1. Finding books that are similar to your own makes you familiar with what already exists and forces you to consider what makes your book special.
2. When included (appropriately*) in your query, it shows AGENT X that you have an understanding of the market and know where your book will fit.
3. It shows that you've read widely in your genre adding to your legitimacy as a citizen of the literary world.
*I say "appropriately" because the sentence in your query that mentions your competition should NOT read:
"This is [insert Book Title] with better character development." OR "My book is fantasy, comparable to Harry Potter, but funnier." OR "There is nothing in the market that compares to my novel. It is without competition."
COMP TITLES TO ESTABLISH TONE, CHARACTER TRAITS, and/or VISION
If an agent asks for comps, give them comps.
If an agent doesn't ask for comps, give them if you feel they will help anchor your pitch.
If an agent hates to hear comps, don't include them. Agent preference in his/her query-inbox trumps all other advice.
Side note: It's helpful to have comps in mind when querying even if you do not include them in the finished query letter because COMPARISON titles help you evaluate all the way-cool elements of your book.
Using COMP titles:
1. Find the books:
- Ask a friend who reads widely in the genre you've written.
- Ask a librarian or bookseller for help. (THEY KNOW ALL THE THINGS.)
- Amazon, B&N, Goodreads all have features akin to "If you read this, you'd like..."
- Google: "Authors like X" or "Books like X"
2. Evaluate the titles you've found
- Is the title recent (last 5 years) or still highly received?
- Is the title too highly received?
- As in, is the comp you've gathered a BLOCKBUSTER, stand-out, genre breakout?
- Along the same line of questioning: Will including this title hurt your chances of having your submission read? An agent needs to believe the comparison, not side-eye your moxie. Better to pick a title that is successful, not a phenomenon.
3. Read the book you've found. Seriously. READ THE BOOK.
- This weekend at our Fall Philly Pitch Festival I was asked about the comp title that I used for KILLER. I've read the comp at least three times and could easily chat about what was similar between my book and the comp, and highlight what was different.
- I might also say: "Watch the movie" or "Watch the series" in place of "Read the book". Some comps come from other media. From what we heard this weekend it seems like a querying writer should use book titles first, then seek out other media if needed. I heard that someone at Pitch Fest used a singer/songwriter this weekend as a comp for her main character.
|"Avril Lavigne before she was polished meets THE DARK RISING." |
Sound familiar, Kim?
4. Craft a clean sentence for your query using your comp(s).
- X meets Y works well if you are trying to match tone or character from one book with the genre of another.
"It's WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON meets MATCHED." (You can also include the authors.)
- X meets Y with a TWIST works well if you need to let the agent reading your query know that you've played with conventional expectations.
"It's PRETTY LITTLE LIARS meets SE7EN if a teenage girl played Kevin Spacey."
OR (if using only one comp):
"It's THE MERCILESS with a sci-fi twist."
- It's the ___ of X meets the ___ of Y works well if you want to highlight specific attributes from each comp.
"It's the voice of IF I WAS YOUR GIRL meets the family dynamics of THE MIDDLESTEINS."
5. Go forth and find your dream agent.
Finish the rest of your query letter, including personalization, a summary of your story, and your bio. AND THEN...
Go forth and land your dream agent.
I can't wait to hear your thoughts on comps.