Ask Daphne! About Comparisons

November 9th, 2009 • Kate

stevemaddenknockoffs_page_1While I’m finishing up my meetings in New York this week, I figured I’d answer a few of your other questions for me. Like Stina’s:

I was wondering, after reading Query XXV, about comparing your novel to the works of other authors. Obviously it wasn’t effective in that particular query. But what if you wrote something like, “XX is an 70,000-word YA contemporary novel in the same vein as books by Sarah Dessen.”? Is that too vague? Inappropriate?

Actually, I think that would work well. And a lot of agents, in pitching books to editors, often use a kind of shorthand like that. What I think we were saying in regards to Query XXV was to avoid an overabundance of references to other books, to always be careful to spell any book titles or authors that you’re comparing yourself to correctly, and to steer clear of saying something like “if you love Y, you’ll love my book.” That doesn’t work for me.

But saying your novel is in the “same vein as Sarah Dessen” tells me it’s a contemporary YA romance with a little more (leaving the specifics up to you) and that’s shorter and easier than spelling it all out. You’ve only got a page.

The thing is you can sometimes run the risk of getting an agent reading your query you hates Sarah Dessen (or whatever author or book you reference) and then you’ve already got a strike against you. Whereas, if you describe your book in your own words, without comparisons, the agent reading your query is more likely to come at it fresh.

It’s your call. You can’t worry too much about every detail of your query. As fellow agent Holly Root said in her blog post the other day:

Write the best book you can, then the best query you can. Submit written materials to agents. The worst they can say is no so don’t worry about fine-tuning that to the nanometer, just look for the right ballpark (i.e., alive, still in the business). Then press send.

Good luck!

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5 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About Comparisons”

  1. amy sue nathan Says:

    I've read quite a few times that nowadays query writing can overshadow the novel writing. Writers want so badly to get past that initial stage they spend more time on the pitch than the book.

    I know that queries have to grab an agent's attention, but so many samples I've read have only an inkling of fabulous — and the right agent usually picks up on that.

  2. Stina Says:

    Thanks, Kate. That's helps big time. 😀

  3. Lit Agent Synchronicity – Comparing Your Novel « The Ligan of the Disomus Says:

    […] November 2009 by nelsonleith Today, both Nathan Bransford and Ask Daphne address the perennial query letter dilemma: to invoke the master/bestseller comparison or […]

  4. kt literary » Blog Archive » Ask Daphne! About My Query XXX Says:

    […] talked earlier this week about using comparisons in your queries, and while I think a call out to Sarah Dessen is appropriate, the wording of it feels weird — […]

  5. kt literary » Blog Archive » From The Archives: About My Query XXX Says:

    […] talked earlier this week about using comparisons in your queries, and while I think a call out to Sarah Dessen is appropriate, the wording of it feels weird — […]