Some sweet 1970s platform shoes for Kathy, who sends a two part question:
As I get ready to submit my middle-grade WIP to agents, I’m torn with which ones to target. Should I find ones who specialize in middle grade fiction or go further and find ones who are interested in middle grade fiction about dancers?
Another aspect of this is that many of the comparable novels to mine were written in the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s. Is this too far back to use in a query?
Kathy, I think you’ll find you’re really limiting yourself if you only seek out agents who specifically say they’re looking for middle grade fiction about dancers. Most of us don’t usually get that precise about our interests, because many times, we don’t know what we want to represent until we see it!
I mean, sure, I’ve said I’d love to find a YA novel about gymnasts, but does that mean I only want to receive queries about gymnasts? No! I still want to see everything that falls within my broader, stated interests.
As for the second part of your question, I’m going to go with the lame-ass “it depends.” One the one hand, the fact that the only comparable novels you can find for your book are decades old may represent a real need for an updated take on the theme or story. Then again, it may signal that your presentation of the story is itself somewhat dated, as well as being — perhaps — more about YOUR experience as a young reader than a young reader today.
Ultimately, I’m going to say it kinda doesn’t matter, as referring to competitive works is more for nonfiction than fiction. Sure, once you’ve been acquired by a house, your editor may put together a TI (Title Information) sheet for her sales, marketing, and publicity departments, and may mention competitive works to them, but I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about competitive works at this stage in your process.