Saturday, September 27, 2008

Finding the right comp

Two more pitches at the conference today. I’m getting more confident with each one, but the nervous energy in the hall as we wait is palpable. Today the dancer/ actors were trying out for Grease, so EVERYONE in the hall was anxiously waiting for a tryout.

So, Melanie asked in the comments yesterday about finding comparable books. Over on Absolute Write, it seems that evoking other authors in a query letter is taboo, but I have to say, it was HUGELY important at this conference. Maybe the difference is that we are pitching editors directly--I don’t know--but we spent a lot of time finding good ones in preparation for the pitch and several of the editors have commented about having them to market a book.

I am by no means an expert on the subject, but I can share with you what I learned:

--Make sure your comps match the tone of your pitch (or, I guess, letter.) My pitch was making my novel seem a bit more breezy than it is. Partially because of the setting, but partially because of my word choice. My comps at first were The Position by Meg Wolitzer (because of the whole multi-POV, family dynamic thing) and Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates because I’ve been told my novel is similar to that, but not quite as bleak. Revolutionary Road seemed to throw everyone. It’s a very literary, very dark book and my pitch just didn’t feel heavy. So I tweaked the pitch to be a bit more serious and switched both comps to sound like this:

In the style of The Ten Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer and Little Children by Tom Perotta, Up from Drowning explores the mother / daughter dynamic and idea of accepting the imperfections of the people we love.

Much better, and more clear.

--Don’t use a book everyone else would use (“It’s the new Harry Potter!” It’s just like the Da Vinci Code!”), but don’t use a book that no one knows, either. Try to pick a recent book that sold well.

--Be careful how you word why your novel compares. Use phrases like “With the honesty of ______.” Or “With the intimate voice of ____.” Think about HOW your novel compares and WHY you are using that book. It doesn’t have to be *just* like it. I’m not writing about an affair between a stay-at-home mom and a stay-at-home dad, but Tom Perotta writes about families well, and I have a similar style and pace. The Wolitzer book is set in Manhattan and is all about mothers, plus she uses more than one POV and touches on mother/daughter relationships.

--Actually read the book before you use it as a comp.

--Amazon is a great way to find comps. I looked up a book I thought might work, and magically Amazon suggested two more that actually worked better.


Janna Leadbetter said...

Great pointers! Thanks.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

Thanks for the tips, I hope you'll post a full report!

Angie Ledbetter said...

Sounds like your conference was great and well worth attending. Hope it brings you closer to your goals!

Jewel Allen said...

*Actually read the book before you use it as a comp*

Funny, and sage advice :-)

Melanie Hooyenga said...

Wendy, this is a fabulous post. Thank you! I'm copying it and adding it to my query/agent/writing folder.

Creative A said...

Yeah, I always wondered why AW was so against naming other books. Seems like a useful method to me, as long as the comps you choose really are similar to your book.

Thanks for the checklist; very useful!