Monday, November 03, 2008

Burning Questions

There are several questions that writers should ask agents, but many are shy about making inquires. One reason for this could be writers believe that asking these questions would somehow shade how they are perceived by the agent or they may worry that really hard questions might make an agent angry enough to not want to offer representation. As for me, I believe if an agent gets angry when asked a legitimate question about publishing, the writer might be better off without that agent.

Last week I vented on Twitter about my muse hitting the wall when it comes to interesting ideas for blog posts. Miss Expatria, a very nice lady who writes about European travel from her home base in Italy, was kind enough to send me some tough, challenging questions. Because these questions made me stretch my brain muscles to come up with answers, the answers might phrased differently and might be a little more candid than you’re used to. My goal in answering them in this fashion is to stir up discussion, so please have at it.

1. Many movie pitches seem to depend on comparisons to other movies - "It's Out of Africa meets Pretty Woman," to quote from the first scene of The Player - but making a comparison like this in a query letter would get it thrown in the trash, and you could probably dine out on the story for a month. Why is that, in your opinion?

Answer: The reason is that it’s usually thought to be arrogant. This is especially true when the comparison comes from an unpublished author. A claim that a book by someone unpublished that his or her book is just like Steven King’s “Carrie” would be like an agent saying that he plays golf as well as Tiger Woods. It’s thought presumptuous for an untried writer to state that his work is similar to or the same as a work what sold several hundred thousand copies and from which a movie was made. It’s also discouraging when these comparisons are made and when the sample is read; the comparison usually falls way short of the claim made by its author. So if an author wants to impress an agent, just write something salable and leave comparisons to the critics after the novel is published.

The way the comparison is worded and the general overall feel of the letter makes all the difference in whether these comparisons are thought to be arrogant. For instance, instead of using statements containing words like “the same as” or “similar to” one might consider simply saying, "My book falls into the same category as Blank Blank or Blank." It might not seem like a big difference, but these few simple words can change the tone of a query from arrogant to neutral.

I’m looking forward to posting question number two. Please look for it soon.


ricgalbraith said...

thanks for the tip, i've actually heard this from a few authors / agents / publishers now, they always recommend not to compare your work, especially in a querie, as it uses up vaulable words you could be using to describe your story.

Anonymous said...

Can't wait for the rest! Tell it like it is, my man!

Anonymous said...

Ha wait I wasn't finished with that comment, sorry. Hi.

Do you think maybe that in movie pitches it is assumed one is talking about the story feel or the general storyline, but in literature it's believed you are comparing your work to the quality of the referenced title?

I can see how saying that a sitcom of Miss E. would be Will & Grace meets My So Called Life is much more amusing than saying the manuscript is Bridget Jones meets Hemingway, at which even I would say, get over yourself honey.


Josephine Damian said...

What if a query said "MY TITLE is written in the tradition of X and X" (best selling novels)?

Would that be an instant turn-off?

Becky said...

For rejected books.... if anyone has ever experienced this, there is a great new site... put together by Mary Patrick Kavanaugh who is mourning her unpublished book, "Family Plots." She has created this site for other fellow authors to go to mourn their losses as well- It is really a fun site- she has such a great sense of humor!