Saturday, November 15, 2008

Quagmire by Any Other Name is Still...Quagmire

This post is in response to Josephine’s question, “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? Auto-reject?”

It's all in the phrasing. If you state that your work is the same as a famous someone's work, your stating that, as an artist, you are at the same level as him or her, which might be viewed as an arrogant and presumptuous statement. Why even say that your book is written like anyone’s book? Why not let your work stand on its own merits rather than make comparisons? Some agents might view this as name-dropping or you might run the risk of naming an author’s work that an agent can’t stand, which could be a complete turnoff. So why take these kinds of chances by mentioning someone else’s work?

I know for many this might sound like a cop out, but when querying agents you really don't know how anything will be taken on the receiving end; you can only do the best you can based on the knowledge you have of the agency or agent, or lack thereof. So in that case, it might be safer to pick and choose your phraseology carefully, which is standard practice when writing a formal or business letter to someone you don't know well. Err on the side of caution.

Would it be an instant turn-off or an auto-reject if you said your book is written in the tradition of a certain author’s book? That would of course depend on how well your book was written and on how familiar the agent was with the referenced work. If you offer a comparison to an author with whom an agent is unfamiliar, he or she might think you don’t know what you’ve written and are trying to move attention away from that fact by trying to impress him or her with your vast literary knowledge. Another aspect is that if the agent knows the work to which you are making your comparison and your novel or book doesn’t stand up to that comparison. No matter how you phrase it, you are asking for trouble.

As far as I’m concerned, I base my acceptance on many things of which a well-written work is only one. If your book meets my requirements and I think I can work with you, I will represent your work. In other words, I over-look name dropping in favor of other factors.


Josephine Damian said...

Oooh, Agent Robert! Thanks for answering. In Hollywood the first (and sometimes only) thing an agent needs - wants - to hear is: It's THIS meets THIS.

Glad you set me straight. Apparently I have some bad habits left over from my screenwriting days.

Josephine Damian said...

Another question: When you get a query do you read the author bio first? (Some agents do). How important is background to you? Writing credits? Do you believe it helps if a fiction writer has a platform? Some sort of background that relates to their book?

Anonymous said...

Is this similar to those comparatives we're supposed to include in our queries?