I have a fabulous guest post by Beth Revis of writing it out to share with you today!
I read one of Beth's queries awhile ago on the KT Literary blog, Ask Daphe, and she had one of the best book comparisons I'd ever read in a query (I usually don't like them), so I was pretty excited to receive this here guest post on the subject, and I'm equally excited to share it with you.
Now... here's Beth!
I know you've heard it a million times before: do your research before you query. But what, exactly, are you supposed to research...and how do you apply it in your query?
Beyond the obvious things (such as genres represented and submission guidelines) one of the top things to research for your query is what books compare best to yours.
Why you need comparisons
You've probably heard before that you shouldn't compare your work to others. And that is true. When I say research what books compare best to yours, what I do NOT mean is that you're going to include a list of bestsellers and tell the agent your book is at least as good as theirs. No. NO. Do NOT do this.
But what you DO need to do is prove to the agent two things: 1) You've done the research in your market, and 2) You have a book that will actually have a specific place on a bookseller's shelf.
Saying you have a romance/science fiction/literary/children's/masterpiece is a red flag to an agent. Saying you have a YA that would appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman's STARDUST is actually helpful.
Comparing to bestsellers
Don't do it.
Comparing to non-bestsellers
First, read *current* books in your genre. You're looking for something recent to the market that is moderately well known but not a bestseller. When I started pitching my YA SF, the obvious choice to compare it to would be Orson Scott Card's ELDER'S GAME (as the most popular YA SF of all time), Suzanne Collins's THE HUNGER GAMES (as the current bestselling YA SF), or Stephenie Meyer's THE HOST (as Stephenie Meyers is writing gold in these here parts). But those were all the wrong choices for me. Card's work is too classic--and you need to prove to the agent you've read things beyond the obvious and have your finger on the current market's pulse. Collins and Meyer's were too big of names--they're overused (much like Harry Potter and Dan Brown).
The point of comparing your work to others is so that you can stand out from the crowd. Do this by using a current, specific, work that suitably compares. I used Mary Pearson's THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX to compare my work to--it's in the genre, came out only a few years ago, and is well known but not overused.
It's all in how you phrase it
One reason why so many people say to avoid making comparisons to books in your query is because it makes you sound rude, cocky, and self-centered. Saying "My book is like X but so much better because..." makes you sound like the loud, annoying guy at the party everyone wishes would go home early.
So how do you say it? There's a couple of good approaches. First, the simplest way to compare your book to another one is by saying, "Fans of X may also like my work because..." The key is to have a good "because," one that proves you've read the book and that fans actually will like your work. For example: "Fans of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series will also like my book because I also tap into Greek mythology as a base for my character's problems." Make your sentences work for you--this one sentence has two purposes: to give a competent comparison to your work, and also to emphasize the use of Greek mythology.
This also works if you're having trouble coming up with a comparative title for your work. My WIP is a YA SF, and there's precious little of that on the market today. So, in addition to comparing it to THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX, a YA SF title, I also used a middle grade title, Jeanne du Prau's THE CITY OF EMBER. My work isn't exactly like hers, but I do have a mystery line like she does, so I said, "Fans of the contained mystery in Jeanne du Prau's CITY OF EMBER may also enjoy my work."
Research the agent
Use sites like Query Tracker to discover what agents represent what books. If you can find an agent who specifically represents a book you think directly relates to your own, then be sure to send it to that agent. You better believe I'll be researching Mary Pearson and Jeanne du Prau's agents.
But also, check out blogs and interviews with agents. Often, an agent will mention a book they don't represent and how much they wish they did. Use that! Compare to books the agent likes, even if they don't represent them.
Likewise, look at their wishlists. If they say they like one book but are looking for a fresh twist, mention that. For example: "I noticed in your interview with Casey that you're looking for a Dan Brown with a twist; I think you'll agree that my use of X will appeal to Brown's fans, but my use of Y will add a fresh aspect to the genre."
Avoid sucking up
Just because you know an agent's full client list doesn't mean you should use it. Don't throw out a bunch of titles from the agent's list. Use them only if they are truly comparable, and if you've ACTUALLY READ THEM and know they're comparable. Agents can sniff a suck-up a mile away.
Using comparisons in your query shouldn't be the meat of your pitch--but if you do your research and use them well, they can be just the sweet dessert that makes your query stand out from all the rest.
Bio: Beth Revis is currently pitching a YA SF and writes at bethrevis.blogspot.com.