Monday, August 18, 2008

THIS + THIS = I have no idea

Tip of the Day: Next week is our A2A School Days Giveaways! Five books about school, five chances to win them!

I got a hot tip from a friend who attended the recent Los Angeles SCBWI conference: a well-known agent suggested adding a tag line to your query letter comparing your novel to something else, giving it that high-concept hook. Like “This novel is CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY meets LORD OF THE FLIES.” I had heard this from an editor at a big house at my last local SCBWI conference. I guess this is the latest litmus test of “is your novel commercial enough and high-concept enough to sell easily?”

I can sort of see the appeal. For example, I recently read The Luxe by Anna Godbersen, and I could describe that accurately as DYNASTY meets SWEET VALLEY HIGH meets Jane Austen. Who wouldn’t want to read that hybrid?

But when it comes to describing my own books like that, well, I start having lots of insecurities.

Would I be ruled out for picking the wrong book? I understand agents and editors saying not to compare your work to Twilight or Harry Potter. I suspect they get a lot of queries like: “This is just like TWILIGHT, except with horses instead of vampires. And it takes place in 1874 Colorado. And it’s not so heavy on the romance.”

The classics are off-limits too. I loved Anne of Green Gables but I wouldn’t want to read something that resembles Anne of Green Gables. But besides that, what if I pick the wrong thing? What if I compare my novel to High School Musical? Will I be the seventh query that day comparing my novel to High School Musical? Will the agent reading my query think “If I see one more query letter comparing a novel to High School Musical, I’m going to shred it with a cleaver”? But what’s the point of comparing my novel to something obscure and unpopular?

Will this expose me as not being widely read? What if I compare my novel to High School Musical but it’s really more like the well loved novel High School Danceoff. Only I didn’t read High School Danceoff. And the agent or editor who reads my query “This is HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL meets THE SHINING” thinks “Duh, that’s High School Danceoff. What makes this different than High School Danceoff?”

Because that’s what I’m challenged to do—find the exact right novel for comparison. And I haven’t read everything there is to read yet! Talk about aiming for a writer’s insecurities.

What if I really, really can’t think of anything witty? I have one novel in progress that I think of as an older, scarier Time Warp Trio. But I can’t think of anything for the novel I’m working on now. It’s sort of Disney Channel-ish, but isn’t that just saying it’s a commercial tween novel?

So I think I’ll have to skip the comparisons on this novel. But in the meantime, I’m having fun playing pretend agent and judging pretend queries. “FRIDAY THE 13TH meets LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE?” I’ll pass. "THE FLY meets GOSSIP GIRLS"? Ooooh, I'd see pages.

-- Kate, Miss Apprentice Writer


Anonymous said...

Fun! My book THE JETSETTERS SOCIAL CLUB was pitched as "The A-list meets The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants".

And I think the Luxe was actually pitched as Gossip Girl meets _________" and I'm blanking on the other half. 1899?
I think its in the pub marketplace listing.


Emily Marshall said...

I've done this in a query letter, because I thought I had a good combo that basically summarized the entire book. I've heard some people like the comparisons and others don't. Personally, I like it.

Jessica Burkhart said...

Fun! Mine was tagged by S&S as "The Clique meets The Saddle Club."

DeenaML said...

I love reading everyone's comparisons!

My problem is I always want to compare my stuff to non-kidlit books. Like, STAFF ROAD I wanted to call ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST meets a paranormal HAPPY DAYS. Yeah, I know, it doesn't make sense. :)

For 24 HOURS I'd go with 24 meets THE BREAKFAST CLUB for tweens.

Kristina Springer said...

Oooh-good post! I tried to do this with my first query and did P.S. I Love You meets the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

Tabitha said...

This is a skill I simply do not have. I look at stories as entities unto themselves, with their own nuances and personalities. I just cannot see them as a hybrid of something else.

I think you bring up a good point regarding agents saying "if I see another query with this comparison, I'm going to..." Makes me wonder how often that happens. :)