Wednesday, February 6, 2013

One of the Most Important Parts of Your Query

I feel like every time I post any kind of advice on this blog I should include a legal disclaimer. Making sure everyone understands that I am no expert and that I am not holding myself out as such. I'm just a girl who has been there, waded in the deep, and made it to shore. Tis' all.

The opinions contained in this post are not to be misconstrued as expert advice. The thoughts and ideas expressed herein are limited to personal experience and research and as such should be interpreted with careful consideration. However, any disagreement shall be discussed in the comments section,  and thereafter binding arbitration.

Having said that, I firmly believe there is one very often overlooked part of the query which is abundantly helpful to your success:

What is the COMP Sentence? It's the one line of your query in which you compare your book to 1-2 other books or authors. It usually fits it neatly after the title, genre, and word count sentence, but you can drop it in anywhere.

  • "Think Amy Tan, but with a sweeter aftertaste."--This is the comp that author Jamie Ford used for his book HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET.
  • "If the author Jane Austen were to have written a vampire novel during her lifetime, SOULLESS would have been it."--This is the comp that agent Kristin Nelson wrote for her client Gail Carriger when she pitched the book SOULLESS.
  • "If you searched for a book that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike THE BOOK THIEF (which I absolutely loved), you might just have JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, a middle-grade-and-up science fiction novel that I just completed. Still fun! But no one dies - Mr. Death would be lonely." This is the comp that Nathan Bransford used to solicit an agent of his own. Very voicey. 
  • "It’s HEIST SOCIETY meets DEXTER."--This is is from my query for KILLING RUBY ROSE. 

  • DON'T use grandiose comp titles like TWILIGHT, HARRY POTTER, OR HUNGER GAMES. Unless you are trying to make the agents simultaneously roll their eyes and click rejection button.
  • DON'T use titles that no one has ever heard of either. Comparing your work to some author an agent would be entirely unfamiliar with doesn't help at all. Shoot for the well-known titles which have sold well. Even if the agents haven't read all the popular books, they are familiar enough with the market to understand the comp. 
  • DON'T use titles that you haven't read. Even if you think that the Goodreads blurb sounds a lot like yours. It could end up making you look stupid. My agent and I have discussed several times how my book is stylistically similar to the comps I used in my query.
  • DO choose books that exhibit your understanding of the publishing market. For example, it is abundantly clear at the moment that agents are now shying away from all things vampire (unless it's so unique it must be read), so citing an older paranormal romance may not be to your advantage.
  • DO choose a book that is not only similar to yours in genre, but in style as well. If your voice is snarky and lighthearted, don't choose a book that is poetic or literary. 
  • DO choose a book that conveys that you are well-read. Agents like writers who read. Agents love writers who read their clients' books. And agents adore writers who read books across all genres. So if you can use one comp is your genre, plus a comp in another genre that is stylistically similar, it shows you know books.
  • DON'T use a comp from one of their client's list unless you differentiate it. Because agents will never cannibalize their authors, it is unwise to say your manuscript is exactly like one of their previously published works. 
Basically, what I am trying to say is: if you use your COMP SENTENCE right, you are giving yourself a huge advantage. You are showing the agents that you understand the publishing market, you are well-read, and you have done the research it takes to become a published author. It helps them very quickly ascertain whether or not your style, writing level, and personality would fit well with their client list. 

Just sayin'.

Any more Do's or Don'ts you can think of?


  1. Great advice and well-detailed. I promise not to hold you legally responsible. And congratulations on the half-crazy run you just completed. A wonderful accomplishment.

  2. Also, you don't HAVE to have a comp sentence at all. Don't try to force it if you don't may backfire. I think some people use movies instead of books, too. Not sure what the advice on that one is.

  3. Great advice and just the sort of thing I've been looking to find out more about.


  4. I think that everyone should use a comp. and I went to this awesome conference once where there was this killer agent and she said she ALWAYS wanted to see a comp. Just saying.

  5. Thanks for this list. I'm terrified of using comp titles for fear of getting it wrong or sounding grandiose.

  6. Thanks so much for the tip, Jessie. Good advice not to pick one you haven't read. That could become embarrassing. If you can't think of a comp, letting the agent know you are picking them because of some books they've sold or authors they rep like yours can help. Not sure I have a comp sentence for mine so I might use this instead.

  7. Awesome tips, Jessie! Great post! :)

  8. Excellent points, Jessie! I run the bad happen of comparing my stuff to a book and a movie or TV show, mostly because I'm multifaceted like that. :)

  9. Great advice! I was never good at this. But I know if done right it can be that added bonus you need.

  10. Wonderful advice, Jessie! Angie and I came up with comps for our YA fantasy, and I think I've found one for my Upper MG fantasy adventure. It's a toughie.

    I hope you're recovering well from your run!

  11. Wow. I don't think a really good, must be read, fresh idea will necessarily have a comp. I'm a little leery of an agent ALWAYS wanting to see a comp. Any chance we can get a list of those guys, so we know, lol? Thanks for sharing your thoughts as always, Jessie, I am still just so proud of you. :)

  12. what do you think about this,
    a combination of i, robot and romancing the stone

    i agree, a comp is great, but not everyone needs one

    but they can be helpful!

  13. fantastic advice, especially reading the books you want to compare yours to.