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:
THE COMP SENTENCE
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.
Any more Do's or Don'ts you can think of?