One Writer’s Journey

March 10, 2017

Query Letters: Comparing Your Book to Another Title

One of the things that you need to do in your query letter is show the agent that you know something about the market.  Many writers do this by comparing their work to a book that is already in print.

As with everything, there is a right way to do this and a wrong way to do this.  Do not state that your book will be the next Harry Potter/Nancy Drew/Little House on the Prairie.  While everyone wants to be wildly successful, you don’t want the agent to just roll his eyes and then delete your query or send you the dreaded “good luck in finding representation elsewhere.”

The book that you chose to compare to your own should also be current.  That’s part of the problem with Nancy Drew and Little House.  Yes, I loved them.  Yes, I read them all.  But they were published then and this is now.  You want to show the agent that you’ve read something recent and that you know the market.  

These comparisons wouldn’t tell your target agent anything about your book.  They would just tell her something not altogether positive about you.

Instead, make a comparison, using a contemporary title, that hints at your book.  “My book has the same fantasy meets the Wild West feel as Rebel of the Sands.”  “Like Ronan in the Raven Boys, Jed is abrasive but compelling.”  This doesn’t say that my book will be an international seller like Rebel of the Sands.  I’m not claiming to have the same series potential as The Raven Boys.  But I am telling the agent something about the feel of the book.  In doing so, I’m also making her aware that fans of the popular book may also like mine.

Comparing your book to a successful, current title isn’t an easy task to do well but it is something that will tell the agent about both you and the manuscript.  Just make sure that it sends the message you intend.




February 23, 2017

Query Letters: One Phrase to Avoid

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:45 am
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I can see several problems in using this particular phrase.
1.  You aren’t really telling the agent about your manuscript.  Unless your character is literally risking life and limb, happiness and the very universe itself, you are using a cliché that doesn’t really tell the agent anything about your character or story.
2.  What is at risk can tell us something about your character’s situation.  That means that this phrase denies the agent a chance to get to know your character. If your character is risking the chance to ever see his parents again, we will know that he has somehow been separated from them.  We may not know how they became separated or how long they’ve been separated but we know that they are separated and this is something your character would reverse if possible.
3.  What is at risk can also tell us what your character values or loves.  If your character is risking her dream of going on to vet school, we can assume that she loves animals and had planned to be a vet vs loving music and wanting to go to Julliard or loving art and wanting to visit the Louvre.
4.  It can disguise a problem with the stakes in your novel.  If you use this phrase instead of describing what is at stake for your character, you may be doing this because what is at stake doesn’t really matter.  It is small potatoes instead of something truly big and meaningful.
Look for this phrase in your query and then do whatever it takes, rewriting the letter or rewriting your story, to bring a better phrase into the spotlight.

December 16, 2015

Query letter vs. jacket copy

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:49 am
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query jacket copy“When you write a query letter, make it sound like jacket copy.”

I can’t even begin to tell you how often I’ve been given this advice by my fellow writers.  The problem is that it may not be the best way to do things.  It all depends on the jacket copy you chose to emulate.

Book jackets aren’t meant to entice the reader into taking the book home.  Because of this, the emphasis is often on tension and excitement. There’s a lot of suspense.  But what’s the plot?  Book jackets, according to agent Janet Reid, after often very plot light.

Seriously?  I decided to test that theory out.  Here’s the jacket copy for Magnus Chase.

“Magnus Chase has seen his share of trouble. Ever since that terrible night two years ago when his mother told him to run, he has lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, staying one step ahead of the police and truant officers.

“One day, Magnus learns that someone else is trying to track him down — his Uncle Randolph, a man his mother had always warned him about. When Magnus tries to outmaneuver his uncle, he falls right into his clutches. Randolph starts rambling about Norse history and Magnus’s birth right: a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.

“The more Randolph talks, the more puzzle pieces fall into place.  Stories about the gods of Asgard, wolves, and Doomsday bubble up from Magnus’s memory. But he doesn’t have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents . . .

“Sometimes the only way to start a new life is to die.”

So, what’s the plot?  I haven’t read this yet but my guess is that the fire giant is the inciting incident.  The plot? That’s what takes place after that last line.  This jacket is definitely plot light.  Why not look at a few on your bookshelf and see if you can pick out the plot just from the jacket copy.

A query letter needs to include your plot because the letter is meant to sell an agent or editor on the time commitment required to read your story.  This means that you need to show them that you know about story.  Who is your main character, complete with strengths and weaknesses?  What does she want more than anything?  What will happen if she doesn’t get it.  Who is your antagonist?  How or why is he in conflict with your protagonist?

This leads us to the plot, beginning with the story problem and the major plot points (attempts 1, 2 and 3).  And don’t forget your setting.

That’s an awful lot to work into a single letter.  If you can make it as enticing as jacket copy, that’s great, but first and foremost it needs to work as a query letter.



March 12, 2010

Querying a Batch at a Time

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 4:35 am
Tags: ,

Earlier this week, I mentioned that I was blogging to take a break from the query I was writing.  Some of the queries I write take hours or days to pull together. When I am querying an editor I work with regularly, like Susan Tierney at Children’s Writer or Alice Pope at Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, I write what I call “batch queries.”  I’m not querying for a single article but 5 or more.  For each article I include:

  • Title
  • Hook/Why the topic is important
  • 4 – 6 things the article will cover
  • Possible sources of information/people to interview

These editors already know me and what I do.  They’ve seen my work so they know that I can write.  I just need to cover the article idea itself.

I’ve heard people argue against batch queries, saying that you are competing against yourself because the editor will choose one idea over the others, if she chooses anything at all.  That hasn’t been my experience —  my editors often ask for 2 or more of the pieces, but I’m not pitching books either.

If any of you query several pieces at a time differently than this, let me know.  I’m interested to hear how someone else does it.


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