Proposals: Comparing Your Writing to Icons

Awhile ago, I was reviewing a proverbial stack of nonfiction and fiction proposals. As I read them, I noticed something. And I saw that something again just recently as I read over proposals during a series of 15-minute meetings with conferees at a writers’ conference. What was that something? In their proposals, more and more writers are comparing their work to icons in publishing. As in:

“My work contains overtones of Ernest Hemingway.”

“This book marries the power of To Kill a Mockingbird with the truth of Corrie Ten Boom.”

“My books are just like Ted Dekker’s, so my audience is the same as his.”

Now, all of that is well and good if, indeed, those assertions are true. But I’m sorry to say, it usually isn’t. It’s not that the proposals were terrible. Some were pretty good. But there really weren’t overtones of EH, nor was there a marriage, nor was the story contained in the sample chapters “just like” a Ted Dekker book.

I get it. Writers want to position their writing, genre, style in the agents’ or editors’ minds. That’s a good thing. But if you want to compare your work to someone else’s, don’t make that comparison yourself. Instead, utilize the gift of readers. Here are some simple steps to do that:

  1. Put together a group of advance readers who agree to read your manuscript and answer a few questions. Don’t use friends and family. Instead, find readers through your social media, the local library or schools/universities, writers’ groups. Folks who don’t know you personally but who love to read.
  2. When you send the manuscript to these folks, ask them to comment on whatever will help you best, be it pacing, character development, plot, word choice, dialogue…whatever. But include this as one of your questions:

Did the writing, the story, or the tone remind you of any of your favorite writers?

Or have them fill in the blanks, such as:

If you enjoy ___________’s books, you’ll like this book. (But do not give them any possible names of writers. This has to come from the readers, not from you.)

  1. If there seems to be a consensus among the readers, meaning several compare you to the same writer, then you can say in your proposal: “Advance readers have said my writing/story/tone/voice (whatever) reminds them of ___________.”

What do you do if no one makes a comparison? Then talk about why you wrote the book. Something like, “I wrote this book because I enjoy Ted Dekker’s novels and wanted to craft a story that would resonate with readers of the genre.”

Peace, friends.

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