My Book is Like…

When I posted about writing great book proposals, I noticed a trend toward anxiety about the market comparison section. This is understandable since authors need to strike a balance between, “I am the next C.S. Lewis,” and “You don’t want to read this, do you?”

Aspiring to be like…

Most of the time, newer authors don’t think about comparing their work to the work of others in the proposal. Some do venture to compare themselves to classic authors in the query letter, and that can help the agent or editor orient herself to what you are writing, especially when your work isn’t of a specific genre. Do couch your words with care, however. “I compare my work to that of Francine Rivers,” reads differently than, “I greatly admire Francine Rivers. Reading her books has helped me aspire to touch hearts and souls with deep, emotional stories.”

There are exceptions, but…

The real work presents itself in the market comparison section. Granted, experienced agents and editors can skim a proposal and discern where any given book will fall into the marketplace. However, the reason we ask for this section is that it gives us concrete information not only about what is already available, but how you perceive your book’s presence in the marketplace. When an editor takes your work to Committee, marketing people are present and believe me, their votes count. The editor may fall in love with your work, but if he doesn’t have good information so he can articulate how it can be presented favorably to book buyers, who must understand and be able to recommend your book to readers, then your proposal may die in Committee. Obviously, some bestsellers don’t fit easily into a category, but those are the exception. Before that book became a bestseller, a plucky editor had to be a huge advocate and convince the Committee that taking a risk on that book would reap rewards. As with all risks, some enjoy a hefty payoff, while others are moved to the remainder bin.

First, you should…

Read and enjoy current books that are like those you write. Then you can make an honest and informed assessment of how and why your books are like other books currently available. You will be able to cite substance and style similarities and differences with the authority and enthusiasm of a fan. And make sure you are comparing similar works (apples to apples, not apples to oranges).

Then…

You may have read across the genre but still can’t name enough books for this section for one reason or another. That’s fine. You have still done your homework. Now you will just have to do an Internet search. Using our earlier example of Francine Rivers, I suggest visiting sites such as Christianbook.com and Amazon.com, of course,  and entering her name. Read through the book summaries and choose one that shares elements with your book. Then say how yours is different. Not better, but different. You are trying to make an association for readers, not say you are improving upon existing works.

When you scroll down the page, you’ll see that Amazon has two especially helpful features for writers. One is the “Frequently bought together” tab and the other is the “Customers who bought this item also bought” tab. Pressing these tabs will ultimately take you to books by other authors’ books to enrich your comparison section. I recommend a total of three to five comparisons.

A big advantage of using Christianbook.com is that they will only list books intended for the Christian market and only those books currently available. Amazon.com searches on the other hand do not have that filter and will also list books that are out-of-print or unavailable.

A note on genre fiction…

Authors writing for established lines with publishers such as Harlequin can skip this section. Why? Because these books are geared to the mass market, meaning they will be marketed heavily for a short period of time, and they are often sold through book clubs. These publishers know their audience and how to reach them so while marketing efforts on the author’s part are always welcome, they aren’t as essential as with a trade book that is marketed for a longer period of time. The author’s main job here to read the line to know what voice and tone the line needs, along with word count and level of sensuality and how spirituality is expressed.

A note on nonfiction…

Nonfiction authors can use the same process to find comparisons. And you will want to say how your book is different from those on the market. However, you will also want to show that your book is adding to the level of published information available. What new information are you offering that cannot easily be accessed on the Internet and through other books? If you feel your book is an improvement on what is available, stress that your information is an update of existing information. Stay away from disagreements that seem critical of published authors. Your proposal is not an extension of heated debate with in-laws at your breakfast nook table, but a professional presentation about why your book is needed at this time.

This seems like an awful lot of work…

It is, and it’s worth it, because the market comparison will take you through the agent’s vetting process, then the editor’s, then the Committee’s. If your goal is to be a published author, you can self-publish today. But if your goal is to be published by a traditional house offering you great marketing, your first job from a marketing perspective is to show that your book will sell.

Your turn:

What authors do you wish others would compare your work to?

How do you make your books different from those already on the market? or as Steve Laube asked in his blog “Would you buy your own book?”

25 Responses to My Book is Like…

  1. Kara I June 14, 2012 at 3:32 am #

    I would be beyond thrilled if people compared my writing with amazing writers like Rachel Hauck, Susan May Warren, Erynn Mangum, Jenny B. Jones and Denise Hunter. One of my favorite contest scoresheet comments ever was when a judge said my voice reminded him/her of Jenny B. Jones :)

    I really struggle with the “how do you make you books different from those already on the market?” question. I’ve never quite managed working out how to pitch my writing so it sounds like I have something new to contribute, without sounding like I think my stories are better than that of the authors that I’m using as market comparison!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray June 14, 2012 at 7:42 am #

      Kara, if you are writing fiction that fits into an established market, I don’t think readers are necessarily expecting you to break new ground. I think most Christian readers are looking for a great, entertaining, satisfying read that edifies and inspires them on their Christian walk. I have seen market comparisons that say something such as, “(MY BOOK) will appeal to readers of Erynn Mangum and Jenny B. Jones.” That may be enough for the agent or editor to get the picture. I have never rejected a proposal based solely on a flawed market comparison. I can always work with a promising writer to improve that section before the proposal goes to publishers.

      And with fiction, I don’t think it’s critical to say, “I am the only author currently writing a romance novel set in Virginia in 1799.” First, you are probably not. Second, unlike an author of nonfiction, you are not offering to bring new information to readers, but a different story. Perhaps something such as, “(MY BOOK) differs from (FAMOUS BOOK) in that (FAMOUS BOOK) is the story of a mail order bride, but (MY BOOK) is the story of a couple whose dreams of moving West are shattered by family tragedy.” In other words, you should always be able to find some plot element in your book that is different than other book plots. Simply comparing story lines is a pretty neutral way to make the comparison without saying either story is better.

      Also, I understand and appreciate your spirit of not wanting to appear egotistical when making comparisons. Look at the comparison as confidence in yourself instead. It’s great to be confident!

      I hope this answer helps. Let me know if you need any clarification, or have more questions.

      • Kara I June 14, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

        Thanks so much for your advice Tamela. So, would the below be appropriate – with the ability to expand if required?

        Chasing Yesterday is a story about people trapped in lives that are not as they seem and the power of love to overcome even the most gripping fear and compelling lies. It will appeal to readers of books like Dining with Joy by Rachel Hauck, My Foolish Heart by Susan May Warren and An Inconvenient Groom by Denise Hunter.

      • Tamela Hancock Murray June 15, 2012 at 9:32 am #

        Kara, I think that’s fine. :)

  2. Diana Harkness June 14, 2012 at 4:44 am #

    I know the authors I would want my book to be “like.” However, I cannot write as well as they do. I need someone to tell me who I write like because I have no idea. I read a fairly wide cross-section of fiction and non-fiction. If I had to narrow it down, I could say my book is like Robert Harris’ historical fiction (Pompeii or Imperium,) but mine is set in ancient times (not Rome) and I don’t write like he does. (I wish I did!) I might say I write like Frederick Buechner (Son of Laughter) but that, too, is a pipe dream. The only similarity I have to both these authors is that we all focus on one historical character and build the story around that one character. Using that same standard of comparison, I could compare my book to Angela Hunt’s series about Joseph. But again, I don’t write like her. I hesitate to compare my book to any of the ancient historical fiction published by Christian presses because I don’t like any that I have read. Whether they are by Francine Rivers or Karen Austin or someone else they all seem to lack excitement, depth, and care for language and some I would consider romance clothed in historical garb. After the first few pages of books like these, I am so bored I cannot continue. In fiction, I like and read historical, psychological thrillers(Lee Child), police procedurals(Karin Fossum),legal thrillers (Grisham), fantasy (Game of Thrones, Hunger Games), and novels that are simply well written and focus on the human condition: Swamplandia, anything by Madeleine L’Engle, Jodi Picoult, Gilead, Bel Canto, Stiltsville, The Sense of an Ending, etc. I think my novel carries some of all of these in addition to the non-fiction I read. My problem is that if I position it as historical fiction, it has a slim chance of selling. But it fits that category better than any of the others. And at least one publisher has liked it enough to ask to read it. Maybe their editor will have a suggestion on which other books are comparable.

  3. Dina Sleiman June 14, 2012 at 6:18 am #

    You know, that’s a great point about being a fan of your own genre. The market comparison section I wrote for my latest novel was the first one that required no research. Why? Because I had already read all the comparison books and loved them. And, not surprisingly, this genre finally worked out for me.

  4. JennyM June 14, 2012 at 7:07 am #

    I had one beta reader, who is a published writer herself, compare my voice to that of Faulkner. I almost laughed myself off my chair, until I learned that he was quite tight with cadence and diction. And that, my friends, is where I’ll focus.

    I do a bit of singing here and there, so perhaps that’s where I get my ear for a sentence. If my sentence has no balance as I hear it, I cannot keep going. It has to sound even and flow well.The sentence must not peter out, but hold it’s own from beginning to end, like a long, solid note in an aria.

    I am fond of backloading a paragraph or sentence, hopefully not to the point of boredom, predictability or death.

    I think my voice is similar to Jane Kirkpatrick and Tracie Peterson. I think. There are a few others to whom I’d compare, but right now, I don’t dare.

    How do I make my books different?

    I don’t hold back the violence, the humour, the heart or even the passion. Don’t worry, I’m somewhere between Jeanette Oke and Last of the Mohicans. ;)

    Just like my heroine, I want my readers to go through hell. But once hell is behind them, and just a vapour of itself, I want beauty and healing to shine.

    • Pat Jaeger June 19, 2012 at 6:39 am #

      Jenny, I’m with you on the cadence of sentences–preformed musically, write poetry–it has to flow!

  5. Michelle Lim June 14, 2012 at 7:18 am #

    Thanks for the helpful information! I especially found the part of amazon bought together books as a Huge Help! The market research part of the proposal is challenging.

    There are several authors that have inspired me, but some of the similarity connections I would love to have others see in my work is that it deals with gut wrenching life issues and touches a deep spiritual truth like Karen Ball, that it develops a villain to be feared like Colleen Coble in “Abomination,” that it maintains high tension like Dee Henderson in the “Negotiator,” and that it packs twists like Brandilyn Collins. However, I realize that this is an incredible list of authors whose talent stretches over a span of years of experience, I hope to someday have my writing be likened to one of these great authors.

    Plot uniqueness and intensity is one way that I try to make my writing stand out from other books on the market. A unique idea with lots of twists, deeper villain profiles, and strong parallel subplots are a few things I try to incorporate.

    Thanks Tamela for this post. It is one to save and reread multiple times!

    • JennyM June 14, 2012 at 7:46 am #

      Dee is amazing at tension! Have you read “Danger in the Shadows”? I was nervous in parking garages for weeks.

      • Lindsay Harrel June 14, 2012 at 7:54 am #

        I just read that one and am now well into The Guardian!

      • Michelle Lim June 14, 2012 at 7:56 am #

        I have read everything of Dee Henderson’s that is in print and am excited to get her new release on October 2nd, “Full Disclosure.” I so agree with you Jenny, Tension is her thing!

    • JennyM June 14, 2012 at 9:09 am #

      Michele, I am counting the days! I’m leaving on a mission trip on Oct 17th and am saving “Full Disclosure” for the 36 (million) hour trip.

    • JennyM June 14, 2012 at 9:09 am #

      Sorry, here’s that “L” I forgot. ;)

  6. sally apokedak June 14, 2012 at 7:19 am #

    I am aiming to be like Shannon Hale and/or Diana Wynne Jones. My books are different from many CBA fantasy, fairy tale-ish stories, because they don’t have a God who has a Son, and they don’t have the gospel message in them. They do have well built worlds with religious systems that are important to the story and that are friendly to the Christian worldview.

    The book I have out on submission now has a God who is a provider. He is meant to show just a couple of attributes or the real God. The characters show a couple of more things about God. One plays Christ’s part in the crucifixion and one plays God the Father’s part. The book is different from many CBA books, but it’s very much a “Christian worldview” book.

    And, yes, I would buy my own book. It’s a great crossover book. Girls and women both like it. And nonChristians and Christians both like it. I’ve tried it on probably fifty test readers. I know agents hate to hear that we’ve written crossover books, but that doesn’t negate the fact that I have, indeed, written one. :)

    Darn right, I’d buy it! :)

  7. Meghan Carver June 14, 2012 at 7:39 am #

    I would like to be compared to Angela Hunt! She has sold millions of books, though, so is she too big of a name for comparison?

    Thanks, Tamela, for the suggestions for Christian Book. There are so many novels published each year that I panic thinking of the market comparison section of a proposal.

  8. Jeanne June 14, 2012 at 7:50 am #

    This part of a proposal does make me nervous. :) I’d love to be compared to Angela Hunt, Rachel Hauck, Robin Lee Hatcher. I know these are big names, but these are a few authors I enjoy reading and respect, so there you have it. :)

  9. Lindsay Harrel June 14, 2012 at 7:53 am #

    I would LOVE to have my books compared with Francine Rivers and Susan Meissner (I love both of their depths and styles). In my comparison section for my current novel, I have books by both of them (Rivers’ “The Atonement Child” and Meissner’s “The Shape of Mercy”), but not as much for style as for content and themes.

    I don’t know if I’ve figured out how to make my books different, except that I’m focusing on the 20- and 30-somethings market. And hopefully, my voice is unique. That’s something that should make every writer stand apart (Susan Meissner does this particularly well, imo).

    Thanks for the great information, Tamela! I always love reading your posts.

  10. Heather June 14, 2012 at 8:18 am #

    This is a very helpful part on what I think many find to be a difficult part of a proposal. Thanks!

  11. Michael Duncan June 14, 2012 at 8:19 am #

    I suppose, because there is “nothing new under the sun,” I would like some of my work compared to the masters such as Tolkien and Lewis and other works of mine compared to Jenkins and Rubart. For my non-fiction works I would like to be compared to MacArthur or Swindoll. But (and I hope this isn’t spoken out of turn) I would rather have other works compared to mine. :)

    Is it wrong of me to say that I don’t spend a lot of effort to try and make my works different than those already on the market? I just write what’s on my heart and what I love so they just are different. And, yes, I would certainly buy my own books. :)

    Thank you, Tamela, for this great discussion.

  12. Mesu Andrews June 14, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    Great post, Tamela! Your thoughts and suggested wording help guide me into a more appealing proposal. Also, my publisher has asked how to describe my books to retailers…to whom they can compare my writing. It’s a tough question. This helps. Thanks oodles!

  13. Deb Kinnard June 20, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    My writing voice has been favorably compared with a couple of authors I respect greatly — but I thought the comments were stretching it a bit.

    I aspire to write like Deb Kinnard, for the time being.

  14. Jackie Layton June 21, 2012 at 4:32 am #

    Thanks for the help on how to compare our writing.

    I’m still new at all of this and unpublished. Two different times when I’ve gotten with a small writing group, somebody has compared my story to John Grisham.
    Each time I was completely intimidated. I’m nervous even mentioning that here on your blog, I doubt I could say it in a proposal.

    I’ll be thinking about this post for days. Thanks, again!

  15. Linda Rodante October 15, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

    Thanks, Tamela. This was a great help.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. My Book is Like… | ChristianBookBarn.com - June 16, 2012

    [...] Recommended Article FROM http://www.stevelaube.com/my-book-is-like/ [...]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *