Monday, October 24, 2011

The Art of Pitching

I've done several conferences in 2011. Actually I've done a lot, or ALOT. This means, I've taken a lot of pitches. Some were better than others of course, and there are some basic Dos and Donts when pitching to agents and editors out there. I even talked about some a year ago.

But there is one thing, that almost every writer who's pitched to me recently has struggled with:

COMPARABLE TITLES

And believe it or not, this is really important. As an agent, I want to know comparable titles for two reasons.

1. Comparable titles tell me the targeted audience for a manuscript, it gives me a better idea of whether I might like it, it gives me a better idea of where I might sell it, how I might pitch it, how editors could pitch the book to their sales team.

and

2. Comparable titles also tell me how well-read the writer is when it comes to their own genre. I can't tell you how important I think this is--that writers read in their genre--and it's a huge mood kill in a pitch when I ask a writer who's pitching me a MG manuscript for comp titles and they tell me they don't really read children's books.

So if you're pitching to an agent or an editor--or even if you're just writing a novel, make sure you read in your genre. Especially those books that are bestsellers. People are buying and liking them for a reason. Try to figure out what it is.

Then think about your audience. People who are going to buy your book are most likely going to be people who frequent bookstores and at least buy and read a few books a year. Non readers are most likely not going to wander into a bookstore, stumble upon your book, and buy it (sad but true). Which means, most book buyers have books or authors they like. What kind of book buyers are going to buy your book and tell their friends about it?

Be realistic and be honest. It's no good saying you've written Twilight meets Harry Potter meets The Da Vinci Code since those are three different genres and are frankly overdone in terms of comparisons.

A sweeter paranormal YA might be comparable to Paranormalcy by Kiersten White.

A dark urban fantasy with a kickass female protagonist and a well developed world might be comparable to Kim Harrison's Hollows Series.

A fast paced thriller with a slight science fiction bent might be comparable to The Breach by Patrick Lee.

Writers don't necessarily need a tight logline (Indiana Jones meets Percy Jackson), though if you have one that works, it won't hurt. But saying that your manuscript will appeal to readers of Kelley Armstrong and Jeaniene Frost will go a long way.

19 comments:

Janet Johnson said...

I just went to a conference this weekend, and the editor who spoke focused on the same thing. *off to read more of my genre*

sara said...

I struggled with this, not because I'm not well read, but because it felt so uncomfortable to compare my book to the greats in my genre.

One question I have is if your book is more comparable in tone or style to well known but less well selling authors, is it still better to make a comparison to top sellers in your genre? Or is it best to be as brutally honest as possible?

Thanks!

phyllis sweetwater said...

Is there a chance that by making a comparison to a best seller will give the agent a let down because my manuscript isn't as high quality? I like to compare my book to the Hunger Games, but that series is SOOO amazing, I might be kicking myself by doing this.

i'm erin. said...

Thanks for the tips!

Erin Latimer said...

Sara, I'm with you on that one. It's hard to feel confident comparing yourself to a best seller in the business. I compared my book to Cassandra Clare's in the Vancouver pitch with Suzie, and then immediately thought, "Crap, that sounded pretentious."

Janet Reid said...

I think everyone should read THE BREACH and the two sequels so they know whether to compare their book to it. EVERY one!

:)))

Kelly Polark said...

Excellent advice. Thank you!

Carrie Butler said...

I've been wondering about this lately. Thank you, Suzie! :)

Susan Francino said...

Thanks for the advice, Suzie! It's good to know how important this part of the pitch really is.

Redleg said...

Is it useful to include comparable titles in query letters, or is this rule just for pitching in person?

Shari Green said...

I was just trying to come up with comp titles for my novel, so it's nice to hear it's worth the effort! Thanks for this post. :)

I hope you enjoyed SiWC!

Stephsco said...

Redleg, I think this comparison advice can be used both in queries and in pitches. This is some of the best advise I've been given, and I haven't even pitched or queried yet. I've learned so much about crafting my YA story based on reading. I made changes to my first manuscript because I realized mistakes based on other comparable works. It's stronger for it. I don't mean I copied ideas, but my structure was not quite working and in looking for other books with similar structure, I realized there is a reason I couldn't find a story from 4 different character POVs - it's too confusing! Two can work, 3 is pushing it, 4, not so much.

Anyway, it can be helpful to avoid "overdone" cliches. Ideas I think are original never are, but we can still tell a story in a different way. The only way to not do what everyone else is doing is to KNOW what everyone else is doing!

PS I use my library a lot or I'd be broke!

suzie townsend said...

@sara--you want good solid comparisons, but you also want to choose books that have sold well, because the goal of your comparisons is to SELL your book. To an agent, an editor, or even to book buyers.

suzie townsend said...

@phyllis--this is where you have to write the best book that you can. The Hunger Games is amazing, yes, but there are other books out there that can have the addictive page turning quality. If there's a similarity and you think your book will appeal to readers of the Hunger Games, say so!

suzie townsend said...

@erin--it's not pretentious at all. I love Cassie Clare's books, hearing that's a comp title makes me want to read your book even more.

suzie townsend said...

@Redleg--It's helpful in a query if you have a strong sense of your readership and you have really good comp titles.

Abby said...

My book is like "Ender's Game" meets "Star Wars" meets "Dune." I'll try not to make it sound that lame in a query letter. I consider myself well-read in the YA genre, but I honestly can't think of any close comparisons. Maybe a more adult version of "Gregor the Overlander." It is a rabbit-hole type of premise.

cathellisen said...

This was one of the things I was NEVER able to do when querying because I felt far too embarrassed, like I was assuming my work was as amazing as those people who had so obviously influenced me.

I guess this is one of those times you just suck it up and try be a *little* arrogant.

Sharon Bayliss said...

Thanks for the great post! I have linked to it here:

http://sharonbayliss.blogspot.com/2012/04/matching-game-finding-good-comps-for.html

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Five Random Things About Suzie

1. I drink so much orange soda, it's probably running through my veins. I've been known to go through a twelve pack of diet sunkist in a day.

2. I'm legitimately nocturnal (or a vampire). I will be so exhausted at two pm that I'm falling asleep standing up - it has happened before, at Six Flags no less - but as soon as the sun goes down I'm wide awake.

3. I have a gorgeous unused $6000 Reem Acra wedding dress hanging in my closet, and it showed up on my doorstep the same day my (now ex) fiance broke up with me. And thank God for that. I wouldn't have wanted to waste that dress on him.

4. Social anxiety plagues me daily. I write a script and practice in front of the mirror when I have to make a phone call, but most people who interact with me have no idea how nervous I am (or perhaps they lie) because I've worked so hard to try to overcome it.

5. I'm actually worried that I will never love my children (when I do have them in the far off future) as much as I love my dogs. I just like animals better than people - they're sweet and innocent and soft and furry - is that so wrong?