QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mentioning Similar Books in a Query: How To

Today's question is:

Many say a query should include reference to a novel the agent has represented in the past that's similar to your own. How pertinent is this advice? If it's important, does a writer proceed by spending weeks reading numerous novels before querying each agent? I can't imagine doing so, and this tactic may not even succeed.

Mentioning a novel or novels the agent has represented serves several purposes. First, it tells the agent that you read (a surprising number of "writers" claim they don't) and that you know how your book would be positioned in the marketplace. Second, it tells the agent that you know and appreciate that she has sold books similar to your own, which suggests that you and she might in fact be a great match.

To figure out which agents are selling books like yours:

1. Read in the genre in which you write!

I don't know about you, but one of the reasons I'm a writer is because I love books! Every month, I head over to my local library and pick up between five and seven books in genres I love to read. I don't usually read all of them (because not all of them end up appealing to me when I start reading), but I've discovered amazing stories this way.

One writer in particular I recently discovered is Sara Creasy, who writes science fiction. Her book Song of Scarabaeus was an amazing mix of fascinating sci-fi plot and romance -- something I also aim to accomplish.

2. Check out the Acknowledgements.

New authors in particular often thank their agents in their Acknowledgements. So when you find a book you love, flip to the front and check the Acknowledgements.

Creasy did in fact mention her agent, Kristin Nelson, in her Acknowledgements, so I can make a note of this and go from there. But let's say the author you're admiring (and feel has a similar style and story to you) isn't mentioned in the Acknowledgements.

Lucky you -- you belong to QueryTracker, so you have a secret weapon in your arsenal!

3. Check out QueryTracker.net's Who Reps Whom database.

QueryTracker.net gives you access to the incredibly useful Who Reps Whom database. (Look under the Resources pulldown menu.) In this database you will find nearly 10,000 authors and the agents who represent them (or have represented them in the past). Lo and behold, Creasy's agent (Nelson) is also listed here.

Additional Tips:

  • Be sure the author you're mentioning is in fact someone whose writing is similar to yours -- not just someone you admire.  For example, you may love Stephen King's writing -- but do you really write like him?
  • Try to pick authors who aren't household names.  Again, this suggests that you really do read in the genre and know the work of the author you're mentioning.
  • If you're able to, mention more than one author the agent represents.
  • Try to explain -- briefly -- why you feel your story will appeal to the readers of the authors you're mentioning. 

Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD's book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior helps writers avoid common misconceptions and inaccuracies and "get the psych right" in their stories. You can learn more about The Writer's Guide to Psychology, check out Dr. K's blog on Psychology Today, or follow her on Facebook!


Stina said...

Great post. I used to do this (the reading part) in the beginning, mostly to make sure I wasn't querying a book identical to one the agent had already repped. If it was, then chances are high she would pass on it.

When I compare my novel to other books, the books stay the same, regardless of who the agent is (unless the agent mentioned she hated xx book). This is mostly because I've put a lot of thought as to which books to compre mine too. Plus, I stopped personalizing my query along time ago when I realized it didn't make a difference. I was still getting requests when I didn't personalize it, as long as the writing and story appealed to the agent.

She Wrote said...

How valid is a review for editing by an editor who doesn't read anything in your genre? I have a relative who has offered to review for editing my mss, a mystery, that needs to be cut by 25,000 to 15,000 words. But she admittedly doesn't read any fiction much less mystery. She even admits she "doesn't read anything that makes her feel unhappy." My police procedural involves BDSM so she wants to skip those parts. Even though she is a managing editor for several magazines, I have concerns re the value of her perspective. I want to be able to find an agent and be published, but is the the way?

Sara Creasy said...

Good advice, and it worked for me. I mentioned one of Kristin's clients in my original query to her. I'd just finished reading a Linnea Sinclair novel, and Linnea had thanked Kristin in her Acknowledgments.

Glad to hear you enjoyed Song of Scarabaeus!

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Yay, Sara, thanks for commenting! See how I sneaked your cover into the post, too, so I could pimp the book out to everyone? It really is that good. ;)

I think Stina has a really good point on using the same novels regardless of who you query if you've done a lot of work to figure out which authors have a similar style.

And She Wrote...I would try to find an editor (or some crit buddies) who DOESN'T want to skip parts of your novel just because they MIGHT make her "feel unhappy." (Hey, the BDSM parts might need work. Or they might be fantastic, but you'd never know if someone was skipping those parts. Plus, I assume they are important to the novel, so having someone skip them isn't good.) Might also muddy the waters a bit to have a relative doing it...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this great piece of advice! I didn't know about QueryTracker's Who Reps Whom page. Cool.