Utterly Original: A Rant
“To my knowledge, nothing like this has ever been written. Ever. It is utterly fresh, mine and complete.”
That was a line in a query I received.
It’s hard to explain how this sounds to agents and editors who get pitched everything under the sun, are typically well-read, and are aware of what’s going on in the publishing marketplace. The book might be unique but not to the extent the writer seems to think.
When pitching your work, you have to walk a fine line: Be confident, but don’t come off as grandiose. Stress your original and fresh voice, yet don’t be afraid to acknowledge there have been other books similar to yours, whether in plot, style, theme, whatever. Yes, you want to be unique, but you can’t make wild claims that just aren’t true. Every book published has some similarities to something that came before; yet yours must also have something fresh and different about it.
In non-fiction book proposals, we always have to provide comparable titles (the “Competition” section) and increasingly, editors are asking us for comps even for fiction. Many authors write something like, “There are no books similar to mine.” What it says is, “I haven’t taken the time to properly research the market and I have no idea what other books could be compared to mine.”
Remember, it’s not bad to be able to compare your book to others people have heard of. It’s good. It helps people begin to capture a vision for the type of book you’ve written. If you can point out the ways your book is similar and different, and why you think yours is a good complement to the other, you can further help a publisher understand what your book is all about. Don’t ever claim “There are no books like mine.” If that’s your impression, go back to the bookstore and find some.
You don’t have to give comp titles in your query, but when you get further down the road, you may be asked what books you think yours is similar to, so it’s a good idea to be ready.
Of course, if the book in question really was amazingly fresh and original, my response to the query would not be quite so negative. Alas, it was not the case. Most of the time when people try so hard to tell me their book is awesome, rather than just showing me an awesome idea and letting me figure it out for myself… it’s usually not awesome.
Unsurprisingly, the same writer who told me their book was utterly fresh responded to my pass letter with the observation: “This is probably one of the most spectacular works of fiction ever written.”
My loss then, I guess. Bummer.