If I was to give you my professional opinion about comparing your work to another author's work in a pitch, I would say: Don't do it. Many people disagree with me, but it is my firm opinion that your work should stand on its own and be accepted for what it is. If you've done a good enough job showcasing your work, you won't have to rely on a comparison to position your work in the market. In fact, most agents, upon reading a good pitch, will already have an idea of where to position your book without you telling them.
But I digress.
You will still insist on comparing your work to another's, and so I'm going to show you how to do that without looking like a tool.
What's the Big Deal?
There's an art to comparing your work to another's without looking presumptuous. Even if you're careful, it's subjective. One person may look at it and think it's just fine, while another may scoff at you. Some agents want a comparison, which may leave you in a tough spot if you haven't practiced this. I can't stress enough that you should always follow an agent's submission requirements.
So how do you work in a comparison with the same elegance that you used to write the rest of the pitch?
Research is key. Find other works that really are a good match for yours. There are millions of books out there, so don't automatically fall back on the blockbusters. In fact, don't use blockbusters at all. Nothing will get your pitch trashed faster than mentioning Harry Potter, Twilight, or Fifty Shades.
No matter how unique you think your work is, you can be certain that somebody, at some point in history, has written a book that includes at least some common elements with your work. You don't need to read every book in the world to find that one perfect match. Just show the reader that you've done your homework and know where your book fits in amongst all the other millions of books out there.
It's Not What You Say, It's How You Say It
Consider the following comparisons:
The Time Weaver takes concepts introduced by Stephen Donaldson, and makes them a masterpiece.
Stephen Donaldson's parallel worlds trope gets a makeover in the exciting epic fantasy The Time Weaver.
The Time Weaver is an epic fantasy in a style similar to Stephen Donaldson with a fresh new world, and a splash of originality.
In the first one, I'm being pretentious. I've not only played up my book far beyond its level, but I've downplayed another author in the process. Don't do this.
The second one is a little better, but I'm still suggesting that I've done it better than an established author. There's a fine line to walk here.
Finally, in the third one, I'm drawing a comparison and telling the reader that I've matched an established author, and am bringing something new to the party. Perhaps I'm offering up new explanations for an event, or a new way of looking at an old concept. Bringing in a new world of my own design is a big deal, and will show the reader that I'm not only willing to work hard, but I recognize the value in starting fresh.
Be careful though. Don't downplay your own work. The reader must believe at the end of the pitch that your work is worth the effort to take on and try to sell. If you don't believe in your own work, it will show.
Keep it Brief
A comparison in a pitch should be brief. Don't waste more than a line or two on it. Every word will matter, so choose carefully. The pitch should sell your story, not how your story relates to the rest of the writing market.
Beware the Pigeonhole
One of the worst parts about comparison is that you risk putting your work into a specific category that it doesn't belong in. This is why the choice of what to compare it to is often more important than the comparison itself. Try to find works that will leave multiple interpretations, and let the reader make their own decision. You may be targeting the romance market, but perhaps the agent you are querying sees an opportunity in the paranormal market for your book? Don't make that decision for them.
When all is said and done, you want to leave them imagining your book next to others in a book store, or better yet, in the front window. The right comparison can inspire their imagination and get them excited about taking on a new challenge. Agents and editors who agree to take on a book are making a multi-year commitment to your work and won't make these decisions lightly.
But if you're good enough, you can make the decision for them. Good luck!
If you enjoyed this, you'll probably like Writing the Perfect Pitch, Parts I & II.
Thanks for reading!
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