Welcome to the second installment of the Publishing Q&A series, a monthly opportunity for authors to ask their writing and publishing questions and have them answered, in-depth, by industry professionals. This week, I’m addressing questions about comp titles, R&Rs, and revising manuscripts after rejection. Here are the answers:
If an agent rejects a full ms and doesn’t ask for a revised version, is this kind of his/her way of saying they don’t want to see it again or didn’t like the author’s writing?
I can’t speak for agents, but as an editor, if I don’t specifically invite an author to resubmit, then yes, that means it’s a pass from me. This is why I really, really encourage writers to make sure their manuscript is read before they send it out—you only get one shot. There are occasionally exceptions—sometimes if a manuscript has been extensively revised I’ll be willing to look at it again. But I don’t think I’ve ever acquired a manuscript this way. I often reject because either the premise doesn’t appeal to me or the writing isn’t strong enough, and neither of these things are likely change even with significant revision.
Is it okay to use an older book as a comp title? How about movies/TV shows? There are some that I think make good comps for my book, but I’m wasn’t sure if they’re allowed.
Generally, I’d say it’s best to avoid using older titles as comps, because they suggest that you’re not as familiar with the current market. It’s best to stick with titles published in the last five years or so—and if it’s in the last year, even better. Having said that, aside from the sub guidelines, there’s no such thing as “allowed” in a query—if it works, it works. This is why I recommend having your query critiqued by others before submitting, so you can find out if it works or not.
As for movies and TV shows, I see them all the time, and they can work if done well. Recently one of my colleagues used the film 10 Things I Hate About You as a comp title for a book she acquired. But if you’re going to use a film or TV show, also include a book as well. Again, you want to show your knowledge of the current book market here, and only using TV shows or films doesn’t do that.
If you’re struggling to find comp titles for your book, keep in mind that you don’t have to include them in your query. Comp titles can certainly be useful, and I know I’ve eagerly requested pages before just based off the comps. But I’d say it’s better not to have them at all than to have a bad comp that misrepresents your book. Here’s a secret for you: I couldn’t find comp titles I was satisfied with for my own query, so I didn’t include any. It didn’t prevent agents from requesting the manuscript! Don’t feel that you need to spend too much time stressing about this.
Having said all of that, if you want to look for comp titles, I’d suggest Goodreads as an excellent resource. You can easily search for different genres and topics and find whole lists of titles to look at.
Finally, for more in-depth advice on queries, take a look at these posts: 10 Tips for Writing a Query Letter and Query Letter Red Flags. And if you’re interested in hiring an editor to look at your query, I offer query critiques, a pitch package, and a full submission package evaluation for all of your submission materials.
I read your post on doing R and Rs and I don’t understand why agents or editors would offer them in the first place. If the book has potential, why not sign it right away? And if they’re not going to sign it, why look at it again?
(If you haven’t seen my recent posts on whether authors should do R&Rs, it’s here.)
This is often a source of confusion for writers, but R&Rs really do serve an important purpose. As an editor, I have to believe in a project 100% before I can present it to an acquisition board (and even then, I can’t always get projects approved). Sometimes I see a lot of potential in a manuscript, but I don’t think I can get it past the acquisition board in its current state, or I think the revisions it requires are so extensive that it will take too much time to revise. But I still hate to send a rejection, because there’s something about it that appeals to me. So I offer an R&R, hoping that the writer will take the time to fix the issues so that I might be able to acquire it later. (There are other reasons for offering an R&R too, but this is often how it happens for me.)
I can’t speak for agents, but I suspect their reasons for offering R&Rs are similar. Perhaps the manuscript would have to be significantly revised in order to be ready for submission, and they’re not sure if the writer is capable of doing that kind of revision. Maybe they don’t have enough time in their current schedule to work on such extensive revisions with a client. Or maybe they’re just not an editorial agent, and they only take on manuscripts that are submission-ready. There are many reasons why an agent might not be able to take on a manuscript, but an R&R is a more appealing option than a rejection.
That’s all for this installment of Publishing Q&A! The next post will be on December 5th. If you have a question you’d like to have answered in that post, leave it in the comments down below or by using my contact form. You can also ask me on Twitter (@cecilialewis) using #pubqa so I know the question is intended for this series. I will include your name/username in the post along with the question unless you ask to remain anonymous. Please post your questions no later than midnight EST on Wednesday, December 2nd, so that I will have time to compile them.
Next month’s questions will also be answered by me, but we will have guest authors and other publishing professionals in the future! (If you are an industry professional who is interested in hosting future Q&A posts, contact me here.)
Have advice regarding any of these questions? Is there anything I missed? Let me know in the comments!