Learning to "handle" comparison

April 29, 2009

As part of my book proposal, I need a catchy two-line selling handle that summarizes the theme and plot of my book. The handle is a bit like the book-jacket blurb, the paragraph readers skim while browsing in the bookstore, one that convinces them to purchase a book.

I’ve already shared with you the first part of my (work-in-progress) selling handle:

The story of a journalist who leaves behind a stable life in Houston to backpack through an undeveloped continent in search of adventure, this poignant narrative will inspire readers to take leaps in their own lives.

Now comes the hard part. Some writers and agents recommend creating a sentence that compares the manuscript to other books that have already been published. This helps the agent — and later, the publisher and readers — quickly get an idea of what type of story he’s considering.

In The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit, Elizabeth Lyon (who also authored another book I recommend, Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write) gives this advice:

“Comparing yourself to other published writers is a tricky line to walk, because a writer who boasts of being “the next Harold Robbins” in half-inch letters (the lead in a real query shared with me by an agent) will receive a rejection so quickly, the envelope will be blistered where the agent pounded it shut …

Some agents suggest that you offer one comparison to a classic author and one comparison to a contemporary author. It is also acceptable to compare your book to movies that have sprung from books …

Handles seem to me very Hollywood-like, but many agents like them — if they are accurate and not another version of the Harold Robbins example given earlier.”

Throughout her explanation, she gives a handful of examples:

“This novel falls somewhere between Fried Green Tomatoes and A Time to Kill in style and content.”

“When John Updike’s Rabbit meets Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.”

“When Mary Higgins Clark meets John Grisham.”

“The protagonist… combines the curiosity and memory of Miss Maple with the youth and tenacity of more modern female sleuths.”

This task is not easy for me. As a journalist, I’ve been trained to write objectively, and coming up with a comparative handle feels kin to dramatization. I’m having trouble creating a line that satisfies me, one that does my book justice. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Imagine Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari on estrogen, with a dash of optimism and a few dozen wannabe-suitors thrown in.

(If you’re unfamiliar with Paul Theroux, you’re missing out; he’s a fabulous — and quite popular — travel writer. Dark Star Safari is his book about traveling overland through Africa.)

This handle hints at my writing style and sense of humor, which helps set the tone for the book. But it has a drawback, as pointed out by one of my publishing friends: describing anything as “on estrogen” has the potential to alienate male readers.

That’s why I need your help.What do you think of this handle? Would you buy a book with this description?

Suggestions for improvement are welcome in the comments section.

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    0 Replies to “Learning to "handle" comparison”

    • blythe says:

      Well, I think it depends. A publishing house might be interested in this genre (read: “Eat, Pray, Love” with less navel gazing, perhaps), but I see what you mean about the alienation fears. I’ve never read Theroux, however. I like the way this handle sounds, and I don’t think the word “estrogen” has to be a synonym for “feminist drivel” or “sappy and lame.”

      Two cents for you, anyway.

    • Hi, Alexis, I’m a blog tour person. I added you to my Blog Tour Buddies (Blog Roll). Hope you’re good with this.

      I’m liking your blog site, clean, clear, easy to follow, nice graphics. All good. Best of luck on your aspirations, Galen.

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