I don’t know what it is about summer, but it seems to bring out the same-ness in writers, and everyone’s stories seem to blend into white noise. The beagle thinks it’s the heat and recommends that everyone stop for a margarita break. I’m good with that. But if you’re going to be walking around like the goolies from Night of the Living Dead, then don’t query. Save it for a time when your brain is firmly entrenched in your cranial cavity.
What is this same-ness I’m jabbering about? Standing out. This isn’t the time when you want to blend in by wearing the same bathing suit as everyone else. You want to stand out in that fuchsia and lime green suit that screams, “Lookie at me! I’m HOT, HOT, HOT!”
Instead, I’m seeing bland one-piece bathing suits that are as exciting as the beagle in Birkenstocks. These are the weakest efforts – stories written in heavily impacted categories – bipolar, death, divorce, alcoholism, cancer, blah, blah, blah – books that are fighting each other on the bookshelves already. So why on earth would I want your book? What makes you unique compared to what’s already in the marketplace?
Yes, my heart bleeds to hear that you lost your precious son at the tender age of four due to cancer. When I look at my strapping boys, I can’t imagine that kind of pain and the sheer guts and will required to care about even getting out of bed in the morning. But as sad as it is, there are already a ton of these kinds of books on the bookstore shelves, and the question becomes – how do I sell yours?
For crying out loud, toss me a bone!
What drove you to write the book?
Oftentimes, memoirs spring up because writers feel they have something to say. They experienced something they feel is fantastic/sad/inspirational/educational and decide to write about it. What happens is they look no further than their own experience and never check their competition to see if this is an issue that’s already been written about to ad nauseum. That’s why we have crowded categories such as divorce, cancer, etc. Many of them were unique at the time, but with the flood of samey books, the message is no longer unique. So ask yourself two questions:
Why did I write this book?
What am I saying that’s different from what’s already out there?
I’m not a fan of unnecessarily adding to the crowd unless that book has something new to say.
And speaking of something new, you have to tell me the unique qualities of YOUR book. This means you need to well read in the category in which you write. Know your competition because someone is going to ask you about it at some point in your career. I’ve had a few writers who, when they went back and actually checked out their competition, realized they didn’t have a unique product after all. Le ouch.
Why would someone want to read your book over the other books that cover the same topic? This is a question I ask all the time, and I’m amazed at how this stumps authors. Writers need to be analytical and objective about their writing if they are going to convince an editor to ask for pages.
Something that still stands out in my mind is when Kate McLaughlin queried me about her fabulous book Mommy, I’m Still In Here. It was if she knew I was going to roll my eyes at the beagle and say, “Bipolar? Yikes, been done and done and done,” so she tossed me all the best nuclear arsenal – she convinced me why her book was different from all the other bipolar books out there. And she was dead right because I researched it like a frog on crack.
Because she convinced me, I snapped it up. Because she knew her competition and her book’s uniqueness, it remains a solid seller.
So change your bathing suit style, kiddies. Get something that expresses your unique qualities and marketability. And don’t forget to tell me what they are. Otherwise, I’ll be forced to take the beagle’s advice and have a margarita break.