Archive for July 2nd, 2009

Jul 02 2009

Which comparable works make for the best references?

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

When you do a proposal, publishers may ask you for a comparable works section.  Your goal is to come up with similar works that have sold well, so that the publisher can visualize why your book will sell well.  Here are some tips to help you pick references that will go farther in the publisher’s office.


1.  If at all possible, focus on bestsellers. Publishers care much more about finding the next Harry Potter or Spiderman than the next John Banks. In general, publishers will only pick up a project if they think it will sell well, and the most persuasive evidence is that similar works have sold very well.


2.  Please use titles that have sold well recently. Contemporary references are usually more convincing because they suggest where the market is now.  Additionally, a twenty-something publisher’s assistant is more likely to be familiar with a recent title.


3.  Please pick comparable works that have a similar target audience to yours. If the audience isn’t similar, the work probably isn’t all that comparable to yours.


4.  Make sure that the works are well-tailored to the publisher. In particular, I’d recommend focusing on works that have a style similar to what they’re already publishing.  Also, if at all possible, focus on works that are in the same medium (novels, comic books, manga, nonfiction, etc). In particular, I recommend staying away from TV shows and movies because they have a very different business model than novels and comic books do.


5.  Don’t pick a work unless you’re certain you understand why it was successful. For example, don’t try to sell an action-packed book about an inordinately powerful superhero by claiming that “it worked for Dr. Manhattan in The Watchmen.”  That is a horrible misreading of the series.  Over the course of twelve issues, Dr. Manhattan has two fight scenes that span a total of perhaps four pages.  If you cite works you aren’t really familiar with, you might come off looking like an idiot.

5.1. Don’t cite a work unless you’ve read it.  

5.2. Read successful works that are similar to yours.  


6. If your work has any plot elements that are hard to market, make sure you find some bestsellers that have handled similar concepts. For example, if you’re dead-set on selling a book about a retarded protagonist, explain why the success of a book like Flowers for Algernon (or something more recent) suggests that your book will be successful.

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