Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Is Your Book the Next When Harry Met Sally?

Admin note: thanks for the suggestion that I start to tag my posts. I'm now doing so and also going back to retroactively tag everything. It will take a few days, but hopefully by next week, you'll be able to search old posts much more easily.

Question of the day: I am starting to sent out e-queries. Often agents request a synopsis or chapter pasted in the body of the e-mail. I am worried about the format - do you double space the text? Do I include the cover page with my contact info? Do I type anything to indicate the end of the section? Another question - my novel is inspired by a classic movie (i.e. I stole the plot and updated it!). Think of the way Bridget Jones's Diary used the plot from Pride & Prejudice. Should I mention the movie in my letter or does it hurt me & make me look unimaginative?

Good questions. I can only tell you what I've done in the past, and I'm hopeful others will chime in on what they've done as well.

As far as formatting, double-spacing in a classic font, such as Times or Arial, is best. I've never included a cover page: I always assumed that agents printed out my query/email along with the sample chapter and matched that accordingly, but I don't think you'd look like an idiot if you DID include a cover page. In fact, thinking about it, I don't think it's a bad idea at all - but obviously, in the grand scheme of things, i.e., will you get an offer or not, it really doesn't matter. Don't stress too much about details like this. Pull together a professional sample with no errors and you'll be fine.

As to your next question - should you use the movie comparison - I say go for it, though it might be off-putting for higher-brow agents. What I mean by that is that if yours is a really commercial book, agents will appreciate knowing how they can market it - what niche and demographic it will fall into. Your comparison will also help them really get an idea of your book, or at least your interpretation of your book. In fact, when my agent pitched Time of My Life to editors and publishing houses, she did indeed compare it to movies, calling it a cross between Sliding Doors and Family Man. We also considered throwing Desperate Housewives in there, but she liked the above two, and I agree that it does sum up the general feel of the book well.

But I've digressed. My overall point was that I think these comparisons do help paint an apt picture of what the agent can expect from the book, which is usually a good thing. The downside, I guess, is the risk that the agent then reads it with certain expectations and the book falls short of them. But I suppose that if this happens, the agent probably doesn't like the book for a variety of reasons, so really, you're not losing much.

I'm curious to hear what other people say, though. This is just my initial gut reaction. So, folks, what say you, both about formatting and making comparisons to the silver screen?


Anonymous said...

I agree with Allison. I think since you are updating a classic movie, I bet it would be fine to allude to it (and say it's with modern twist), much like alluding to a classic novel. But if you are talking about more recent stuff, I'd be sure to include a X meets Y (like Allison described: Sliding Doors meets Family Man), because otherwise the agent may worry that the material isn't fresh, if it sounds like you are just rewriting something already done.

As for formatting, if an agent asks you to cut and paste into the actual body of the email, I'd be wary of attaching any documents. (That may be their way of signaling to you that they ignore emails with attachment from names they don't recognize, because of fears of viruses, etc.)

Sara Hantz said...

I'm with you, Allison on both counts. Formattting isn't a deal breaker, as long as you do as the agent asks. Also, agents like the high concept and if making comparisons can assist then go for it!

Anonymous said...

thanks so much for your thoughts!

Trish Ryan said...

I agree. If the writing is great, formating isn't a big deal.

And I think movie comparisons are really helpful when carefully done. Allison, when you first mentioned that your new book has elements of Sliding Doors (one of my favorite movies), I was hooked immediately.

bob said...

Interesting second question as I have a wip of mine listed on my blog as an UPDATED version of the Alan Alda 1978 movie, Same Time, Next Year.

Comparing your work to a movie or saying it is a cross between such and such movies is different than updating a specific work.

The movie I mentioned above spans a time period of many years and ends in the late 70's. Mine starts at that stage and goes to current dates but the layout has its similarities and its differences.

But one tiny thing to remember, don't bank on the movie or work you are updating to "sell" your pitch. I made that mistake and immediately realized while they knew sort of the movie I referenced that they (agents) still want to know the details about your current work - regardless of how well known or obscure the piece is you refer to. (I learned this lesson on the lovely ladies blog at Bookends as they took time to evaluate pitches).

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of the ______ meets _______ approach, substituting another appropriate movie for the second blank. As for whether this helps or not, you could always try sending out a few queries with it in and a few queries without, and see which one works.

Anonymous said...

This is really helpful information for me, having not sold fiction (yet!) and very nice of you all to share your thoughts. I tend to gravitate toward info-I-can-use, rather than support or inspiration-type blogs, so have been happily lurking here for a while.