You already know the This Meets That Contest is coming in September, and that you’ll need a pitch with a good comparison to convince our agent judge to request your manuscript. Now it’s time to get to know a little bit about our very awesome judge Jill Marr and what she’s looking for in those pitches.
Jill is an agent at the Sandra Djikstra Literary Agency and has nearly 15 years of experience in publishing. She has kindly agreed to judge this contest and offer a critique of the first 50 pages of the lucky winner’s manuscript! Jill considers these pitches using comparisons a “GREAT way to pitch your book if you have very limited time—for that dreaded elevator pitch, it is perfect. It sets a mood.” She definitely knows what she’s talking about, guys!
Here are Jill’s interests: mysteries, horror and thrillers, women’s fiction, book club/commercial fiction and any nonfiction. A more detailed description from the agency’s website: “Jill is interested in commercial fiction, with an emphasis on mysteries, thrillers and horror, women’s commercial fiction and historical fiction. She is also looking for nonfiction by authors who are getting their work published regularly in magazines and who have a realistic sense of the market and their audience. Jill is looking for nonfiction projects in the areas of self-help, inspirational, cookbooks, memoir (she especially loves travel and foodie memoirs), health & nutrition, pop culture, humor and music.”
Jill will be accepting pitches for all of the genres above, so if those are your genres, this is the contest for you!
To help everyone entering the contest, I asked Jill a few questions about using comparisons in pitches. Here’s what she said!
Gabriela: So, let’s start with the importance of this. How important is it for authors to compare their manuscripts to published books in their queries? Is it a big plus, or doesn’t make that big of a difference? And why is it important? Why do you need this sort of comparison?
Jill Marr: It’s really not that important unless you have something to compare to that truly fits. For agents it can be dangerous. Calling something “the next The Help” can really raise the bar and set some expectations that, if not met, will be disappointing. So it’s important not to oversell.
G: Is a comparison for everyone? Should all authors be able to tell you their manuscript is “this meets that”?
JM: I think it’s very important for authors to know where their book would fit in the bookstore, so it’s a good exercise for authors, for sure. It’s also a really GREAT way to pitch your book if you have very limited time—for that dreaded elevator pitch, it is perfect. It sets a mood.
G: You recently sold a book that was pitched as “MUST LOVE DOGS meets JUNO.” Was that a comparison the author made when she pitched it to you, or something you came up with when you were pitching to editors? What works in that pitch?
JM: The author actually came to me with this one and it worked so well we ran with it. Her book, which we’re tentatively calling The Shoplifter’s Guide to Finding Love, is set in part, in a dog park (hence the Must Love Dogs reference) where the local AA meetings take place, and there is all kinds of dysfunction like one of the characters is a compulsive shoplifter, etc. So the Juno nod works as well.
G: When coming up with a comparison to describe their manuscript, what should authors aim for? What makes a great “this meets that” pitch?
JM: I always like to hear comparisons that mash up a book and a movie. Often movies will make it more visual for people. But don’t force it. Just use the comparison if it works.
G: A good comparison can make all the difference in a pitch. It can make it intriguing. But a bad comparison can ruin a query. I see it on Twitter all the time, agents commenting on ridiculous comparisons they found on queries. What makes it an awful one? Any major pet peeves, anything authors should definitely be avoiding when trying to compare their manuscripts to something else?
JM: If the two films or novels are so diametrically opposed it would be weird. I love Fight Club and I love Driving Miss Daisy but I don’t want to read Fight Club meets Driving Miss Daisy. Also, try not to compare your book to the hottest thing out there (I’ve done it so I’m guilty but I’m saying here that it’s probably not the best idea). For a while it felt like all I was reading was pitches for the next Eat, Pray, Love (Ugh, I only got through the “Eat” section of the book so that comparison always fell flat for me, anyway) . And if you are funny you are not necessarily the next David Sedaris and if you are creepy you are not the next Stephen King.
G: What works best in a comparison: mentioning bestsellers in that genre or books that aren’t as widely known?
JM: Why bother? If people don’t know what you are comparing to it’ll fall flat. I’d try to find something mid-range so it’s not the hottest book out there at the moment but it’s not totally random and unknown, either.
G: What about using movies in pitches? I’ve seen many books sold with pitches involving movies (like Juno!) or TV shows. But I’ve also seen agents complaining about authors comparing their manuscripts only to movies and not listing any books. What is the rule? Is it okay to compare a manuscript to movies? Is it better to be able to throw a book in the mix, or is it okay to mention just films and TV shows?
JM: There are no rules—it’s all good and TV shows work. I’d love to see a pitch comparing a project to Mad Men!
G: Is there a match you’ve been dying to see? A “this meets that” you desperately want someone to write?
JM: That’s a great question and something that I’d really have to think about. I’d love to see Gone Girl meets Casablanca. Hey, you never know!
So there you have it, guys! The details on how to enter the contest will be posted on Monday, August 26th. The actual contest will open for entries a week later, on Monday, Sept. 2nd. So stay tuned and start thinking of what you can compare your manuscript to!