Learning to “handle” comparison

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.”

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