While we're on the topic of Elizabeth Gilbert...

...please, please, please don't ever compare your work to Eat, Pray, Love.

Really. For your sake and mine: it just isn't wise.

They always say to avoid clichés in your writing. This is true: you should. I've had more "And [protagonist's] world is turned upside down" lines in queries than I'd care to count (probably only about ten, this week, but that's still enough that it's an unwise subject for a drinking game).

But this is probably the largest query cliché. I've seen books on dogs, kids, pain, loss, misery, joy, cooking, and marriage compared to E, P, L. In fact, it seems the go-to "I need something to fill out my Comparative Books section!" book.

To give you an idea, I did a quick search and we have 148 queries in our database that have just this comparison.

If you've got a book that's a memoir of going on a trip to get over your divorce/break-up...okay, fine, go for it. But there are many others. Suzanne Finnamore's Split is excellent; Perfection, though I didn't like the book much, will be a good comparison, in that it shows you were aware of this work when it was a big deal last summer.  There are so many works out there. If you stick only to Oprah's choices and "live under a rock and still hear about it" bestsellers, we'll worry that you aren't well-read.

And--since reading works in your genre is a major part of being a good writer (if you don't, it's like subsisting on cheesy-poofs and expecting to win Olympic marathons), that will worry us.

Branch out, writers. Branch out and read more.


Alexis Grant said...

I remember when I read EPL for the first time and thought, I WANTED TO WRITE THAT BOOK! Not about my divorce, of course, but a travel memoir about a woman going solo.

And then, when it gained momentum and got bigger and bigger, I thought again, I WANTED TO WRITE THAT BOOK!

There is, of course, lots more room in the market for women's travel memoirs, especially ones with different twists (like mine!). I had heard that agents get a ton of queries comparing their book to EPL, but I still did it in my proposal because, well, my book is like hers! But before the proposal goes to publishers, I'm going to work on coming up with another comparison, one that focuses more on the adventure/personal growth aspect rather than what my tale has in common with EPL. Thanks for the heads-up. It's nice to hear about trends in your slush pile, especially when they help us specifically with our projects.

Bluestocking said...

I want to know more about your agency's query database. I just assumed queries lived in an agent's inbox or the trash.

Colin said...

What an awesome post. Just reading it turned my world upside down!
It also reminds me a lot of the book 'Eat, Pray, Love,' although I'm not sure why.
Isn't this comment just like "The Da Vinci Code"?

Agency Gatekeeper said...

Hi Bluestocking,
Since we've gone electronic (and thus searchable), we are much better able to keep records. I generally don't delete queries, as there are often moments when I think, "Did that person query me two years ago? I think so..." and then I can check and see. Then I look smarter--it's much easier than putting someone on hold and tearing apart a pile of manuscripts, looking for the one--all while hoping they assume you know just who they are and they're just on hold because another call came through. So, yes. We gather data.

If you can think of other search terms that would be of interest, let me know. :)

Your Correspondent said...

Just found your blog and absolutely love hearing insight from your side of the industry. I also wanted to send a Trackback ping: http://editingatlarge.blogspot.com/2010/08/one-less-bad-beach-read.html

--... I bring this up because I got a little thrill of glee this morning reading articles in Slate and on Getting Past the Gatekeeper about the literary world's negative response to the sudden influx of Eat, Pray, Love imitations. ...

Keep up the great work -- I'll be subscribing from now on!