When I used to work as a newspaper editor, people would send in all kinds of crazy submissions. Like, hello? “We don’t publish poetry,” I would sometimes reply. “But you should!” They’d write back. (Which why I stopped replying).
A publication (magazine/newspaper/website) wants to publish similar things to what they’ve been publishing but not the same. They don’t want ideas for new columns or things they should be doing. I mean, maybe they want ideas but not from freelancers.
Same thing with publishing. They want to publish books similar to books that have done well, but not the same.
So how do you get to sell your book?
TBH, I first wrote my book as an infertility memoir and got VERY different feedback from agents. One wanted MORE memoir and less infertility and the other wanted more advice. I did not know what to do. I recognized that they were each coming from their own personal lives, one — who had three kids and no fertility issues, the second, no kids and fertility issues.
A year later, I decided to make it all advice with some personal stories. (And took it to a different agent.) It’s because I surveyed the field of published books. Infertility memoirs weren’t really selling. Moreover, I asked myself, “Self, if you’re going through infertility, what book would YOU want to read?”
And then I wrote that book. It wasn’t the book I wanted to write at first — but THAT book sort of entered this book.
How did I explain it in my pitch? Well, I took a pregnancy book everyone knows and named it something similar but not pregnant. Of course I knew it would be changed once it was sold, but I wanted everyone to get the picture immediately.
In my comps — my comparison/competitive section, I named top-selling pregnancy books (old) and said how mine would be different (new). It WAS new, I wasn’t just saying that. I had to prove to them, though, that there was a market for this.
And I did not do this in the comps section, I did this by citing the number of women who were going through fertility troubles.
Now here’s what NOT to do: Don’t compare yourself to the best-sellers. This is like Eat, Pray, Love but instead of Italy it’s Romania! This is like Bridget Jones but the protagonist is Irish!
The truth is, I’m not sure how many agents and editors read the comps — if you’ve done your job, i.e., explained what you book is and why it’s important, you won’t need comps after all.