do and don't · how to get a request for pages

What makes you unique

In publishing, originality comes from combining old ideas in novel ways.

Gail Carriger’s CURTSIES AND CONSPIRACIES combines espionage training with Victorian England. Suzanne Collins’ THE HUNGER GAMES combines game shows and child soldiers. Malinda Lo’s ASH combines Chinese culture, Cinderella, and lesbian romance. These combinations make the books stand out.

Sometimes the novel combination in your story isn’t big: a unique system of magic, a bi protagonist who redefines the meaning of “love triangle,” or an emphasis on politics.

Whatever it is, this element needs to show up in your query, preferably near the beginning of your pitch. You can also state it explicitly in the comps: “My novel is a Peruvian take on Robin Talley’s LIES WE TELL OURSELVES.”

If this is obvious advice to you, good on you. I receive many queries that repeat the same old tune: the protagonist is betrayed by their friend/lover; the protagonist is bad at [skill] but improves; the protagonist must choose between saving loved ones, freeing their people, defeating the big bad, or keeping their sanity.

These are the motivations and tensions, the bones of the story, and they’re important. But they’re not what set you apart.


5 thoughts on “What makes you unique

  1. Very well and concisely put. For me this was really driven home as I learned more about pitching in person today. You need to have something that makes you unique. Not just that: you have to put it front and center because what makes you unique will sell your book.

    Liked by 1 person

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