Dorian Karchmar of William Morris Endeavor Recommends...

It’s important for writers who aspire to be published by a mainstream house to have an understanding of where their work fits in relation to like-minded books and authors publishing today.   

Some writers find this notion intimidating or even demeaning, but I don’t see it that way—not if we engage thoughtfully with these comparisons. Every accomplished writer is also a reader, and all writers learn and develop thanks to an amalgam of teachers and influences, from the “old masters” of a genre or subgenre to breakout hits and under-discovered gems. Publishing relies at every stage on word-of-mouth, a mixture of enthusiasm and positioning that invokes existing writers and books. Agents pitch editors. Editors pitch their publishers. Imprints present titles to the sales team. Sales teams present titles to buyers. Publicists pitch material to reviewers and media. Booksellers make recommendations to customers. And readers talk to each other about the books they’re reading. Understanding one’s own work in this light allows a writer to engage constructively with how their books make their way into the world and into readers’ hands.   

This isn’t about simply citing writers whose work you love and admire, but understanding which writers are working in a similar space to the one your book will occupy. When you were figuring out how to write your current book, what did you read and think: Yes, like this! With which contemporary authors and books might your book realistically share a bookshelf, a review, a conversation (it’s best to avoid lightning-strike comparisons)?   

Taking the time to make explicit your silent teachers, influences, and, most especially, your competitors, can prove enormously helpful—whether you’re just starting to query, working with a publisher to position your book for launch, or strategizing with your agent about what your career might look like in two years, five years, or beyond.  

Dorian Karchmar, William Morris Endeavor

Photo credit: Marc Goldberg Photography