Book Family Tree: A New Way to Think About Your Book

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From Jane Friedman:

Choosing good comparable titles can be a brain-busting challenge for many writers. Comps let agents and publishers know where your book fits in the marketplace, and they’re helpful in crafting a publicity strategy. But it can be hard to find books that feel like an exact match, especially if you’re writing fiction and your novel doesn’t fit neatly into genre categories.

That was the case with Shaken Loose, my debut fantasy novel set in an unjust and unraveling Hell. During the long march to its recent publication, I came up with the idea of a Book Family Tree—an exercise that helped me better understand my own book and where it fit in the world.

It was not only enlightening but fun! So I made a free template that allows other writers to easily create family trees for their own books.

But first, some background.

While querying agents and publishers, I spent countless hours brainstorming potential comps while never feeling that any single one was a perfect match. Shaken Loose challenges organized religion like The Golden Compass, but it doesn’t have that book’s epic sweep; it features nuanced characters with existential dilemmas like The Golem and The Jinni but it isn’t historical fantasy. The landscape and backstory of its Hell are modeled on Paradise Lost, but clearly a 350-year-old poem isn’t a useful comp.

My book had an identity crisis. Or maybe the crisis was mine: I didn’t know where it belonged.

I’m a genealogy hobbyist as well as a writer, so I started playing around with the idea of creating a family tree for my book. If Shaken Loose had parents, who would they be? How about its grandparents? Its cousins?

This turned out to be a great deal of fun. It helped me think more broadly about the influences on my book and identify works that might not be an exact match but were still related.

With a family tree, I could list Paradise Lost as a grandparent—part of my book’s DNA, a foundational influence although vastly different in structure, perspective, and style. As parents, I chose an extremely odd couple—The Wizard of Oz and The Road—that expressed the book’s upbeat “quest for home” plot but also its vein of gritty darkness.

The “cousin” part of the tree was where I placed books that were actual comp candidates—recent upmarket fantasy like The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. This was a reassuring way for me to think about comps: Cousins share a lot of traits, but no one expects them to be as similar as siblings. Certainly no one expects them to be identical twins.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

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