I saw this on Janet Reid’s always interesting and informative site the other day, New Rule for Writers: Be Knowledgeable.
In Ms. Reid’s example she was making reference to query letters that leave off a vital bit of information. What in the market is your book most like? Myself, I have seen too many query letters that introduce a story but set no context for it within the current market. Now, no agent wants to know that your work is an exact copy of Hunger Games. But it might help your case to reveal that your work has the struggle and competition aspects of the previously mentioned title but set in a totally unique universe where death is only temporary thanks to genetic engineering and 24 hour cloning banks. I just made that up and already I want to read it. Sometimes the specter of copying or being labeled as derivative is enough to keep a writer from acknowledging other works in their area. Get over it. You need to demonstrate that a) you know what works are leading in your particular genre or subject and b) what makes your work stand out.
The other side of this has to do with research. In my day job I am often confronted with things I know nothing about. I often tell people librarians do not know everything but they know were to look. As a writer, even in fiction you need to do your homework. That is not saying we all have to be experts in our fields but if you are then by all means capitalize on it as much as you can. You will see what sets your writing apart from the others may be just what you know. Think about this. Try pulling off science fiction without knowing at least that the distances between stars is immense. Try writing a romantic comedy with a main character that works in the resort industry when your resort experience goes no further than staying at a Motel 6. The story will suffer a lack of detail or errors in the details and your readers will have a hard time suspending their belief. Don’t let that happen.