I took a couple weeks off of blogging (breaks are great and you should absolutely try them) but I’m back with a mini post for you!
This week I’m talking all about comp titles. I’ve always known them as comparative titles, but there’s been some talk lately that “comp” may stand for “competitive” titles. Heedless of the mysterious origins of the name, we’re gonna just call them “comp titles.”
WHAT ARE COMP TITLES?
When pitching your book on Twitter or querying your book, comp titles are books that you compare your own manuscript to. Not in quality, don’t worry — you don’t have to go claiming you are as good a writer as Naomi Novik or Holly Black. You’re just saying that if an agent enjoyed Book ABC and Book XYZ, they would probably like YOUR book!
WHY DO I NEED THEM?
Comp titles are a quick way for agents to get an idea of where your book would fit in the marketplace. It also shows them that you are well-read and keep up with trends in your genre and age category!
HOW DO I PICK THEM?
You usually need 2-3 comp titles. Ideally, at least one of those titles is in your age category, in your genre, AND published within the past 5 years — some agents even say the past 3 years. In my opinion, find one book in your age category and genre in the past 5 years that’s a good fit, and your second comp title can be a wild card — you can comp an older book, a movie, a board game, a video game, or even an event. If your book is “Wilder Girls meets Fyre Festival” I instantly know what your book is about — a group of kids stranded in a music festival gone horribly wrong. (Also, if you write this book, email me, please!).
THE NO COMP LIST
There are a few titles that you should be VERY cautious about using as comp titles. They are very, VERY popular, and it’s a little daring to say that you could perform as well. AND it gives the impression that you’ve only read these few very popular books and not something more recent in your genre and age category. These are just a few:
LORD OF THE RINGS
GAME OF THRONES
THE HUNGER GAMES
WHERE DO I FIND COMP TITLES?
Ask your beta readers and critique partners for recommendations! Go on Twitter and ask “Has anyone read any good recent YA fantasies?” Scroll through Goodreads! People make very specific bookshelves — search around for books about witches, books about enemies to lovers, books about antiheroes. Goodreads will also tell you when the book was published, so you can cross it off your list if it’s more than 10 years old!
DO I ACTUALLY HAVE TO READ THEM?
I know not doing things is nice and easy…
But don’t listen to John Mulaney on this one.
I advise you to read the books you choose as your comp titles. A few reasons:
- As an author, if you want to grow, you need to read a lot, especially recent books and especially recent books within your genre.
- If you don’t read the book, you may be falsely advertising the tone/pitch of your book to agents and readers.
An example: if you said your book was a fun, lighthearted romance like Romeo and Juliet, it’s pretty clear that you’ve not actually read that play.
Another, real life example: I pitched my book as being similar to Naomi Novik’s awesome book Uprooted. However, because I wasn’t specific enough, I had a few agents say that they thought my book would be darker and sexier. My book is NOT those things, and Uprooted is. So instead in my following queries and pitches, I clarified — my book has the nature magic of Uprooted with the lighthearted tone of Howl’s Moving Castle.
We can’t go to our local libraries in person right now, so when it comes to reading comp titles, if you can’t order a copy from your local indie bookstore, if you have a library card, you can access ebooks for free using apps like Libby, Overdrive, and Hoopla!
BE SPECIFIC WITH YOUR COMPS
Following my note above, in your query, and in pitches, if you have the space for it, try to be specific in your comps. Add a couple of words to clarify WHY you chose the comp you did. It also helps just in case an agent or reader hasn’t read the comp title — they’ll see what feature about your book is a selling point to them.
If you say your book is like The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, does it have a dark romance? Is it a retelling of a classic story? Is it Gothic?
If your book is like The Cruel Prince, is it a snarky contemporary fantasy? Does it take place in a world with faeries? Does it have an enemies-to-lovers romance? Does it have a fierce, dagger-wielding main character?
If your book is like When Dimple Met Rishi, is it a contemporary, ownvoices comedy? Does coding and STEM feature heavily? Is there a sweet romance? Do your love interests work together in a competition?
With all of these examples, your book doesn’t need to feature ALL of these elements–just the one that fits you.
Example: MY AWESOME MANUSCRIPT has the Gothic, historical atmosphere of The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein and a fierce, knife-wielding heroine like Jude Duarte from The Cruel Prince.
That’s pretty much it! Take some time to find a good, new book and read it carefully to see if it could be a good match for your book. Take my advice with a grain of salt; read up on what other authors and what agents say about comp titles and choose what’s best for you and your project. And good luck — you got this!