Friday, May 31, 2019

The Importance of Comps (Competitive Titles) for Your Book and How to Find Them

Many years ago, when I was starting the search for my current agent (after my former one retired), I took an online course on publishing.  It was taught by an agent and her author.  One of our coolest classes they led was a Q & A session.  We got to ask them anything about publishing, about the process of querying, about what made agents say yea or nay to a manuscript.  The agent was somewhat familiar with our work by that point in the class, so her answers were relevant and specific.

I was curious about comps: are they needed?  Do agents require them?  Do they help your book in any way when you are querying?

"Yes, absolutely," the agent told me.  "We love comps, so try to include two at least within your query."

We asked why. "Comps help me know if I can sell your book," she replied.  

Comps are short for "competitive" or "comparative" titles or authors.  They are used by agents to pitch your book to publishers. If you've ever read the deals on Publisher's Marketplace, they all contain comps.   A novel just sold to a publisher might be The Girl on the Train meets The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo--two comps that immediately tell the buying public what this book is like (tense, probably a thriller, with a female protagonist).

So if you, the writer, are responsible for figuring out two to three comps for your manuscript, how do you start?  

It takes research.  It also takes knowing your reader's view of your book.  So, first step is to get feedback from readers.  Your writers group or writing partner is invaluable for this.  How would they describe your book--what genre, first; then what kind of writing style? You're trying to match that style with published books in your genre to create a cache of comps.

My current novel is about three women in different generations who band together to fight an injustice when one of them is framed.  So I knew my comps needed to have strong women characters who overcome great odds.  I write lyrically (lots of imagery) so I also knew that writing style would be something to consider in finding comps. Finally, there's a thriller aspect to my novel, even though it's more about the female relationships.  I gathered titles for comps that had a thriller plot with female characters.  I had to research, read, and ask writers from classes I took or who were in my writing group for ideas.  I came up with Liane Moriarty's Big, Little Lies for its female relationships and The Passenger by Lisa Lutz for a strong female protagonist in desperate straits.   Both of these sold well, which is another consideration for good comps, and they are fairly recent.  It doesn't work to use Jane Austen as a comp, no matter how much you love her, but that's probably obvious.
I believe it took me about a year to find comps.  It's not that long, considering.  Once your manuscript is with beta readers, you could begin with these steps, which I used.  Or read the articles that follow, for advice from the pros.

1.  Poll your writers group and writing partners and your beta readers.  Ask who comes to mind when they read your story.   Begin a list.  Check out the books they mentioned.

2.  Visit Goodreads and search for those books.  Expand the "if you liked this, you'll like that" list.  Do the same on amazon and other online bookstores. 

3.  If it's helpful, freewrite about your writing style and voice--what stands out about your writing, sentence structure, lyricism or minimalism, and other characteristics of you on the page?  Use this information to narrow your online search.

3.  When you get a list of maybe 10 titles that could be comps, read them.  Or at least skim them.  See if they are anything close to your writing style, voice, or topic.

And now, the pros share their advice!
Here's a great article on comps from the publishers at Penguin Random House.  And another from Fuse Literary.  And finally one from the Huff Post.

Your weekly writing exercise:  Consider your comps.  It's not too early to begin thinking about your readalikes.

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