Friday, May 28, 2021

Finding the Best Comp Titles--What Your Query Letter to Agents Should Include

One of the most challenging parts of assembling a good query letter--beyond the sheer difficulty of writing it--is deciding on your comps.

Agents need and want and almost require good comp titles. These are the two or three titles of other books in your genre that will help yours sell to a publisher.

My experience has shown that publishing, like most businesses, has a conservative streak. To sell a new title, it needs to be see as new and different, but also not too unlike other books that have sold well. Most queries include these comp (comparison or competitive) titles to convince agents, and the editors they approach, that your book will fall within a comfortable range of new and already proven.

Right now, I'm scouting for comps for my newest novel. My agent wants them for her pitch package. So I'm spending hours online, combing websites and amazon and other booksellers, trying to find the two or three perfect titles.

Looking at my own bookshelves and e-reader is a great start. I write what I like, right? So are there any books I've already read which might suit?

I also have to figure out what about my novel is unique. It's got some interesting elements that I want to highlight in the comps. One is that two women from different generations form an unlikely friendship. So i look at women's upmarket fiction titles online, specifically about intergenerational female friendships. Another aspect is a slight paranormal flavor--one of the characters sees visions as she's painting. And that's the third aspect--the art. Both of the women are artists, one very new, one very experienced but jaded.

Which of these aspects do I bring out in my comps? What would help my agent, then the interested editors, sell the manuscript?

Friends (beta readers) who know the book are a great sounding board for this question. I brought it to my writer's group and got excellent suggestions.

One of my writer's group members shared this link from Jane Friedman's site (thanks, Jean!). Jane always does a nice job explaining the gnarly processes of publishing:

One common pitfall is choosing comps that are too old. Anything past about three years isn't going to impress agents as much as more recent releases. Here's another great article on urging your choices into the current releases:

And one of my favorite resources, Lit Reactor, has this excellent view:

Most comp-savvy writers and editors suggest starting early. Maybe even when you're first drafting, begin a list of possible comp titles. Keep adding to it as you grow your book. There's a rumor that's it's dangerous to read other authors' work while you're writing your own, but I've never found that true. I get inspired from other writers, and when I read a great book, I also can consider it for my comp list. My own work is still my own, not unconsciously tainted by anyone else's. Don't deprive yourself of that enjoyment.

As part of my coaching process with authors in early draft stages, I ask them to find 4-5 books that they love and ask themselves why. What about the writing draws them in? How would they like their own book to be similarly evocative? Comparing yourself to polished writers early on might feel like an exercise in discouragement, but it doesn't have to be. In most art forms, students model the masters. It's how we learn. Again, don't deprive yourself of this. It's often of great benefit to your work--and a great way to begin your comp list.

But whenever you decide to begin accumulating comps--as late as I did, on this book, or right when you begin--consider it an essential assignment towards successful publication.

It makes a difference.

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