Relevance of Comp Titles in a Query
Your comp titles should be relevant to your current pitch. It’s okay to compare your middle grade historical to a young adult dystopian comp only if you give a specific rationale. As long as you’re thoughtful about it and guide the literary agent or publisher on why you made the choices you did, and the choices make sense, you can do whatever you want here.
Similarity to Your Book
This is a fine line. You run the risk of calling too much attention to the fact that your idea already exists. And then you are going to be persuasive enough to justify how yours is different or better. It’s a better idea to pick books that are similar but not eerily so.
Picking Comp Titles from the Agent or Publisher’s List
Some smart writers customize their comp titles in a query to reflect books represented by the literary agent they’re querying, or the publisher they’re submitting to. This can be an effective strategy. Keep in mind, however, that agents and publishers won’t want to cannibalize their own lists. So if the book you’re pitching is too close to one the agent represents or the publisher has published, this might actually be a liability for you. Their loyalty will always be to the author and project that already exists in their portfolio.
Number of Comp Titles
The ideal number of comp titles in a query is two to three. The rule of thumb is: two strong comps are better than four lukewarm comps and way better than six comps that just all happen to be in the same category. The more specific the better, so you don’t want to dilute your pitch by citing too many other books.
How to Find Book Comps
This is an easy answer: Read!
Reading not only exposes you to your market, but helps develop great writing voice, which every writer should care about. Read in your category. Read outside your category. I will never, ever, ever understand writers who refuse read because it pollutes their process. Spinning in your own echo chamber is fine, but it also tends to produce (ironically) derivative fiction because the writer doesn’t know enough about what’s out there to realize that they’re repeating common tropes, using cliché language, or not exposing themselves adequately to what’s possible.
Reading is a delightful way to get to know the publishing landscape, discover new voices, add fresh ideas to your own writing toolbox and, yes, discover book comps that you can use in your pitch.