Questions about comp titles in a query are common, because book comps can either be a powerful part of your pitch, or a bit of a potential pitfall.   Here are my thoughts on whether to use them, or not, and how.

How to Use Them

The conventional wisdom about book comps is that, if you have good ones, use them. If you have outlandish ones that communicate your delusions of grandeur (I’m Janet Evanovich meets Harlan Coben!), you should skip them.

The purpose of strong book comps is to make a realistic comparison between your work and someone else’s. Ideally, the author or book you’re choosing is thoughtful, rather than just a runaway bestseller. It’s always best to give reasoning for your choices, if you can. For example:  My manuscript has the quirky sensibility of [first comp title] and the freewheeling voice of [second comp title].

Age of Book Comps

It’s best if your comp titles are recent, published within the last three years or so. This does double-duty and communicates to the literary agent or publisher not only your comparison, but that you’re keeping up with the marketplace.

But don’t despair if your perfect comparable title is older. If you simply must weave The Giver by Lois Lowry into your pitch, pair it with a more recent comp and ta-da! The best of both worlds.

 

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.

Query QueriesWriting Life

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