Comp Titles – Yay or Nay-Nay
Comp titles or comparative titles are published books that parallel a writer’s manuscript in some way; same genre, or similar features. Add ‘em in a query letter to beguile an agent or publisher and reveal the spirit and heart of your book. It’s best if they are current and have had a good degree of popularity and success.
It’s not enough to squeeze your book between what’s trending on the popular shelf. Nay-nay. How is your book unique? How is it different from the comparative tomes in the bookstore? Throw a spotlight on those distinct and special aspects of your book too. Oh, and with any luck, the golden titles might give the prospective agent an idea of where your masterpiece might click, in the market.
Sounds fab, right? Hold up a sec. Managing comp titles in a query letter may lead to a slippery slope. Things can backfire. Instead of drawing an agent in, choosing the wrong comp titles may dissuade the agent if you hitch the wrong books and consequently confusing, offensive, or hum drum vibes to the letter.
Including best-selling novels that are or were, all the rage, may come across as overconfident or egotistical. Imagine how many queries cross an agents desk each week then picture how many of those contain comparisons with the best books on the market. After reading a hundred or so queries spouting, my book is the next Harry Potter, an agent is bound to feel bored, jaded, and weary. In which case your query is landing in the slush pile.
Unless your novel is without a doubt the latest and greatest and can stand up to Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, steer clear of these outstanding comparisons and others like them, especially if you’re a debut author. Involving older titles can create the wrong impression too, making an agent wonder about the relevance of your story, especially if they’ve never heard of the comp titles you picked.
So, what should an aspiring author who needs an agent do?
Here’s a few strategies to choose from:
Use lesser known but still relevant and successful book comps. This keeps your ego out of it.
Compare characters from other books that have similar qualities to your lovely characters, or compare a kindred camaraderie. For example: (Insert your book title here) blends the comradery of the Cullens, from Stephanie Meyer’s TWILIGHT series, with superpowers rivaling those of the Hargreeves from Gerard Way’s, THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY. This way you’re not touting the quality of your book as compared to those, you’re just including some similarities.
Do a mash-up: (insert your book title here) is like Jeff Kinney’s, DIARY OF A WIMPY KID meets Robert Louis Stevenson’s, TREASURE ISLAND. By doing this, I’ve snuck a classic into my query without claiming my book is like a classic.
Try this mashed up combo if your book is a reimagined fairy tale: (insert your book title here) is a reimagined fairy tale. Think Cinderella meets Christian Grey from FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, by E.L. James
Don’t pick comp titles out of thin air. Do your research. Make sure the comps you choose are comparable to your novel. Having trouble finding comps? Don’t despair. When in doubt, leave ‘em out. Instead, edit the hell out of your query, show the agent your writing style, be personable but not personal, find someone to proofread and critique it, and keep plugging away until you have the best kickass query in town.