Using Comp Titles In Your Query

In the lead up to #p2p16 we editors have been doing #askeditor sessions on twitter. Mine were Monday and yesterday and the most asked question seemed to revolve around comp titles.

Comp titles are something you use to quickly convey the atmosphere, themes, settings, or general gist of your story. They're usually other books but can also be movies, TV shows, song titles, or even music videos.

It's usually formatted as "X meets Y" but that can vary. Use the creator's name and the creation's title unless it's obvious who the creator is because they are such a pop culture force that they need no introduction.

For example, if you've got a zombie book set at a ballet studio set at Christmastime, effective comp titles might mean saying your book is The Nutcracker Ballet meets Michael Jackson's Thriller.  (Note: If you have that book, send it to me RIGHT AWAY.)

Everyone knows Nutcracker is ballet and Thriller is zombies. Ballet and zombies. Easy enough, right?

However, using comp titles like Center Stage meets Beiber's What Do You Mean might not work well. While the Center Stage movie features ballet too, those unfamiliar with it might think it's a theatre/acting story. And while Beiber songs might make you dance, that particular song title might be confusing. Acting and a questioning singer? What?

If you've got a story about mental illness set in the world of the globetrotting rich and famous, maybe your comp titles are Taylor Swift's Blank Space meets Rich Kids of Instagram. (I want to read that one too.)

You're not looking for other books that are exactly like yours. It's best to focus on tone rather than plot with your comp titles. Most agents don't want to see clones. They want new and fresh and something they haven't read before. Using blockbuster successes as your comp titles can work if done right, but it's best to avoid them. So many other people use them and it's rare that a book actually stands up to those huge books. It's quite possible that comping huge books can make it seem like you're copying that book, trying to ride their magic so to speak. Try to show how your book is different. If it's the same as another book, why even bother? 

Try to match genres or demographics. Comparing an adult mystery book to Dora the Explorer might not translate. However, if you've got a thriller with a paranormal twist, comparing it to the works of Dean Koontz might be good. 

Using comp titles is showing that you have an understanding of the market. Saying that your book is unlike any other out there is highly unlikely. It usually means you haven't read widely enough and can come across as you being lazy or arrogant. 

How to find comps
  • Use amazon. Search for a book that is similar to yours. You know that  row of other books that pops up that shows things that other people bought that were interested in that book too? Start there. There's usually lots of suggestions and one might be a good fit.
  • Bestseller lists. Themes usually come in waves. Remember how many vampire books appeared after Twilight? Dystopian books tend to pop up more during times of economic hardship. Using recent books is best, but classics can also be considered. 
  • Check your favorite agent's other client books. If they've got a book that's kinda like yours it might appeal to them more and also shows that you've done some research on them. Be sure to actually read the book though. An agent might ask questions about it and can spot someone who hasn't actually read the book from a mile off. After the writer, the agent is often the most familiar with a story. Beware if your books are too match-matchy--agents won't want competing books.
  • Check your library. Librarians are great resources for this sort of thing. They're friendly, helpful, and establishing contacts at your local library can come in handy down the road. 
  • Ask your writing buddies. More brains means more ideas. 

If you're really struggling with comp titles, feel free to leave them out entirely. It's your story and your pages that mean the most in the end. Don't make yourself crazy.

Any questions?
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