Aspiring authors often want to know why publishing is so obsessed with “comp titles.” In order to explain why, let’s clear up what they are. Comp is shorthand for comparable, and when used correctly, comp titles should help authors clearly place their story on the bookshelf with work that is similar to theirs.
Depending on your role in publishing, you might use this information in different ways. For publishers, comp titles are a key component when it comes to making an offer on a manuscript. It helps the editor, marketing and sales, and financial folks at the publisher put together a financial package based on the sales of the comparable works. Is this the best way for publishers to prognosticate a book’s success? Probably not, but it’s a concrete way for publishers to build an offer when faced with a lot of intangibles.
Beyond sales numbers, the best thing a comp title does is provide some easy marketing. When pitching agents or editors, or even when trying to convince readers to buy your story, one way to leverage comp titles is to use them to easily explain either what your book is about or the kind of story the reader should expect. Done correctly it’s the picture perfect elevator pitch, but there are things you should keep in mind when selecting what books to compare your manuscript to.
- Avoid “big name” books: Did you write a book about a group of teenagers living in a dystopian society having to survive in the wild? I know the temptation would be to comp to The Hunger Games, and while it’s not completely unreasonable, you want to keep in mind that by comparing your manuscript to a book that was so wildly popular you are asking your work to do a lot sales-wise, those expectations are not easily repeatable for a debut writer. Not only that, The Hunger Games published in 2008 which leads to…
- Avoid books published over 5 years ago: There are many reasons to avoid using older books as comp titles, but one of them is that staying on top of trends in your age category shows that you’ve done your research and you understand the market for your manuscript. Consumer tastes are constantly evolving and you should read widely to show that you understand what your readers will want out of your story.
- Go beyond books: Books are not the only thing to use as a reference point. It’s totally okay to compare movies, video games, or even songs. But I suggest that if you do this, you use a “this meets that” approach and call out the specific features of the movie/game/song that your story calls back to. Which is why you should remember…
- It’s the little things: If you’re struggling to find a book similar enough to yours, one option is to focus on the individual elements of your story. Whether it be setting or writing style, themes or atmosphere, breaking down why your book would be a good fit for fans of another is a smart way to look at comps.
- Don’t stress: Comp titles can be useful, but shouldn’t be the only way to measure what possible success your book might have in a market or the only way to get readers interested. If no good comp title exists, then do your best to explain your story in a concise manner, don’t try to make comparisons that are ineffective because you will end up doing more harm than good.
Like anything else, comp titles are a tool that authors, agents, editors and booksellers can use to help place the manuscript in context. When selected thoughtfully, comp titles can help position your story in a way that grabs reader’s attention. And hopefully, whatever comps you use, it ends with someone buying your book!
Eva Scalzo is a lifelong reader and literary agent at Speilburg Literary Agency. She represents authors who write adult romance, fantasy, and science fiction, young adult fiction, and select middle grade fiction. You can find her on Twitter at @evascalzo or Instagram at @evascalzo_SLA and she occasionally blogs on her website www.evascalzo.com/blog.