What are Comp Titles? Tips for Pitching Your Story

publishing querying
What are comp titles? Tips for pitching your story

If you’ve ever tried to pitch your novel to an agent, publisher, or writing contest, you’ve probably been asked to compare it to other existing works, to give readers a better idea of your book. Comparison, or “comp” titles are books that share similarities with your own, offering some insight into your book’s plot, genre, setting, style, and tone. Good comp titles are also a useful shorthand for how successful your book can be, and which audiences the story will appeal to.

While effective comp titles can generate interest from literary agents and editors, and help you sell your book to readers, poorly chosen comp titles may cost you that coveted book deal. So, how do you pick the best comparison titles for your book?

Get clear on your story before you query

Comp titles are, first and foremost, a sales tool. Like loglines, they require a clear understanding of what your book is about:

  • Your story’s central premise
  • The underlying themes
  • Your novel’s genre and subgenre
  • Your ideal reader

Being crystal clear on what makes your book unique will help you create a list of works that share meaningful similarities with your own. When done right, comping existing works to your own will offer insight into your book’s content and its appeal to an existing audience while still making it stand out as a distinctive work.

How to find comp titles

Cast a wide net to find comp titles

If you’re struggling to pick comps because you don’t know how to even begin compiling a list, here are a few good starting places:

  • Read widely in your genre
  • Ask librarians, booksellers, and critique partners for recommendations
  • Look for what is algorithmically suggested when you search for similar books (i.e., “customers who bought [X], also bought [Y]”)
  • What inspired you to write your book? Make a list, and don’t leave anything off! You might be surprised at the creative combinations you can make, or how a long list of options inspires you to find even more, stronger comps.
  • Check out bestsellers lists (but be wary of comping mega hits!)
  • Scour Goodreads lists
  • Take a peek at the manuscript wish lists of agents who represent your genre

Look beyond literature for comps

What do you do if you’re struggling to find books in your genre with significant similarities? The good news is, comp titles don’t have to just be books! Your list of potential comps can include everything from popular shows to time periods in history. Here’s an example of things you can comp:

  • Other books in your genre
  • Television shows and movies
  • Video Games
  • Authors and other creators
  • Legends, myths, fairytales
  • Historic eras or time periods
  • Trending talking points

Make sure you use at least one book as a comp, but feel free to get creative with the other one or two you use. For example, #1 NYT bestselling author Tracy Deonn pitched her novel Legendborn as City of Bones meets the classic legend of King Arthur, with “a lot of Southern Black Girl Magic.” Everything about those seemingly distinct comparative titles builds intrigue and promises a highly marketable product, which Deonn totally delivers.

There are so many options for comp titles, so don’t limit yourself! It’s important to have a strong, creative list to pick from. Just remember that the works you use need to answer the questions what is your book about, who is the audience, and, if you’re comping for agents and editors, what’s hot or evergreen in my genre right now?

Experiment with different mashup options

Good comp titles check a lot of boxes. For example, comp titles must be similar to your book and work well with each other to build intrigue without coming across as confusing. For example, saying, “My book is Star Trek in prehistoric times but with ninjas and mermaids!” is muddled— there’s too much going on there!

Your choice of comps should also demonstrate your market-savviness, genre-savviness, and your book’s guaranteed audience appeal. The only way to accomplish all of the above is to a) have a great list to pick from, and b) play around with different mashups until you come up with the perfect one, including experimenting with different ways of arranging your comp titles.

Here are some different formats you can play around with:

Format Benefit Example
“X meets Y” This is the most basic comp format. Its short and sweet length is ideal for things like Twitter pitch contests. Spin the Dawn is Mulan meets Project Runway.
“for fans of X and Y” This one is great for emphasizing the readers you’re hoping to appeal to. This book will appeal to fans of Pachinko and Amy Tan.
“it’s X but with Y twist” This would be perfect for books with a unique twist on classics or tropes. It’s a gender-bent The Great Gatsby, but with a bank heist.
“the [qualifier] of X with the [qualifier] of Y” This is a good option for those who need to explain which aspects of each comp are most relevant. “the whimsy of The Night Circus with the fierce feminism of Circe.”

How to choose your comp titles

Once you’ve narrowed down your comps and the format you’d like to use, it’s time to perfect and pick the winning pair! First, double-check to make sure that, combined, your comps give a solid idea of your book’s plot, setting, themes, genre, audience, etc. The best way of doing this is to pick comps that aren’t too similar to each other. That way, they can each offer different insights into your book (for example, choosing one comp related to the plot and the other to mood).

You’ll also want to make sure that they cater to the same audience and demographic as your book, especially if your comps are for agents or publishers since they’re trying to determine the marketability and sales projection for your book; agents and publishers will be reluctant to work with an author who doesn’t keep up with their own genre, or know how to write for their audience.

For those same reasons, you should pick comps that are popular, well-known, and successful. You should also have at least one title that is recent— meaning it came out within the last three years.

Pitfalls to avoid

Overstating your book’s potential

There are several things you should avoid when picking comp titles. First, take care not to compare your books to obscure, unknown titles. At the same time, don’t overstate your book’s potential with far-fetched comparisons. Remember, you want to appear market-savvy, not delusional (e.g. “my book is the next Twilight!”) or out of touch (e.g. comping books your audience hasn’t read or thought about since graduating high school). Be intentional and realistic with your comp choices.

Being too vague

Another issue you might run into if you comp popular titles is being too vague. Because popular works are so often used as comps by other authors, they don’t always give a clear idea of who the audience is, since books like Harry Potter appeal to so many age groups. Popular titles also might not give a clear idea of what the book is about. Due to all the emerging fantasy authors who have used A Game of Thrones as a comp, an agent or editor might now just interpret a comparison to George R. R. Martin’s works as meaning that a book is a high fantasy with multiple POVs. That alone may not give as much insight into your book’s plot as you intended.

Choosing a comp title that isn’t similar enough

Don’t pick a comp that has more dissimilarities than similarities. For example, you shouldn’t compare your book to The Hunger Games just because it begins with an older sister risking her life for her younger sister, with no other parallels like battle arenas or dystopian governments. Dissimilarities could also include incompatible audiences. For example, instead of saying your book is “Stephen King for kids,” consider comping Coraline or Stranger Things.

One more thing: Do not comp a book just to make fun of it (e.g., “my book is Pride and Prejudice, but not boring”). Agents and editors will likely consider this unprofessional behavior and might pass on your book for that alone.

Comp titles are an awesome tool for relaying key, marketable information about your book, but don’t feel like you need to bend over backward searching for “perfect” representations. In fact, you want your book to stand out as a distinct addition to your genre, so just do the best you can to relay the plot, setting, tone, and audience. In some cases, agents and editors won’t even ask for comps in your query letters or book proposals, but it’ll still be good homework to prepare for the possibility of needing them anyway. It’ll give you a good excuse to read and watch fun stuff as “market research,” so go on and enjoy the process!

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