In the last several months there have been a lot of online writing contests. As submissions come in, participating judges sometimes comment on social media about the glaring errors they see in queries and first pages. In a recent contest, a judge questioned why more people were not using comps in their queries.
If you're new to writing and/or publishing you may ask, "what is a comp?" A comp is a competitive title already in the marketplace that could be considered similar to your book. Many writers want to stay away from using comps because they're afraid agents may think it is too similar to what is already in bookstores. This can be true, but there is a reason why agents like to see comps in queries. This is the reason: If they are considering the book, they need to think about how they are going to pitch it to an editor. They also need to know where your book would go on the shelves at the local bookstore. These are all things agents may consider when deciding whether or not a book might be right for their list.
Say you want to use a comp. How would you go about finding one? With one of my recent manuscripts I used keywords to search both the Goodreads and Barnes and Noble websites. Once I read the summary, if I thought the book was similar to my manuscript, I either bought it or borrowed it from the library. After reading, if I felt it was in the same vein as my title, I used it as a comp.
A few other things of note regarding comps:
1) It is NOT necessary to include them in your query, but it IS one more thing that you can use to intrigue an agent into reading more.
2) DO NOT use major bestsellers as comps. No matter how brilliant of a writer you are, you HAVE NOT just written the next HUNGER GAMES or DAVINCI CODE. Rather, you should use middle market titles that have sold well and that agents may recognize.
3) You CAN get creative. In the query for ORIGIN, author Jessica Khoury likened her story to James Cameron's AVATAR meets Ally Condie's MATCHED. If you've read Jessica's book, you know this is a pretty dead-on comp.
Queries are a tricky thing, but if you can find a good comp title you might want to think about using it. It may just be the added highlight that makes an agent request more!