Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Should You Comp?

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!


  1. Another thing comps are useful for is conveying tone--if you have a "young adult fantasy," that still covers a lot of ground. Is it dark, like Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely series or Brenna Yovanoff's The Replacement? Or is it more tongue-in-cheek? Comps can be a great way to get more mileage out of the short word count in a query.

  2. Great post! Additional insight I have gleaned from my own experience and from contests, workshops, agent feedback are these:
    Use at least one current example in your genre. Comparing a YA to Lord of the Rings meets Narnia ignores the current market of YA fantasies and may reveal that (unintentionally) to the agent. Saying Narnia meets Cinder for example, works better.
    I've seen more and more movie reference; agents seem to be mixed on this. If you compare to a movie, I suggest also making sure one of the examples is a non-movie current book.

    In the end for me, I ditched the comparison titles because I couldn't find the right ones. It worked out for me, but they can definitely be helpful so long as you aren't saying "my book is the next Twlight/Harry Potter/Hunger Games" and "this book will appeal to everyone across all genres and age groups." Just don't go there.

  3. I have a hard time coming up with comps. What I've been doing lately though is using the --readers of this author and that author would enjoy my book-- type of thing. It feels safer doing it that way.


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