Monday, June 17, 2013

Agency Lessons: Five tips for using comp titles in your query

 **Special Note** On Wednesday, I'll be recording a special "Ask an Agent" video with +John Ward as part of the Writer's Discussion Group over on Google+. If you haven't joined this wonderful group yet, then this is your chance. Stop by and leave your soul burning questions. I'll let everyone know when the video is available.


If you're a writer with dreams of publication, then you also probably have dreams of Oprah's book club and bestsellers lists. You may think your book is just as good as your favorites, but be careful how much of that leaks into your query.
 
Comparing your manuscript to other novels can be a great way to give an agent a better look at your work, but not all comps are created equal. Here are five mistakes to avoid when selecting comp titles for your query.

1. Choosing obscure titles/authors
Reading widely is a prerequisite for writing well in your genre. Agents are also reading widely so they know what is already on the market and where the gaps are. That said, you can't assume that they've read the same lesser known titles you have. Selecting a title that isn't well known doesn't help your query if it's unlikely the agent you are querying has read it. Good news for you! Many agents are on Goodreads! While it won't tell you every book they've read, you are safe using a lesser known title if it shows up on their virtual book shelf. It may even earn you brownie points. :)
2. Choosing only bestsellers
On the other side of the coin is only selecting titles that spent the past six months in the #1 spot of the NYTimes. This works against you in two ways. First, it insinuates that you've only read the bestsellers or only a few titles. Second, it sounds pretentious. There's just no way to say your book is a mix between Harry Potter and Hunger Games without sounding like you're the bomb diggity.  No matter what you do, DO NOT say that you are the next (fill-in-the-blank with a bestseller)[Tweet This]. Hundreds of thousands of books are published each year and only a tiny sliver of them are bestsellers. Calling your work the next big thing shows a lack of realistic expectations for your publishing future.
3. Comparing on plot only
 Using comp titles to give a better picture of your plot is fine, but it only shows a small portion of your work. Consider using comps to showcase your voice, writing style or world building. Instead of "XYZ novel is a mix between A Novel and B Novel" consider a more comprehensive comparison. For example: My XYZ novel combines the world building techniques of A author with the voice of B author. Just be sure you aren't comparing your work to Hemingway.
4. Choosing off-genre titles
If you're writing an adult romance don't compare your work to Rick Riordan. This is an extreme example, but hopefully you get the picture. Your comp titles need to be age and genre appropriate [Tweet This]. You can make an exception to this by acknowledging the difference. For example, you might call your work a teen version of Nora Roberts or a grown-up Ramona Quimby. You could also add an element to a different genre. For example, My novel is like Looking for Alaska with ghosts and a who-dun-it mystery.
5. Comparing to everything
Comp titles are a lot like genre descriptions. Combining two (or three at the most) can paint a picture of something new and interesting. Mentioning more than this leaves your query muddled. Using too many comps is confusing, and it gives the impression that you aren't really sure what your story or style is. I suggest sticking with the best two and leaving it at that. Remember that comp titles are a little extra embellishment to your query, not the star of the show [Tweet This].
There you have it. Deciding to use comp titles is a personal decision. Just make sure that you are purposeful in your decision. Don't stress over finding the right comparisons if you can't think of anything that works. It's better to leave them off than use something that isn't right for your work.

Do you have any tips for using comp titles? Please share your thoughts in the comment box.

12 comments:

  1. I have never been good at comp titles. I pitched A Missing Peace as Romeo and Juliet meets a military cover up because the girls in my writing called it Romeo and Juliet (I wouldn't have). And I had to say a military cover-up b/c I couldn't think of a title for that.

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    1. Sounds like a good one to me. Nothing wrong with combining your comp title with something unexpected.

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  2. I'm so thankful my agent does this for me.

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  3. Great tips! #3 is really something to think about. :)

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    1. Not that there's anything wrong with focusing on plot with your comps, but it certainly isn't the only option.

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  4. all good tips - hadn't thought of #3.

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    1. Glad I could bring something new to the discussion. :)

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  5. I just joined the google+ community today. I agree with Jess, number 3 is a great way to look at it.

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  6. Thanks for the great tips, especially not comparing yourself to some massively successful author and/or book. Never a good idea!

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  7. I had never thought about checking to see if lit agents are on Goodreads. That's such a great idea. I agree with everyone else said about #3. Thanks for sharing :)

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  8. Sarah,

    Great article. Tons of salient, helpful advice. Off to tweak the comp title section of my query.

    Don

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