If you’ve researched traditional publishing or working with a literary agent even the slightest bit, you’ve likely come across the term “comp titles.” In order to write a query letter and effectively pitch a book to a literary agent, comp titles are a must. So what are they and how do you use them?
Here’s everything you need to know.
What are comp titles?
Comp titles, or “comparison titles,” are published novels or other media you use to help describe your book’s place in the market. These titles will have a readership similar to your book, and explore similar themes. Comp titles tell literary agents or publishing teams what your book is about, its target audience, and where it fits on the bookshelf.
In a query letter, your comparable titles are part of your elevator pitch—the paragraph of the query letter that breaks down your book’s title, genre, age group, word count, and market appeal, before you get into the nitty-gritty details of your plot. The sentence that lists your multiple comp titles (and why you’re using them and how they relate to your book) is called your comp statement. For example: “my book is like XYZ novel meets ABC novel.”
The challenges of choosing comparison titles
For some writers, finding comp titles is easy. Maybe you blended aspects of your favorite books, and channeled inspiration from favorite works, so you can easily say that your manuscript might appeal to readers who enjoyed those same books.
For other writers, choosing comp titles is incredibly difficult because they feel that no other book quite compares to their own writing. They think they’re doing something brand-new and inventive. There’s nothing like it out there!
Unfortunately, not including comps when you’re pitching a traditional publisher is a big red flag, as they might think your book is simply too different/inventive/unique to sell to audiences. Publishing is, after all, a money-driven business. Agents, publishers, and booksellers alike all want to make sales.
Whether you find choosing comp titles to be easy, or whether you’re struggling a little, there are still a few things you’ll want to do (and not do) when picking your comps to give yourself the best chance at getting that book deal.
Tips for writing an effective comp statement
So once you have a good comp title (or, preferably, a few), how do you go about actually writing a good comp statement? Here’s what you need to do.
1. Establish your book on the current market
Publishing professionals don’t want to publish your book simply because they love it. They want to publish your book because they want to make money! Therefore, show them how your book fits into the current market by only using comp titles of the same genre. In other words, if you write literary fiction, don’t find comps among the horror or YA books. Ideally, same genre comp titles will be books that were published within the last three to last five years. If you can only find older comp titles, it may be an indication that the current market won’t support your idea.
The one caveat? The only time you should use a comp title that’s on the older side is if you’re writing a retelling of a fairy tale, folk story, etc. However, this should still be balanced with some contemporary titles, too.
2. Include more than one title
Unfortunately, you don’t just need one comp—you’re going to need a few. Fortunately, you have some wiggle room as to what kinds of comps you use when pitching your book. It’s not uncommon to comp a manuscript to at least two books in your genre, and then broaden your comps to include movies or television shows. (We’ll get into some examples of this, below.)
3. Show your book’s unique appeal
While, yes, the purpose of a comp is to show similar titles that will give an agent or publisher a better sense of what your book is about and its overall tone and voice, you should craft your comp statement so that it also shows how your book is different enough to stand out from the crowd (and potentially be a huge money maker!).
4. Don’t only use household names
While it may seem like a smart choice to use only household name books for your comp titles, hold up! When a writer only compares their book to wildly famous manuscripts like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, it could be a sign of one of two things: Either the writer doesn’t know their genre very well and has only read the most popular books (meaning they might not have enough experience) or they have an inflated sense of self worth.
When choosing your comp titles, moderately modest is the way to go.
5. Don’t stretch the truth
Sure, we all want to use the latest up-and-coming novel as a comp. People love that novel, so they should love your novel!
However, unless you can specifically draw a correlation between your book and a comp, don’t use it. Otherwise, you could be building up expectations that go unfulfilled once someone actually reads your book.
6. Don’t use two extremely similar books
When picking your titles for your comp statement, don’t make the mistake of using two comps that are too similar. For example, you wouldn’t want to say your manuscript is a cross between 10 Things I Hate About You and The Taming of the Shrew, because the former is literally a retelling of the latter. Using both comps is a waste of space and doesn’t give your agent or publisher any more information.
How to find comp titles for your manuscript
Wracking your brain for some good comp titles to use? If nothing comes to mind right away, try these methods for finding your book’s perfect fit.
1. Ask beta readers
If you have a few select people who read your books before you pitch them, whether because they just enjoy it or they’re providing feedback, ask them for their thoughts. As they’re more removed from your manuscript, they’ll likely be able to draw comparisons that you might not event think of.
2. Browse the books at your local bookstore or local library
Head into your local independent bookstores or local library and go straight to the new releases section. Search out your genre and start flipping through the titles, reading the jacket covers. Do any of these other books sound like they might have something in common with your manuscript?
If so, grab a copy. At worst, you get something to read. At best, you find the perfect, recent, relevant comp title.
3. Read (a lot)
Everyone says it, but it’s true. If you want to be traditionally published, you have to stay up to date with the current trends and marketplace. This means you have to read—a lot. The more you read, the more likely you are to discover a great comp for a current or future project.
Don’t just assume that you know the trends because you pick up a book or two at the library each month. You need to be able to point out what themes are emerging and particularly popular in your genre. (Fantasy and paranormal writers know this extremely well; depending on the year, any sort of supernatural creature can be in vogue, from vampires to werewolves, witches to fairies.)
Comp title examples (and how to write a comp statement)
If you want to write a comp statement either to use as an elevator pitch or to include in a query letter, there are a few basic comp statement formats that you can adapt in a few different ways.
Here are some starter examples:
“Readers of [comp title] will enjoy [insert element of your book].”
“[Your book title] includes the [theme] of [comp title], but with the [seemingly opposite theme] of [comp title].”
“[Comp title] meets [comp title] in this new take on [comp title].”
As mentioned, you don’t need to stick with book titles for your comps. You can also use authors’ names in general, if that particular author has a very well-known vibe or voice. You can use movies or books. Some authors even use well-known music albums for comps, or historical events.
So how do these actually look in use? Here are a few good comp statement examples.
[Your book title] blends the magical small-town setting of Adrienne Young’s Spells for Forgetting with the rom-com wit and charm of an Emily Henry novel.
Readers of R.F Kuang’s Babel will appreciate the mixture of magic and anti-colonialism messaging in [your book title], an alternate history reimagining of the War of 1812.
[Your book title] blends the angst of Taylor Swift’s Folklore album with the dark fantasy and horror elements found in Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, for a YA novel that will appeal to fans of Holly Black.
The right comp will help get your book published
It’s extremely difficult to break into traditional publishing. However, with the right comps, you’re that much closer to showing industry professionals that you know the market, know what you’re doing, and have a manuscript that will sell.