Sometimes the best ideas are associated with a red couch. . .

Notes from the Armchair: The Curious Case of the Comp Title

By Laura Zats

 

Agents.

We’re all the same. All of us are sitting behind our computers, yelling into the void, asking for someone to send us a good query.

So what is a good query? Well, it’s a lot of things—the carrot leading us forward, the literary equivalent of a teaser trailer and a resume combined, etc. But there’s a part of the letter that is talked about a lot, in a lot of different ways, that I want to focus on here.

And this part, tucked neatly into the metadata, is the comp title.

Generally, a comp title is a comparison of your book to a book (or a few books, or some other media) currently on the market that will explain what your book is AND/OR where it fits on the shelf.

That and/or is key, because there are two kinds of “comp titles.” It’s confusing, we know, and Publishing People don’t always talk about it incredibly clearly. Our bad.

So I’m going to break it down for you. When choosing your comp title, you can present an agent or editor with one of two types: a COMPARISON title, or a COMPETITIVE title.

Either one works. Seriously. But just choose the one that works the best for your book, which mean the one that communicates the most valuable information to the reader.

Let’s dive in!

 

COMPARISON TITLES

For the purposes of your understanding, comparison titles use works by other people to explain what your book is—the story, the setting, the characters, etc. It’s not related to the market.

For example:

Title of My Book is a You’ve Got Mail-style romance set in space.

Title of My Book is The Hobbit meets The Count of Monte Cristo.

Title of My Book Pride and Prejudice if Elizabeth Bennet was an extreme environmental activist and Mr. Darcy had just inherited a logging company in the Pacific Northwest.

COMPETITIVE TITLES

Competitive titles are less about the content between the covers of your book and more about the place it will occupy on a reader’s shelf, or even the shelf of a bookstore. Think of how when you buy a book online, you get an email the next day saying, “Because you bought This Title, you might like These Other Books.

For example:

Title of My Book is in the same vein as The Hate U Give and Dear Martin.

Title of My Book will appeal to readers of Nicholas Sparks.

Title of My Book is middle grade fiction with black humor similar to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

 

 

Have a deep, honest conversation with yourself, your critique partner, and your priest about which comps will serve your book the best. These are ones that are:

– True (this might be the hardest for you to figure out on your own)

– Specific (no vague mashups of two blockbusters, please)

– Simple (1-2 titles is ideal, 3 is the absolute limit)

If you want to stick four books in a mashup to communicate a comparison title, you’re too struck on the details.

If you’re tempted to say that readers of Edgar Allen Poe and also Donna Tartt will love your book, that will just confuse your reader—go back to the drawing board.

Remember, the goal with any type of comp title is to leave your reader with a singular, clear idea of what your book is—not to make us do cartwheels in our head trying to figure out how these things fit together.

I think any agent will say that a truly wonderful comp title is the one thing that will take us from 0 to 60 in 2.4 seconds, in terms of enthusiasm. And a great comp will, if an agent is waffling, bump you into the “request” side of things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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