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What is a Comp Title?

Congratulations! You've finished your novel manuscript, made all the edits you need to, and are finally ready to shop it around to agents and try to get this puppy published. There's just one more thing you need to do... find comp titles to put in your query letter. What's a comp title though? Short for comparable title, it is simply another book that's similar to yours and already on the market. Agents will use the comps title for a number of things when they're deciding to represent you, and when they're shopping your book around to publishing houses. It might sound like a simple task, but it is actually a dark magical art that no one seems to have the cheat codes to.

Comp titles are complicated for several reasons. The first is, of course, just trying to find a story that's similar to yours but isn't exactly the same. I'm not sure about you, but when I'm writing something, I try to read the opposite of that genre or topic because I don't want to be influenced in any way. Which means that I have to finish my book, and then start reading for comp titles. I'm also a slow reader, so thank god for audiobooks.

So, you brainstorm some titles, maybe even older ones that influenced you to write your book, but you can't use any of those as comp titles. I have a plethora of books I could use as comp titles for my most recent manuscript, but they're all too old. Agents and publishing houses only want comp titles that are no more that five years old. The reason for this is that agents and publishing houses use your comp titles to try and predict how well your book might sell. They want to know where on the shelf your book would be placed (metaphorically) and then how well it might sell as compared to those books.

Kind of like when you're looking for a house and the real estate people will look at similar houses to the one you want to buy in that area. It influences how much of an offer you put in. The exact same thing happens in publishing. The publishing houses will look at those comp titles and then decide how much money they're willing to offer you depending on how much money was offered to those comp titles and how well those books sold. Makes total sense, right? Your book and offer are totally dependent on how well someone else's book did.

Now through a bunch of research, and talking to several people in the business at the AWP conference this year, I was able to get some insights into the magical workings of finding the perfect comp titles.

  1. Don't shoot too high. Meaning don't ever compare your book to some huge, viral sensation. Your book is not going to be the next Harry Potter. If you promise Game of Thrones level sales, agents and publishers will not take you seriously.

  2. You can pick out certain aspects of a book that are similar to yours. You can say "The character dynamics in my book are similar to those in XYZ book." The whole plot or story doesn't need to match up, think of aspects that make a book stand out.

  3. Use your local resources for help finding books. Booksellers and librarians are a great source for finding books that might fit the bill of a comp title. They read a lot, and there's a team of people there to help you instead of wasting time reading a bunch of books that aren't like your book at all.

This process of finding the right comp titles is long and tedious, but it's also incredibly necessary when you're going through the process of both finding an agent and then a publisher. It's frustrating because comp titles can be subjective. You might write "My book is like X book, but with Y difference," and that might totally make sense to an agent... or not. No matter what, the overall goal is to have 2-3 books you can put by your book and say, the same audience that bought those books, will also buy mine.

Some of my current comp titles (several of which are too old to use)

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