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How to Find Perfect Comp Titles: A Guide for Querying Writers

Some writers find query letters even more challenging to compose than a novel, and comps are one reason why. If you’re confused about what comps are, how to find them, and how to include them in your query letter, I’ve got you covered. Read on, dear writer!

Two piles of books, a quill in an inkwell, and a candle, illustrated in black and white.

What are comps?


The term comps is short for comparative titles. They’re used in three different stages of the novel acquisition and publishing process, by different people or groups, for different purposes:

  1. In query letters written by authors and directed at literary agents. The purpose is to give the agent a sense of the book’s tone, vibe, and possibly what books it might sit next to in a bookstore. The comps can be books, but they could also be TV shows, podcasts, video games, plays, or other media.

  2. In submission packages, written by literary agents and directed at editors. The purpose is to give the editor a sense of how the book might sell. Thus, the comps will be books similar to the author’s.

  3. In advertising and promotional copy, written by publishers and directed at potential readers. The purpose is to get the reader interested in the book. The comps may be books or other media.

Since you are likely reading this because you are a querying writer, this article is concerned with the first purpose, but it’s helpful to understand how they’re used later when you’re considering what to choose for your query letter. It makes an agent’s life easier if they can use the same novel comp you queried them with when they send out letters to editors. And if your comps are catchy and perfect fits, the publisher may use them for ad copy as well.


Where to put them in your query letter


Put your comps in the paragraph where you specify your novel’s wordcount and genre. Keep the comps to one sentence; this can be as simple as “X meets Y,” though it helps if you point out what aspects of the comp are similar to your novel (e.g. “the anxiety-ridden hero and sweet romance of X meets the music-themed magic system of Y”). Here are some examples taken straight out of successful query letters.

“Think The Time Traveler’s Wife as written by Nick Hornby with a dash of Torchwood.”
“BLACK MOUNTAIN ACADEMY uses a zodiac magic system to examine racial injustice a la Ace of Spades and combines the witchy coming-of-age story in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina with the ancestral magic of Legendborn.”

Briana Jordan’s query for Black Mountain Academy (Currently unpublished, but her query letter received 30 agent requests and multiple offers)

“THE QUEEN OF COIN AND WHISPERS would appeal to readers who enjoyed the politics and intrigue of Marie Rutkoski's The Winner’s Curse trilogy and Kristin Cashore's complex female characters.”
“THE ROGUE GALAXY is 104,000 words and is Seven meets Leviathan Wakes with a dash of Mass Effect.”
“The adventure of Moana meets the action of Pirates of the Caribbean in ALL THE STARS AND TEETH, a 78,000 word Young Adult Fantasy.”


Choosing the perfect comps


Some agents recommend picking at least two comps for your book: one novel and one other media. I like this advice, because the novel comp gives the agent an idea of how your book might sell and the media can give them a vibe.


You might already have an idea for your media choice; perhaps your story was partially inspired by playing Tears of the Kingdom, or it’s got the gritty monster hunting vibes of Supernatural, or it’s about a cozy baking contest like The Great British Bake Off. Think outside the box; one of my favourite YA books, Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim, is marketed as “Project Runway meets Mulan,” because it’s about a girl pretending to be a man in order to uphold her family honour and enter a tailoring competition.


When it comes to choosing a novel comp, research is your best friend, and reading recent books in your genre will help you in more ways than one. Don’t listen to the fear monster that whispers in your ear about how reading books similar to yours will sap all your creativity and take away your good ideas; reading widely in your genre will, in fact, do the opposite. It can inspire you and inform you about what is being published now.


Here are a few best practices for choosing novel comps. Look for books that are:

  • Published in the last five years. This is because agents and editors want an idea of how it might sell today, and since publishing looks different than it did ten years ago, older titles don’t help as much.

  • Released by a traditional publisher. Self-published books aren’t as useful for comps, because the traditional and indie worlds are different.

  • Selling well, but not a household name. Comparing your book to The Hunger Games isn’t helpful, because publishers can’t plan on your book being a mega-hit.

  • Debut novels. This is not something you have to limit yourself to, but it can be a helpful comparison if you will also be a debut author.

  • The same age category as your book. Adult, young adult, and middle grade are all very different markets.

  • The same genre, preferably the same subgenre, as your book. This helps agents and editors to better predict sales.

  • Similar in tone, plot, voice, narrative style, or vibe to your book. If your book is about a boy and his dog visiting the moon, you don’t necessarily need to find another book about a boy, a dog, and the moon. Perhaps your book is narrated in first-person and the protagonist deals with anxiety—so a book with those aspects, in your genre, would work as a comp.

Use these Comp-Finder Databases


To help you find comps for your novels, I’ve made two databases—one for fantasy and one for science fiction—filled with books that have been published in the last five years. View the lists here:

 

What are your novel's comps? Tell me in the comments!

The book cover of Making Myths and Magic: A Field Guide to Writing Sci-Fi and Fantasy Novels.

ABOUT

Allison Alexander is a writer and editor specializing in sci-fi, fantasy, and nerdy nonfiction. You can find her playing D&D, chasing otter penguins off the Normandy, or co-hosting The World-builder’s Tavern, a podcast for speculative fiction writers.

The Worldbuilders Tavern podcast cover, featuring an inn against a purple sky.

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