Comp Titles for Query Letter

A few questions about comp titles:

  1. Yay or nay to comping classic books? I don’t want to sound pretentious, but at the same time, classic books were foundational to my learning the craft of writing.

  2. Assuming classic books would be the exception, what the oldest comp title I can get away with? I heard nothing older than five years.

I pitched agents last weekend (virtual conference) and talked comp titles with at least four or five of them.

Their advice was pretty damn consistent:

  • No classic titles in the comp titles. You may be able to get away with them in an “X meets Y” comparison, but you still need recent comp titles.
  • They explicitly said that learning writing from classic books could be problematic, because those styles aren’t what’s selling now.
  • Comp titles are ideally from the past 2-3 years (but they could go 5). They want to know that you’re reading books in your genre NOW, and that you understand how your book fits into the market NOW.

I empathize. I didn’t have good comp titles myself. My X meets Y made them laugh, but neither book is recent, and they said if I use it, I MUST also have current comp titles. Fortunately, I got some good suggestions. I need to do some reading.

6 Likes

Thank you! This is all bad news honestly, but I’m not surprised :sob: I’ve had a really hard time with comp titles for both of the books I’ve queried.

I also need to do some reading. I try to stay up to date on my genre, but nothing really sounds like my book…

I understand their point about classics, but I have such a deep affection for classics, it’s hard to write them out of a query letter. :pensive:

1 Like

As to comping, I agree with @XimeraGrey, your comp titles need to be recent and match your genre. Glad I’m not pitching now, I would have to re-do all my research, lol.
However, for TAGLINES or PITCHES you can still dig into classics, as long as you have a recent connection. So, if you are using/twisting tropes (classics are often tropes) and put a new spin on that, I do believe it is permitted.
I’ll now have to give you an example from my latest WP novel (which I’m not pitching yet)
The Three Musketeers meet Beauty and the Beast in a paranormal version of MasterChef.
Now, if I were to find comparable novels for that thing - OMG. I’ll leave that for another day…

3 Likes

This is 100% true and really important. However, a comp doesn’t have to be the same as your story. You could say something like “my story will appeal to fans of ‘recent title in your genre.’” And don’t pick the biggest hit of the year because everyone else will be doing that too, so you need to find stories by writers that are well-known, but not too well-known, to show you really do know your genre…

It’s not easy and it takes time to find the right authors and the right comps, but it’s worth doing…

1 Like

Right. I honestly haven’t read a book like mine, though (at least not recent titles). I don’t know whether I don’t read widely enough in my genre or if I’m far from the mark in terms of what’s marketable :grimacing:

It doesn’t have to be like yours but it needs to be comparable. Agents don’t accept arguments like “There isn’t a book like mine”. Why? We all use the same building blocks, the way we put them together is our unique contribution. So, you need to look at the roots of your novel. It doesn’t have to be the plot. It could be the characters, the voice. Something that tells an agent “Ah, that’s where you’re coming from”

2 Likes

Yes, this is it exactly. Most likely there are books similar to yours, but it’s not always easy to find them. That’s why it takes time…

1 Like

Right. I don’t want to come across as arrogant because I think I’ve written something completely unique, haha. It’s hard to dissect, sometimes, exactly which building blocks I’ve borrowed from other books

2 Likes

I don’t think you’re arrogant at all! We all put a unique spin on things. Some more than others. Formula writing for example, requires very little originality. In other cases, while there are common elements the spin is truly special. The less formula one uses, the more difficult comping becomes.

1 Like

One thing I found helpful with comp titles is picking out an element in the other work that stands out as comparable. As in, “will appeal to fans of the (blankety blank) of (Insert Comp Title).

Not sure if I was super clear there…let me know if it’s confusing!

@XimeraGrey @lhansenauthor On a related question, thoughts on using a lesser known, but relatively recent book by an author that the agent currently reps? I’m a bit worried that it suggests I’m pitching something the agent already has on their list.

1 Like

A good point. I think you can use that to your advantage, by showing that you’ve done your research and you’ve got something that might interest them. However, you need to show how it differs. If the similarity is too striking, I would actually not query that agent.

2 Likes

I agree with Lina. It depends on how similar. Is it similar in plot/concept? Probably not the best agent to pitch. “Hey, I have an awesome vampire book” probably isn’t a great pitch to the agent who reps Twilight.

But if your book has a similar voice or similar themes, that would probably be a great comp title!

3 Likes

I’ve really been struggeling with this myself. I really enjoy reading the classics and that is a big part of what inspired me to write, but I’ve definitely put my own twist on it. A close friend of mine who majored in creative writing and erotica read my most recent manuscript and said that I’ve created a new genre. I love the idea of being unique, but I don’t have any publishing credits under my belt so I’m not sure how to approach this part of the querrying process. Which classics most inspired your current work?

1 Like

Same same and same. The first book I wrote was a YA contemporary. It was 100k words, far out of the typical 60k-80k range for that genre. I stopped querying this book partly because of the length, figuring agents found it off-putting or risky.However, I never had any of my beta readers tell me the book needed editing. No one commented on pacing either. It was simply a longer story to tell…but as a debut nobody, that’s not something an agent would consider :woman_shrugging:

In general, I’m really inspired by the Bronte sisters’ work. I definitely see traces of Wuthering Heights in my second book because of the large family dynamic and the idea of an orphan from a different ethnicity finding a sense of belonging in his white, upper middle class family. I also borrow from Catcher in the Rye in that the characters are wandering around looking for something, but they’re not consciously aware of what that is yet.

You?

Wuthering Heights is fantastic and also one of the books that has served as my inspiration. I enjoy Jane Austin, the Bronte sisters and Thomas Hardy. In particular, one of my favorites is Far from the Madding Crowd. The area where I differ from the most with these examples is there are a lot of times where the reader is left at the door or listening at the key hole to a vague description of what actually happend. As a society, I think we have largely moved passed that. I also love the coulture, but as I haven’t been to europe yet, so I write from an American perspective.

1 Like

Hi,
please don’t forget that this threat is about comp titles. If you would like to discuss the classics, please head across to one of the genre clubs. The industry insider is for discussions on trad and self publishing.
Thanks for your understanding,
Lina - Community Ambassador

If you think you have written something unlike any other books you have not read widely enough. Remember that if your book does go to serious consideration by a publisher the marketing team have a lot of input into the decision. If they don’t know where to place it in the market then they can and will oppose buying it at the acquisitions meeting.

3 Likes

I take your point, but I don’t think that’s exclusively true. I write multi-genre so it’s difficult to find books that are comparable. Yes, I could find books to compare it to, if I picked one genre, but it wouldn’t be an apples to apples comparison.

Most books traditionally are multigenre, actually. But one genre dominates. So there may be a sci-fi romance, but either the sci-fi or the romance dominates. Why? Because they have to be able to shelve the book. If it’s so much of a mashup that no one genre stands out, trad pub won’t buy the book.

If you self pub, it’s irrelevant. You won’t be on store shelves, and you can “shelve” it multiple places on Amazon.

As far as comps go, you’re not looking for something exactly like your book. You’re looking for books with a similar premise or similar themes or similar tone. You’re looking for authors who write similar books, whose readers would like yours too.

I agree with @Tirellan – if you can’t identify comps, you’re likely not reading widely enough in your genre(s).

2 Likes