How Important is it to have Reference Titles when Querying?

When querying to agents, how important is it to have a few comparison titles?

My problem is, for the story I am writing, I don’t know many stories that like it. I’ve often heard it’s a lot like the movie Underworld, but my story has a romance element to it (Paranormal Romance). Everything in the genre that my book falls under is Urban, and my story is basically Steampunk hunter era. So it really doesn’t fit seamlessly with the other stories in its genre. At least, not popular stories.

So my second question: How important is it that the comparison title is one that the agent will recognize? Should I basically find agents first, see what books they have signed, and if one of their stories seems like my story, read that one to see if it fits my story? I am thinking this would be a good tactic, as if one agent has signed a book, other agents in the genre might be aware of it too (thus killing a few birds with one stone) Also, I would only use the book as a comparison if it actually worked as one.

Also, is the comparison title there to bate the agent, or to show you have done some research?

Based on queryshark, you shouldn’t have comp titles at all. Though for pitmad pitches they work very well. You need the comps later, for marketing, but before I don’t think they are a deal breaker. You don’t bate agents with them, you just give them an idea of what you are on about.

Some agents, will request them. It’s not a precise art. You should ahve something recognisable, ideally a book but I’m comping two movies, simply because the concept works so well.

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I’ve only talked to one publishing house that explicitly wanted this in a query letter, and they said that it was to demonstrate your knowledge of the market. It helps them know what parts of your books would appeal to readers today.

But yeah, not everyone seems to care about them. I don’t have a ton of experience, to be certain, but most places/agents I’ve spoken to seem to want to know how your book stands apart from other titles rather than how it compares.

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When I was querying, sometimes the only way to submit to the agent was with an online form they provided on their website. I didn’t query much, but all the forms I filled out required the comps. I don’t mean they had a place for them. It was a required field so if you left it out the submission failed.

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Agreed. I didn’t talk to many (actually, I think only two I knew were agents), but when I was interested in the same question, I did an informal count of agent sites and blogs in which the agent mentioned comps. In my count, something like 2/3 who mentioned them at all said they found comps to be useless and not to bother.

One (sorry, forget who it was) wrote that comps are a movie industry thing that leaked over into books via script-writers, but that they don’t have nearly the relevance to the book world they do for movies.

The reason: movies are vastly more expensive per release than books are. The cost of failure is huge. Hence the imperative to “conform with current audience tastes” is intense in the movie industry compared to the book industry, where the value of niche conformity and the value of novelty are more in balance.

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I never filled one out. The forms are much harder to do systematically than querying by way of the generally accepted email summary + 5/10 pages, so I felt that the forms are kind of arrogant. The way I looked at it: there are a ton of agents, and only a small number insist on these forms. Why bother? But I was querying an MG fantasy. It’s quite possible for some genres / niches, forms are more an accepted practice.

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Just as an FYI - ‘Underworld’ has a romantic element to it. Selene falls in love with Michael in the movie. So if you need a comp for a form/query it might be good to use that title.

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Wow thanks for the feedback everyone!!! I think I’ll just do a mass reply, since my reply would be the same for everyone.

Seems to me that it might be circumstantial, and that there will be a good number that don’t request it. But, I should definitely have a list of books (maybe even movies) I can reference in case it’s needed.

Seriously thanks for all the feedback! This helped a lot.

Also, @BridgesTunnels ahhh good point!!! I’ll have to rewatch that movie now

Answer seems to be: It’s not something to lead with (unless pit mad) but definitely something you should know.

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There was even the romantic subplot of the Lycan Lucien (Michael Sheen) falling in love with the vampire leader Viktor’s (Bill Nighy) daughter Sonja.