Guest Post: 6 Ways To Make Comp Titles Work For You by Jennifer Johnson-Blalock

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I’m so thrilled to have another great guest post for you! Comparative titles are a major conundrum for many writers. How recent? How many? How perfect do they have to be?

I get more questions about comp titles than many other topics–believe it or not.

How can you make them work for you? Literary Agent Jennifer Johnson-Blalock tells us how.

6 Ways to Make Comp Titles Work for You

Comp titles—other works that are comparable to your own book—can be powerful tools to help an agent understand your project. Though you don’t absolutely have to include comp titles in your query, if you choose the right ones, they can get the agent excited: “Oh, it’s like that book? I love that book! I definitely want to read more.” But selecting the right comp can be tricky, so here are a few tips:

 

  1. Choose a comp title that puts your book on the right shelf…and the right table.

Imagine you’re walking through a bookstore—where would your book be? To begin, you want to choose comp titles that are in the same category and genre. Then take it a step further. Say you’ve written a work of women’s fiction. In a bookstore, that might be jumbled up with all the other adult fiction books. But what if they made a themed table—what other books would go on a table with yours? A table with Jojo Moyes (Women’s Fiction to Make You Cry) is going to be very different than a table with Sophie Kinsella (Lighthearted Women’s Fiction to Take to the Beach). And your book isn’t a classic yet; make sure you’re choosing titles that are relatively recent.

 

  1. Be specific.

Your book could probably be placed on more than one table, which is where the classic X meets Y comp title formula comes in. You can be even more specific, though. What about each title makes it comparable to your book? The powerful romance of X with the fast pace of Y tells me much more.

 

  1. But don’t use wildly different comps.

I recently passed on a query that used comp titles so different I couldn’t see how they were talking about the same book. For instance, if you pitch your book as THE FAULT IN OUR STARS meets GONE GIRL, I’ll think you’re not sure what sort of book you’ve written, since those works couldn’t be more different—in category, genre, tone, themes, everything! Specificity can help here, but at a certain point, it’s too much of a puzzle. Choosing books from the same metaphorical shelf will help a great deal. And remember, it’s fine to use just one comp title.

 

  1. Consider a character comp.

Say you can’t think of a great comp for your book as a whole. What about your main character? Maybe you’ve written a protagonist who’s just like Harriet the Spy—but in space. Even though you’re not describing the entire book, helping an agent understand your protagonist will go a long way to her understanding your book.

 

  1. Movies and TV shows can be comp titles, too.

Books are the obvious comp source, but other media can work as well, especially if it’s big and buzzy. I’ve seen comps used successfully with properties like SCANDAL, PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, and SERIAL, just to name a few. Only go this route if it’s a popular, recent show and if it truly is the best comp for your book—don’t tell me it’s like the current Big Thing just because it’s the current Big Thing.

 

  1. Strike the Goldilocks balance: not too famous and not too obscure.

If you set the bar too high, it’s hard for your book to live up to the comparison—no, sadly, your book will probably not be the next HARRY POTTER. On the other hand, if you set the bar too low, you risk the agent a) not having heard of the comp, which makes it unhelpful or b) thinking your book will be too small to pique a publisher’s interest. It’s tough, but you have to find the comp title that’s just right.

 

Jennifer Johnson-Blalock joined Liza Dawson Associates as an associate agent in 2015, having previously interned at LDA in 2013 before working as an agent’s assistant at Trident Media Group. Jennifer graduated with honors from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in English and earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Before interning at LDA, she practiced entertainment law and taught high school English and debate. Follow her on Twitter @JJohnsonBlalock, and visit her website: www.jjohnsonblalock.com.

3 Differences Between a Demographic and Your Market

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I get a lot of proposals or pitches that say “there are 157 million women in the US, that’s my market” and unfortunately they’re mixing up the difference between a demographic and a market. Publishers (especially publicists) don’t take well to these things because it makes someone seem out of touch from a marketing and sales perspective which is very worrisome considering writers are doing more and more to market their own books–and publishers expect them to.

THE THREE MAIN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN A DEMOGRAPHIC AND A MARKET:

1. A Demographic is a population which generally unknowable in a marketing sense (without data), a Market is data-driven, tangible, and accountable. A Demographic is a fact and often an unattainable group. A Market is an engaged group of probable book buyers rooted in proof.

2. Do you know how to actually reach that Demographic? If so, you’re starting to get a Market.  If you don’t know how to market to these groups then they aren’t your market–you can’t reach them to share your book news.

Market:

  • Do you have a newsletter with subscribers or mailing list?
  • Do you have an engaged social media following with numbers to back it up?
  • Do you have a podcast with regular listeners?
  • Do you belong to any associations or groups (writing, alumni, or professional)?

3. Can you quantify the number of people that will directly encounter your promotion, marketing, or publicity? That’s your Market. Family, friends, co-workers, social media followers, subscribers, associations, groups–this is your market! They will be the people that you share your promotion with. Your publisher will help with bigger markets: their own mailing lists, their distribution reach, their bookstore promotion, their social media circles, existing customers and more. Your publicist will try to increase your market: getting essays, articles, reviews and interviews in front of more eyes. However, you have to do the work too–by knowing the existing market you have and how you want to grow it.

PURELY PUMPKIN: pre-order for September 6

If you’re anything like me, fall is your favorite season for a number of reasons including comfort food. And Allison Day’s PURELY PUMPKIN is coming your way Sept 6!

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Allison Day’s second cookbook is ready for pre-order and planning your big fall get togethers.

The beginning of fall brings buzz and excitement around all-things pumpkin. From the huggable lattes we eagerly await all year, to the homemade roasted pumpkin seeds whipped up after carving a jack-o-lantern on Halloween, to the first (or third) slice of pie during the holidays, there’s a place for pumpkin in everyone’s heart.

In her new cookbook, PURELY PUMPKIN, Allison Day, popular blogger and creator of the award-winning YummyBeet.com, brings the cozy warmth of pumpkin into our homes with a seasonal, whole foods recipe set and earthy food photography. With savory and sweet recipes for all meals of the day–—including a mouthwatering pumpkin dessert chapter—–it’s the cookbook your home shouldn’t be without during the fall and winter months.

Homemade pumpkin spice latte variations along with wholesome meals ideal for the everyday and the holidays are tucked into this plentiful pumpkin volume. Utilizing pumpkin flesh, pumpkin puree, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin spice, pumpkin seed oil, and heirloom pumpkins, there’s something in PURELY PUMPKIN for every craving, festivity, time constraint, and cooking level.

As enjoyable to cook from as it is to flip through curled up next to a crackling fire, there’s no better way to celebrate, share, and savor the pumpkin harvest this season.

More and more cooks are turning to their own gardens or to local farmers’ markets to find inspiration for their meals. Eating fresh, local produce is a hot trend, but lifelong Vermonter Marie Lawrence has been cooking with produce from her gardens, buying milk from the farmers up the road, and lavishing her family and lucky friends with the fruits of her kitchen labor since she was a kid. In this book she includes recipes for everything from biscuits and breads to pies and cookies, soups and stews to ribs and roasts. Also included are instructions for making cheese, curing meats, canning and preserving, and much more.

Organized by month to coordinate with a farmer’s calendar, cooks will find orange date bran muffins and old fashioned pot roast in January, hot spiced maple milk and fried cinnamon buns in March, mint mallow ice cream in July, Vermont cheddar onion bread in October, and almond baked apples with Swedish custard cream in December. Other recipes include grilled chicken with peach maple glaze, veggie tempura, raspberry chocolate chip cheesecake, and dozens of other breads, salads, drinks, and desserts that are fresh from the farmer’s kitchen.

U.S.:

AMAZON / BARNES & NOBLE 

BOOKS-A-MILLION / INDIEBOUND

POWELL’S

CANADA:

AMAZON.CA / CHAPTERS INDIGO

Five Ways to Embrace Marketing Your Book (Guest Post)

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Today is guest post day! Client, author (LOSING THE LIGHT, Simon and Schuster/Atria Books 2016), and social media expert Andrea Dunlop is here to talk about how to embrace marketing your book. Don’t panic! She has all the answers. (And if you like what you read she is now taking on clients herself as a consultant.)

Having worked with authors for over a decade—first in publicity, now in social media—I know how reluctant many feel about marketing their own work. And as a newly-minted author myself, I can completely empathize. I often see authors with new books out—a time that should be exciting and celebratory—wracked with misery, guilt, and even outright panic. A little of this is expected, just as with any big life event (weddings, births, new jobs) it can be unsettling. But often the level of despair leaves authors unable to enjoy their momentous accomplishment. And it bums me out! In fact, it’s become part of my personal mission to change their (and perhaps your) perspective on what it means to launch a book.

I have some insight in to what’s beneath this misery. For one thing, it’s such hard work to get a book published. For most of us, it takes years and years of polishing work (only to throw it out to write something better), withstanding rejection after rejection, and struggling to hold onto our faith in ourselves. To be then told, after finally having a book published, that this is only the beginning is something like being told upon completing a marathon, that wow, that’s great, but actually the race you’re in is an ultra marathon, so you’ve actually got another forty miles to go. This is not what they trained for. Compounding this is the fact is that publishers—for a whole of host of reasons—are often not as clear as they might be about the whole marketing process.

But I promise you, marketing does not have to be miserable. Here’s how:

  1. Put Yourself in the Driver’s Seat: When it comes to marketing your book there is a lot you can do. Which is good because what you do is the only thing you have any control over. And trust me, it will feel better to have control over something once the book is out. So what does that entail? Organizing your contacts and sending books with handwritten notes to anyone influential, learning how to use social media tools and using them strategically, rallying your friends and family for support, paying in person visits to local booksellers to sign stock, connecting with fellow authors to cross-promote, visiting book clubs. The list is endless. And yes, I know that not all (or even any) of the things on that list might be within your comfort zone. Welcome to life in the 27th However, some of that discomfort can be mitigated by point two.
  2. Focus on What’s Fun: Yes, I know, you just want to write your books. I get it. But that’s not the race you’re in my friend. You already sailed past that mile marker. Here’s the thing, there are a million things you can do to promote your book in the modern landscape, and all of them can be effective if used consistently and well. The exercise metaphor is especially apt here. Maybe I already lost you on the long-distance running front (I’m with you there, respect to marathon runners but no thank you); but we all know exercise is one of the best things we can do for ourselves—and much like marketing, there are a million ways to do it. From yoga to tennis to boxing to dancing: any of it will get you fit, you find what you like to do and use that. Go in with an open mind: don’t assume you’ll hate Twitter if you’ve never used it for more than a day for instance, and don’t assume an idea won’t work because you haven’t seen it done before. Bestselling author E. Lynn Harris built up his original fan base by taking his book to Atlanta beauty salons. Genius! Get creative. Once you figure out something that works, double down.
  3. Have a Plan: One of the quickest routes to misery is trying to market by doing all the things, especially if you started off doing none of the things. This is why you need not only marketing tactics (social media tools, in person promotion, media placement) but a marketing strategy (which tools you’ll use, why and when and how much, who is your target audience) complete with a way to measure what is and is not working. What I often see is authors going about their own piece of the marketing efforts in a completely ad hoc and disorganized way and then quitting in frustration: this is why I often hear things like “Social media doesn’t work/ sell books”. This is like a person who wants to lose weight but refuses to do any meal planning or step on a scale saying “diets don’t work.”
  4. Understand the Roles: this is an area I see authors struggle with a lot. This is not by any fault of theirs. Those of us who’ve worked in publishing for a long time can forget how absolutely byzantine the industry is to outsiders. So authors go in blind: and this often results in not understanding who is taking care of exactly what. I wrote in depth about this here, but a key point is to remember that no one on your team actually works for you but with you. Your publicist, editors, agent, etc. are all working on other books simultaneously and are juggling those competing priorities. Guess who only has one book to worry about? You! Come in with a collaborative attitude (yes, even with your hired guns) and it will go better.
  5. Try to Detach: Your book is not your baby and most it’s most definitely not Sound harsh? It’s said with love, because I know it can feel like both of those things. But it isn’t. The agreement that you enter into the world when you publish a book is necessarily one of letting go. Once you have a book published, it is loose in the world to be judged on its own merits; it’s not yours to defend or protect any longer. The worst misery I’ve seen authors go through is when they take everything that happens to their book personally. They take the reviews personally, the marketing plan personally, and every little piece of criticism or indifference the world has to offer them becomes a critique on their very humanity. Miserable? You bet. And yet authors absolutely cling to this stance as though they somehow become lesser artists if they give up the attachment. But from my perspective it’s for naught: save that energy for the creative process, don’t waste it on the marketing process where it doesn’t belong. The book is already done. Do what you need to protect yourself and your sanity (you choose whether you read reviews or not) so that you can write the next book, and the next after that.

Need help with your social media? Email me. Follow me on Twitter.