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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.