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

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.

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Five Ways to Embrace Marketing Your Book (Guest Post)

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.

4 Publishing Industry “Rules” You Can Break (and 6 You MUST follow!)

In publishing rules are just guidelines. We give you these guidelines to help you (believe it or not). We’re not trying to make your life harder; we are trying to show you how to succeed. These guidelines are what you should generally follow, but there are times you can break the rules.

A great skill for a writer to have is to know which you can bend and adapt, and which needs must be met. Read on…

4 RULES YOU CAN BREAK

  • Anything that is contradicted by multiple people at top levels – Have your go-to sources (Writer’s Digest, ME!, KidLit411, Debutante Ball, Writers in the Storm, Pub Crawl Blog, Query Shark, Jane Friedman, Girl Friday Productions, Susan Spann etc) and trust those who have years of industry experience at the top levels–we all agree on the important things. However, there will be things we don’t agree on. Therefore, trust your own gut sometimes or go with 1 trusted source (aka if you are querying a certain agent go with their guidelines, not some XYZ site that’s right 60% of the time). The most important thing is that you’re clear and concise–so if you bend the rules make sure you’re making yourself more clear, not adding complications.
  • “One Size Fits All” social media advice – If anyone is telling you there is one single way to build an author platform or brand they’re wrong. Recognizing and growing your brand will always be authentic to you. Just be yourself online, and be consistent about it. Emulate the frequency or interaction of others that you admire online, but develop your own voice. (More on platform/branding below.)
  • MFAs are the only route to getting published – You don’t need one. If you have one that’s great! But no one needs one to get published. Some people like the structure and built-in critique system. But you can recreate that outside of a school program by reading a lot and with writing groups and critique partners.
  • Marketing and publicity that began in the ice age of publishing – We are working in a very different world. The good thing about where we are right now is that writers can take chances on things! Cover reveals, price point drops, merchandise that is unique to your book. Be agile! Be forward thinking! You have full permission to question all marketing and publicity advice–but, here’s the kicker, you have to try everything and you have to throw yourself into it. You don’t get to complain that publishing is a different world and do nothing. You get to say “hey, things are different and discoverability has changed–so what am I doing as a writer to find my readership?” Finding your audience is up to YOU, not your publisher but they will help. Relying on what a publisher has done in the past shouldn’t be good enough for you, you can’t assume anything. You need a fresh plan for your book and a team that understands what your unique goals are. Everyone wants to sell books, your team will be on board for that, but it’s the ways we’re doing it that have changed.

If you understand why the rules are there, sometimes it’s okay to bend them to make a point. But you must know why the rule is there in the first place. It’s like satire. If you’re going to satirize something you have to know 1) what it is you’re playing with 2) what satire is.

6 RULES YOU MUST FOLLOW

  • Spelling and grammar – This should be easy enough in the manuscript, but sometimes writers like to get cute with puns in titles. (Please avoid! Puns in titles makes everyone question themselves and sales/booksellers think there is a typo.)
  • General length guidelines – Your adult manuscript should be between 70-90k words; if you can’t follow these rules then there’s something wrong with the structure of your book. Reasons it might be longer than 90: SF/F. However, even debut SF/F should try to be 90k because it gets really expensive to print (therefore the cost of the book goes up) and translate long works (you won’t get foreign rights deals) which makes it an uphill battle for debut authors starting a career.
  • Yes, you must get on social media – There are no excuses for a contemporary writer not to be on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Tumblr. Join the conversation! Learn more about the industry and your market. Unsure about social media? Read my post about building an online community and this one about recognizing your brand.
  • Communicate with your team – Rebelling against the establishment isn’t going to get your book published well. A great book might get published, but an author that’s willing to go above and beyond to promote themselves and work with their team will be a shining star. Rebelling against what your agent, editor or publicist needs from you will stop them from wanting to help you. Be a willing partner. Tell us what you’re up to and let’s work as a team.
  • If you’re writing non-fiction platform is a MUST MUST MUST – There is absolutely no way to get non-fiction published in a big way without a platform. Agents don’t look at non fiction unless it comes with a sizeable audience and a demonstrable expert. (Hint: Here’s what we want in a platform. And here are my important platform secrets that you should know from reading my blog.) Fiction authors: platform isn’t a requirement, but understanding that you’ll need to grow one eventually is helpful at early stages.
  • Submission guidelines – there is no way you’re going to get an agent’s attention by ignoring or modifying their guidelines to suit you better or try to stand out. The ones that stand out are the ones that follow the guidelines and do it well!

Yes, these rules are there for a reason…to help you get published!

Q: What other “rules” are you still confused about?

THE STONE THROWER and The Festival of Literary Diversity (The FOLD) – May 6-8

I can’t tell you how proud I am of the founder of The FOLD (Festival of Literary Diversity). A client and friend, she’s a huge writing talent and activist in the publishing community. She has big news! Jael Richardson has launched a new book today:

The African-American football player Chuck Ealey grew up in a segregated neighborhood of Portsmouth, Ohio. Against all odds, he became an incredible quarterback. But despite his unbeaten record in high school and university, he would never play professional football in the United States.

Chuck Ealey grew up poor in a racially segregated community that was divided from the rest of town by a set of train tracks, but his mother assured him that he wouldn’t stay in Portsmouth forever. Education was the way out, and a football scholarship was the way to pay for that education. So despite the racist taunts he faced at all the games he played in high school, Chuck maintained a remarkable level of dedication and determination. And when discrimination followed him to university and beyond, Chuck Ealey remained undefeated.

Groundwood Logos Spine

…And she is launching a festival this weekend. The Festival of Literary Diversity is one of a kind celebrating diverse authors and creators in Brampton, Ontario. If you are in the greater Toronto area please join us this weekend. I’ll be on a panel Saturday. Hope to see you there!