How to Choose Book Comps

Photo credit: sleepyneko on Flickr
If you’ve been researching query tips for some time, chances are likely you’ve probably heard someone suggest that you use a book comp within your query (and if you haven’t heard, you’ve heard it now).

For those who don’t know, a book comp is a comparison of your manuscript to one or two books, movies, TV shows or authors (or a blend thereof). Usually these are some sort of mashup, for example, x book meets x book, or x book meets x element.

Book comps are great for several reasons:

  • They show the agent/editor you know the market. 
  • They give a specific sense of the uniqueness of your book. 
  • They show there’s a potential audience for your manuscript. 
  • They’re fun. (Well. To me.)

When you’re first starting out, choosing a book comp can sound a little terrifying—there are so many books to choose from, and initially and it can seem a little overwhelming to have to choose one or two that fits your manuscript. But once you get the hang of it, choosing book comps isn’t nearly as difficult as it may seem.

Before I go on, here are some actual examples that were used successfully, whether to land an agent or book deal (or both):

So when you’re trying to come up with book comps, here’s how to begin:

  1. Make a list of books/TV shows or movies similar to your book. By similar, I don’t mean “exact.” What you’re looking for are elements that could be pulled from a book that your manuscript has. For example, if you wrote a Middle Grade Fantasy with a humorous vibe, you may comp the Artemis Fowl series, or if you wrote a YA Fantasy involving time travel and medieval-like assassins, you may say Hourglass meets Throne of Glass. A YA Contemporary Fantasy-like Beauty and the Beast retelling could be Cruel Beauty in the 21st century. The possibilities are pretty endless. 

  2. Figure out the unique aspect of your book. Remember, the idea isn’t to say how your book is exactly like another book—it’s to say your book is similar to another book, but different enough that it’s unique. You can explain this by mashing two books together like some of the examples above, or by adding a twist like “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for teens” above. 

  3. Start mashing. It might take a couple combination attempts before you figure out something that really fits your book, and that’s okay. Bounce some ideas off your beta readers and critique partners to see if they think it fits. Play around with a couple options until you settle on one you really like. Once you’ve chosen, you’re done! Yay!  

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Stay away from mega-bestsellers. The problem with using hugely successful books, is it doesn’t really show you know the market (because everyone’s heard of that book) and it also insinuates that you have mega-high expectations of instant bestsellerdom. Which hopefully isn’t true. 

  • Make sure it makes sense (or explain if it’s a stretch). Be careful when you’re choosing your comps that they’re not so out there that it doesn’t make sense. For example, Vikings meets House is a bit of a stretch, however if you can concisely explain how it works, more power to you. 

  • Stick to one or two comparisons, tops. Hourglass meets Cruel Beauty meets Shatter Me meets The False Prince meets Ocean’s Eleven doesn’t work. Why? Because you’re throwing way too much at once, and instead of giving a specific idea of your books, you’re just throwing a bunch of titles in the air to see what sticks. And in that case, nothing is going to stick. It’ll just look like you don’t really know your manuscript well enough to narrow it down to one or two comparisons, and that’s definitely not the message you want in your query. 

  • Bonus tip: come up with your book comp before writing the manuscript. I did this with my last two WIPs, and not only did it make me even more excited for the WIP, it helped me keep focus of the big picture of the manuscript. Also, I had a quick description of the WIP when people asked what I was working on, which helps. 

So that’s it! Now I want to hear from you: what tips for book comps do you have to share? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Getting your query letter ready? Writer @Ava_Jae discusses how and why to include book comps. #querytip (Click to tweet)
Do you have a book comp in your query? Writer @Ava_Jae discusses why it's important and shares some tips. #querytip (Click to tweet)

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