Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Matching Game - Finding Good Comps for Your Query

Comps have always driven me bonkers. My novels don't seem to fit in anywhere. Which is good in some ways as agents are always looking for something fresh, but in a lot of ways it sucks. Novels that fit well into a family of "others" are an easy sell because agents know exactly where the market is. The ideal novel (to an agent) would be easily classified as part of an established market while also being different from what's out there.

In my last two projects, I didn't list comps in my query because I simply couldn't think of any. I always fear that the comps I choose will be wrong. They'll be too different from my book and make me look stupid for choosing them. I have also come up with some really weird comps that make no sense like Sookie Stackhouse meets The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I'm not sure what I was thinking there. Fortunately that one didn't go out to agents. But as I get ready to query again, I am determined to come up with good comps for my query. I have compiled some tips about how to pick the right comps.

1) READ - This hopefully goes without saying. But the best way to find novels like yours is to read as much as possible, especially books that you think might be similar to yours. If you're very genre-loyal, this is easy. You probably read and write the same kind of books. If you have eclectic tastes like me, you might have to make a point to focus on similar books while you're working on your project to get some ideas for good comps.

2) Be creative - If your project doesn't have too many clones out there, you might have better luck with a "this meets that" comparison. My favorite example of this may be Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. A comp so creative that it is actually the premise of the book. Matching a classic comedy of manners with bloody zombie mayhem was a fresh concept that could only be described my comparing two completely different genres. Be careful with this though. Using two comps from different genres (like I did in my Sookie & The Road example) is usually a bad idea because the agent doesn't know which of the two markets it lies in. Only do this if there is no better way to describe it and it's clear what you mean.

3) Think about your readers - This approach has worked the best for me. If you twist yourself into knots trying to find a novel that matches yours, think simpler. One of the purposes of a comp is demonstrating you understand the market for your book. So simply ask yourself, what other books would your readers read? Are they more commercial or more literary minded? Serious or lighthearted? Realistic or fantastical? My current novel is an upmarket contemporary fantasy. So, instead of trying to find something exactly like it, I'm using other examples realistic fantasy with a literary bent, assuming that the same readers will be drawn to mine even if the plots are quite different.

4) Show off your knowledge - From agent Suzie Townsend, "Comparable titles also tell me how well-read the writer is when it comes to their own genre. I can't tell you how important I think this is." Good comps are an opportunity to show off your literary savvy. Honestly, this is one of the areas I'm always most nervous about. I read a lot, but I also know writers who read A LOT, and agents can often read hundreds of books a year. But just do your research and focus on reading books that might make for good comps and you can demonstrate that you know what you're talking about. You want to find comps that are both popular (as in have a strong market) but not blockbuster types like Twilight and Harry Potter. The latter are overused and can make you sound boastful, even if it's true. (In fact, using Twilight as a comp is an insta-no for a lot of agents. Vickie Motter says this here.) In my personal opinion it's good to show that you read the books in your genre that are acclaimed/popular, but read more than just the bestsellers that everyone and their cat reads.

Some great links:

Query Workshop: Comparative Titles on Operation Awesome
The Art of Pitching by Suzie Townsend
Researching Comp Books by Jill Corcoran
Query comps, or "Mommy, who do I look like?"
Right now I'm thinking about using A Discovery of Witches and The Magicians as comps for my upmarket contemporary fantasy about wizards. I am also tossing around using American Gods too, even though it's not about wizards. Thoughts on this?

What about you? Ever picked any weird comps? Any tips that have worked for you?


  1. I've only picked comps once, for the MS I'm currently querying. It came fairly easy to me because I had just finished my MS and the next two books I read fit pretty well.

    I like trying to find one book that resembles the prose of my book and one that resembles something about the plot/characters. Don't know if that's 'right' but...oh well ;)

  2. This is so useful. I hate coming up with comps. I know it's cliched but I always think - there ISN'T anything like my book (yeah, right!) but I can see how it's important to have a macro view of your book and other books and to be widely read. At a conference I attended an agent told us to go into a bookstore and look for the shelf you think your book would be in. What books would be next to yours? It took me a while to figure out where I fit in, but when I did, I realized I could find comps pretty easily (I'd be next to Scott Westerfield, not too shabby ;)

    and I don't think you're comps are weird at all - the magicians and american gods are two of my FAVE books.

  3. For mine, I thought "Ghost Whisperer meets Nancy Drew." But I've pretty much decided to self-publish because the thought of querying makes me sad, lol. Great post, Sharon. My MS is coming your way by the end of the week. No - really.

  4. I've stayed away from this so far. My worry is that the agent doesn't like what I'm comping. Maybe for my next I'll have to make notes of what agents like it and who don't. If you can find that info.

  5. Thanks for linking to our blog, Sharon! This is a great post with good information.