Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Effective comp titles

I recently finished reading M.A. Lawson's new book Rosarito Beach. I liked it a lot and looked forward to entering it on my LibraryThing data base and seeing who else had read it and liked it.

Here's one of the reviews I found there:

...although I am not as well-read in this sub-genre as would be ideal to make recommendations, I can say that from the first few pages of Rosarito Beach I was struck with the impression of a clear similarity between Lawson's style and that of Janet Evanovich.

Dear reader, that funny sound you hear is me dropping my teeth with surprise.  Janet Evanovich?!?!  Now, make no mistake about it: I love the Stephanie Plum novels and I think Janet Evanovich is a terrific writer. But let's think about this a bit:

Stephanie Plum is competent only by accident. She's deeply involved in her family, as her family is with her (Grandma, anybody!)

More to the point, the Plum novels are written in first person, set  almost exclusively in New Jersey, and the resolution of the plot is never in doubt.  These novels are fresh, and fun, and lighthearted.

Contrast that with M.A. Lawson's Kay Hooper who is a DEA agent in Los Angeles. She's frighteningly competent, highly skilled, has no family to speak of and doesn't need Ranger or Morelli to save her from anyone. The book is in third person, ranges widely geographically and there's tension galore. The outcome is always in doubt.  This novel is hardly lighthearted and fun, but it sure was good to read.

The point I'm slithering toward making here is that when you want to compare your manuscript to a published book in your query letter to give the reading agent a sense of where your book will fit in its category, you must be able to answer WHY the book is comparable.

When you tell me that your manuscript will appeal to readers of Dana Haynes ICE COLD KILL you should be able to tell me why.  Is it third person, multiple POV?  Is it a thriller? Does the action unfold over a short period of time, and in places around the world?  Does the main character solve her own problems rather than relying on others? Does she carry a stun gun in her stocking?

You might not list all these things in your query (it's better if you don't) but you need to KNOW them.

The reason you need to think about this carefully is that you might surprise yourself and discover the books aren't comparable at all.

The last thing you want is me expecting fresh, fun and lighthearted and getting tense, dramatic and terrifying.

Any questions? Post to the comment column below.

17 comments:

Annaka said...

Misleading expectations are always dangerous. I'm still traumatized from watching Terms of Endearment as a child... It was listed in the TV guide as a comedy

french sojourn said...

* scratches out- my m/s would be the equivalent of a musical childrens pop up book by Vladimir Nabokov.*

great post.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

@french sojourn - You're working on Les Pat the Pale Fire, too?

french sojourn said...

*sshhh!!!!*

NotaWarriorPrincess said...

It's Long Day's Journey into Night meets The Brady Bunch. It sells itself.

Kitty said...

Annaka's experience reminds me of my experience with the movie THELMA & LOUISE. It was billed as A comedy! A female buddy film! Thelma and Louise go on a madcap adventure in a ’68 Thunderbird across the Southwest. Ha ha ha, right?

At the time, my daughter had just discovered that her fiancé could not be trusted, so she broke off her engagement and cancelled her wedding and cried for two months.

Then T&L was released and I thought it sounded like the right kind of escape she needed. It was not a comedy and there was no "madcap adventure." Even though my daughter was an adult, I would not have chosen that movie for her at that time had I known what it was really about.

William Landrum said...

Do you have any specific thoughts on using comp authors vs. comp titles?

I fear, by using actual titles, folks will be expecting a story very similar to the title(s) listed, while, by using authors, I hope to evoke a feeling of general stylistic similarities.

Put another way, despite quite a lot of looking, I’m not having much luck finding reasonably current books with similar plot elements, etc. but do see similarities in overall feel, writing styles, characterization, and so on.

So that just seems a better fit.

Steve Stubbs said...

Thanks for warning me. I was thinking of marketing a light hearted parody of Mickey Mouse and citing JUSTINE by the Marquis de Sade as a comp title.

Pamala Knight said...

Once again La Shark slithers to the rescue. Thanks for showing us the way comp titles should be done. :)

none said...

I always find it easier to say what my book isn't like. Tolkien? Hah, no, far fewer exclamation marks. Harry Potter? Nope, not one for the kiddies. And so on.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I was musing on comp titles earlier this week, so this is extremely helpful!

I do have a question: How recently published should comp titles be? It seems I've seen somebody (maybe you?) say no older than 10 years, which is a "rule" I find understandable (if it is a rule).

Lanette said...

My novel should appeal to fans of Stephen King, Tolstoy, and Dickens, but it's not a horror novel set in a Russian orphanage.

Michael Seese said...

I think NotaWarriorPrincess is on to something. Here's my pitch...

Detective Ella Marconi races to decipher the strange silken barnyard messages, before it's too late. I call it "Charlotte's Web Of Deceipt."

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Michael Seese - I think you have the makings of a new contest . . .

And thank you for the post. My query has comp authors and I am going to rethink how I phrase it.

Terri

Wendy Qualls said...

I'd love to see a blog contest where everyone has to come up with the worst possible pitch and title. Potential for great humor there :-P

Patti Phillips said...

I never delete your newsletter, no matter how far behind I get. I love snorting coffee through my nose too much.

Mike Lawson said...

I agree with Janet Reid that my book Rosarito Beach isn't all that comparable to Evanovich's books, but I'm frankly flattered to be mentioned in same sentence with such a successful author. And thanks, Ms. Reid for mentioning the book. Mike Lawson