I am currently in the editing phase of my novel and therefore also in the query-drafting / dream-agent-list-making phase. I've been mentally tossing around a few comp titles for months but none of them have stuck. And this morning it hit me. The perfect one! Quirky in the same ways, relatable in the same ways. I literally yelped with joy, I was that excited! It felt so right. And then immediately so wrong as I remembered two things about the novel that totally deflated me.
1) It was a bestseller. Just last year. And I am under the impression that it's generally advised to steer clear of those, as a million other people are undoubtedly using them on their own query letters.
2) It's very similar structurally. The plot, tone, and themes are different. Mine is written in first person and the other in third. But there is a very familiar feeling to the way the story moves, as far as action and flashbacks and such. Two of our main characters even share a name! (I'm not married to the name. I'm willing to change it and wont feel at all bad about doing so as soon as I come up with a better one.) Still, I'm worried that, despite the differences, drawing attention to the similarities by using this bestseller as a comp title might do more harm than good to the impression I'm trying to make.
If I give you a thousand dollars cash, do you worry about getting paper cuts from those crisp new bills?
I swear, writers can worry about everything! It's rather touching when you worry about things out of your control, but now you're worrying about the good stuff. That's getting ...well, it's not a good sign. I think you need a vacation.
This is EXACTLY the purpose of a comp title. Your book will appeal to the readers of this book, and this book did well.
What's not to love?
When agents tell you not to use bestsellers, what they mean are books that have moved into a category of their own. John Green books are like that. Divergent is like that. Harry Potter is like that. So is anything by Nicholas Sparks or Stephen King.
How can you tell the difference? Ask yourself if someone buys a book because of the author or the book.
People buy books by Stephen King because he wrote them, not because of the book. He can (and does) write across genre and category.
People read J.K. Rowling books because she wrote them. If you don't believe me, google Robert Galbraith.
If your comp book isn't written by one of these outliers, you're going to be ok.
Bestseller is a good thing in a comp, particularly if it's a true comp title, not just something you hope is comparable.