You've posted several times on the subject of comparable titles, and while I am totally receptive to your points -- might do more harm than good and be sure to actually read them first -- it seems that many agents insist on them. It's like they (or their summer interns) have a check list. No comp? Delete email. Some tell me it's the first part of their pitch to editors. So here's my question:
Subquestion One: Should we be matching up our story with other stories? Or should we be matching our hooks or proposed blurbs? (Mindful that the author may not be the savviest in the blurb department -- we're too close to the story.)
Subquestion Two: Is it the kiss of death to comp to an NYT Bestseller?
Subquestion Three: If the best match is NOT an NYT Bestseller, but was written by someone with an established brand, how do I handle that? Should I say "I recognize these writers are franchises, but it's a good point of departure?" Or...
First, agents don't read queries with a checklist in mind. I'm not sure why anyone thinks that. We read a query letter like it's a letter. If you intrigue me with the story, I keep reading (ie read pages.)
Yes there are some things that can trip you up: word count that's terrifying (20K novels; 300K novels), or such bad writing that even if the concept is stellar, there's just no way to keep going (pages full of homonyms, spelling errors, confused and befuddled sentence structure.)
You're making yourself crazy here, and while I'm generally in favor of tormenting writers, I prefer to do it myself, not have you do it for me.
So, if you really think the agent you're querying wants comparable titles here's how to do it:
1. What books, published in the last two years, appealed to the readers who will like your book?
Here's how you phrase that: Lessons From the Kale Factory by Colin Smith will appeal to the readers who loved Lettuce Now Praise Famous Men by Bea Green; Peas and Quinona by Herb O'Licious; and, Meat for Murder by Agatha Crispie.
2. What books, published in the last two years, are similar in plot or tone to yours.
Here's how you phrase that: Lessons from the Kale Factory by Colin Smith evokes the story of Big Green Munching Machine by Pease N. Cues; and the atmospherics of Gunfight at the OK Bordello by Miss Kitty and Marshall Matt Dillon.
1 or 2 but NOT both in your query.
Generally you don't want to compare your book to anything that's a franchise or a multiple-book series since you're not any of those things.
But honest to godiva, you can shoot yourself in the foot so easily here I wish you'd believe me when I tell you that you do not need comps if your query is compelling enough.