Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Comping my adult novel to YA novels

Is it okay to use comps outside one's category?

I'm currently working on an adult novel (historical fiction), but the two comps that feel right to me are both YA. Is it okay to say something like "I hope it will appeal to adult fans of [YA title] and [YA title]?" Or is this a red flag?

I read widely in the genre (both YA and adult), so I'm sure I can come up with some adult titles if this is an issue, but the two YA books feel like such a great fit (and, bonus, both are recently published and seem to have done well). It's probably also worth mentioning that there's no way to age my book down to YA (both because of the age of the protagonist and the subject matter).

I'm probably overthinking this, right?

You're not overthinking this at all.
This is a really good question, and I'm glad you asked.

Since you read both YA and adult you know that YA books differ from those marketed and sold as adult fiction even if they are both in the same genre (such as crime fiction, or historical fiction.)

YA generally is about young people finding their way in the world, making sense of situations they didn't create, or have thrust upon them because of their age.

Adult fiction can certainly be about that but the characters, as you point out, are older, have more life experience, and generally a few more of life's scuff marks.

YA is acquired by entirely different editors than acquire adult fiction (mostly), sold differently (mostly) and even in a separate imprint at the publisher (often.)

If I have a YA novel, regardless of genre, I go to the Harper divisions that publish those books.
If I have an adult novel, I go to the Harper imprints (like Morrow or Avon) that publish those kinds of books.

What you can intuit from that is that YA comps are largely meaningless to adult editors. Sure, adult editors have read some YA and they know what it is, but they're not steeped in it like the YA editors are.

The purpose of comps is to tell an agent or an editor what kind of reader will like your book. Given the size of the historical fiction market, you need to cast a wider net.

Don't feel stupid about this. Comps are the bane of my existence and I spend HOURS trying to get them right. And even then, when the brain trust here at New Leaf weighs in, someone else always has a better one (which is a good thing, but humbling!)

This may be a place where your librarian can help you. They know more (or at least how to find more) than any of the rest of us!

18 comments:

Gigi said...

Thanks, Janet! This is really helpful.

Robert Ceres said...

First, I wonder that if you are submitting to an agent that reps YA and adult, if using one comp each (in the query to the agent) might be a good idea.
Second, I wish I had become a librarian. That or the owner of a bookstore.
And as an aside, support those local book stores least we have them no more.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Comps kind of kill me too. If possible, I wish I could skip this bit. Another nagging worry in the bottomless pit of despair that is querying.

Amy Johnson said...

First, thanks for the comp advice, Janet. I love puns! I don't love comps nearly as much.

Second, I still can't get over the last FF round. I gave someone an entire grammar lesson on dangling participles just so I could share the amazingness of Steve's first line.

Third, if you didn't get to see Colin's example from last evening of the need for an Oxford comma, you might want to check it out. Hilarious, Colin!

LynnRodz said...

Hmm, there's a comp I would like to use (as OP said, it's "a great fit") but it was released several years ago. I know that's a no-no, but it's still a bestseller and just had a new edition released this year. Would that be frowned upon?

KariV said...

I'm starting to put comps in the same category as The Dreaded Synopsis. Hard to figure out, harder to pull off successfully.

I've been seeing a lot about comps on Twitter lately and the advice seems to be all over the place. According to the jargon, I need to somehow find 3 comps - 1 recent, 1 bestseller, 1 movie. It's enough to make my head spin. I'm just gonna settle for reading widely in my genre to see what strikes me as similar.

Main take-away: try to have something relevant, recent, and realistic.

Sam Mills said...

Ayyyyy comps. I read constantly in my genre, so "well-read" isn't the problem. The problem is being so close to my own work (and so star-struck by the books I do love) that I struggle to view it through outside categorizing eyeballs. Does it have the worldbuilding flare of Author A? The emotional punch of Author B? I mean, I hope so, but who knows!

Morgan Hazelwood said...

Oh wow. I thought you could use a YA comp if the agent also repped YA and you had a 2nd comp that WAS in the matching genre.

They really are such a challenge.

Craig F said...

You spend so much time trying to make your work a unique beast, then have to turn around and compare it to a cabbage. Every time I try I get that hydrogen sulfide stink of cabbage in my brain. Another maybe someday.

OT: Congrats to Steve for a well deserved win. Also congrats to all of those mentioned and all the rest who gave it the good heave-ho. It is always worth the effort to do so, even if, like me, kudos are rare.

Anonymous said...

Great explanation!

Ashes said...

As a part-time librarian, I'm not sure I could help much with this.

Like the OP, I would look at it from the perspective of a reader. And there are a ton of adult readers in their 20s and 30s who are reading both Adult and YA books. Often, like the OP suggests, in the same genre.

So while Janet's explanation, as always, is completely reasonable, it doesn't really apply to my world. I will ask patrons looking for comparable books if they read YA and Adult all the time, and increasingly with that age range, the answer is yes. Then I can recommend something that feels the same, even if the content is aged up or down.

What a librarian might have access to is a nicely tagged database of mostly current books. Amazon and online retailers have this too, but the collection on Amazon is practically limitless and can get muddled. Our collection (which refers to books in all library across the province which we can easily access through Interlibrary loans), is more focused and contains mostly recent books that still circulate. So when a patron came in the other day and asked for historical fiction books set during the blitz, I could use that as a keyword to pinpoint curated titles.

roadkills-r-us said...

I would like to run a slight tangent and put in a plug for getting to know your local librarian. Despite having the internet at our fingertips, there are any number of times that having an information specialist available is even handier. Especially one who knows books.

Also, I'm with Morgan. I thought this would be at least somewhat more palatable when pitching to an agent. Especially in fantasy, where the best comps might be in a different age bracket.

Amy Johnson said...

Sam's comment got me thinking about something related to his point. A book has different elements, and authors have different elements to their writing. To use Sam's examples, I might provide a comp because of the similar emotional punch, but an agent might love the worldbuilding of that author or book, and think that's the element I'm saying is similar. Yes? Would it be wise to specify the thing about the comp that makes it similar?

Lennon Faris said...

You could list a couple adult comps and add, 'or adult fans of [one of the YA titles].' That way it would just be an enlightening bonus.

Happy writing Tuesday, folks!

Karen McCoy said...

What Ashes said. It depends on which librarian you speak with. If you are in a larger library system, going to the main library and talking with the library selector (often referred to as collection management/development) about what they've purchased lately in certain categories could definitely help as well.

Many libraries also have a database called Novelist, which has an "If you like x author...you'll like y author" feature. Just be careful of copyright dates, and try to find more recent titles. Access to Novelist is often free with a library card.

Sam Mills said...

Amy, I saw a post up on PubCrawl yesterday that I thought had good examples (and Janet, please smack my fingers with a ruler if I'm not supposed to link out like this): http://www.publishingcrawl.com/2018/04/16/the-importance-and-subjectiveness-of-comparative-titles-in-querying/

Amy Johnson said...

Thanks, Sam! The article addressed exactly what I was wondering about.

Colin Smith said...

I'm hoping my query is so awesome, all this extra stuff like comps and categories and word count will become mere curiosities. :)

Seriously, though, I struggle over comp titles too. Mostly because I'm not as well read as I probably ought to be. And partly because I waver between my work being totally unique and an accidental rip-off of everything Jeff Somers has ever written. ;)

Thanks, Amy! Always happy to edutain. :)