Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Comps

I'm in need of some sharkly wisdom. In your Query Shark post #304-FTW you said "The VERY interesting omission is comps. That's an entirely valid choice and can work in an author's favor." Then in Query Shark post #305 you use the comps to help show how the query hasn't worked. I've always been wary of comps because I've wondered an agent would know what aspect of the comp is similar to my novel - the writing style, story line, characters, tone etc. I'm also more likely to NOT pick up a book because of the comps than otherwise (and I'd hate for a comp to deter an agent). With my hamster wheel running at full tilt I'm worried my decision to leave out comps is an issue. A few questions for you to sharpen your teeth on:

(1) Is there a particular aspect of the novel an agent assumes the comp refers to (as in, should the comp always reflect plot)?

(2) I know comps are housekeeping so an agent will have read the query before the comp, but would the comp be a dealbreaker if you get it wrong?

(3) In Query Shark post #305 you mention how Gone Girl is not a good comp (it was one of those freaky success stories we all want) but how successful does a comp have to be before you can use it?

(4) If comps are left out, even when requested by an agent, but you have a rocking query will it matter? ("rocking query" is a whole other matter, so for the sake of this argument, let's roll with it)



Comps drive me bananacrackers. You know bananas, but served on crackers. Comparable to WheatThins in size and color but yanno...better tasting.

I resist the idea of comps but many agents insist on them.

Comps are a shorthand for where the book belongs on the shelf and/or what kind of reader will like the book.

When you mention comps in your query, I find it helpful if you tell me what aspect of the book is comparable to yours: the tone, the multiple points of view, the style.

If you comp your book to the tone of Carl Hiassen I'm expecting a comic novel.
If you tell me readers of Lee Child will like your book,  I'm expecting a hero-driven crime novel with three dimensional female characters and more than a few twists in the plot.

To answer your questions:
(1) Is there a particular aspect of the novel an agent assumes the comp refers to (as in, should the comp always reflect plot)?

Answer: No. That's why you clarify. Tone, style, substance, any or all.

(2) I know comps are housekeeping so an agent will have read the query before the comp, but would the comp be a dealbreaker if you get it wrong?

Answer: Yes. I've had editors not read submissions because they didn't like the comps. It annoyed the snot outta me, but underscored that some editors really insist on comps.

(3) In Query Shark post #305 you mention how Gone Girl is not a good comp (it was one of those freaky success stories we all want) but how successful does a comp have to be before you can use it?

Answer: Once there's a movie, it's probably safe to assume the book is an outlier and not a good comp. Or the author has 20+ bestsellers.

(4) If comps are left out, even when requested by an agent, but you have a rocking query will it matter? ("rocking query" is a whole other matter, so for the sake of this argument, let's roll with it)

Answer: not to me it doesn't, but some agents insist.

Comps are an evil necessity these days. They are yet another reason you need to read widely in your category.

There is no one right answer here. No matter what you do you're going to second guess yourself, and blame the comps for a pass at the query stage.  All I can say is, try your best, and write the best book you can.

Keep a detailed reading journal so when you need comps you've got good notes on books you read.

21 comments:

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I am hoping Sam Hawke is about to provide me with an awesome comp. We shall find out in a mere few days.

Yeah, comps are a thing of the devil. As if the query wasn’t enough of a nightmare. My rodent wheel needs a vacation.

Kitty said...

I'm working on several WIPs. I'd classify them as women's fiction, a genre I rarely ever read. Instead, I read murder mysteries with a few memoirs tossed in for variety. Since 2015, I've read 1 honest-to-goodness women's fiction and 3 books by Jonathan Tropper which might be considered women's fiction, but I'm not certain. I would love to write a murder mystery, even a bad one. I've tried, numerous times, and I can't.

The Noise In Space said...

I'm really glad bananacrackers is gaining traction. It's probably my favorite phrase to ever come from/be popularized by Buzzfeed. I use it all the time now.

Janet Reid said...

Wait! Bananacrackers is on Buzzfeed?
I thought I made it up!

Danae McB said...

I've really struggled with comps for my WIP. It's YA, set in a made-up place (experimental community) but modern timeline. No advanced tech or magic. Plot is about a teen girl trying to escape before she gets pushed into arranged marriage. There is a strong romance element, but no HEA. And the narrative tone is on the lighter side.

It's not dystopian, though it shares similar elements. I honestly think dystopian readers would love it, but I don't feel like I can use those as comps due to genre. An agent read my query (at a conference) and said I should call it contemporary, not sci-fi. But when I suggested "When Dimple Met Rishi" as a comp she said that is too grounded in reality. She suggested "The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly," because it is about a girl who escaped a cult, but that book is very dark in tone, and seems more like a crime novel to me. Not a good comp at all.

So I remain compless for now. Maybe I will start my querying with agents who don't require them.

DeadSpiderEye said...

Whadsahgh comp?

C.M. Monson said...

Opie, you are not the only one struggling with comps. I never know whether to put them in or leave them out of my queries. I am afraid I will pick comps the agent hates. My writing voice is commercial and similar to Suzanne Collins. Not everyone likes her writing style despite how successful her Hunger Games series was (many agents have said as much in their replies).

John Davis Frain said...

DFW (Desperate Fledgling Writer) seeks same for comp help.

One (of many) things I don't understand in the comp world... Are agents looking for titles to comp to or authors? I feel like I cheat when I use authors. But that way, while Gone Girl is no longer allowed, Gillian Flynn would be permissible. Because, Sharp Objects, etc.

I read a lot, but it can drive you bananacrackers to find two recent titles that comp to your ms without involving plagiarism. And that would make your comp issues as dull as wheat thins.

Craig F said...

If i was still writing thrillers, I would probably pick Adrian Magson or Frederick Ramsay over a Brad Thor, W.E.B. Griffin or such.

However I am 48k into a science fiction where the protag. wants to pull the world into the 21st century. I am totally lost on comps at the moment.

Day late congrats to Rosanna and Adib.

Sam Mills said...

Haha we all desperately want permission to leave off the comps. I figure I'll put some together, then during my agent research scour for preferences and only include when demanded...

Karen McCoy said...

I've tried to get around this in a query by saying my book will appeal to audiences who liked various comp titles--though admittedly, with YA, this is a bit less complex--since most YA titles are usually in the same place in the bookstore regardless of genre. That being said, I like Janet's suggestion of zeroing in on tone or theme as well.

Danae McB: It's a few years old, but UNRAVELING by Elizabeth Norris is a contemporary with sci-fi elements that has a bit of a lighter tone than Minnow Bly. There's also UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi, and FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS by Diana Peterfreund. You can also look up each title on Goodreads and then find the list of "Readers Also Enjoyed..." for more ideas. Hope this helps!

Joseph Snoe said...

I don't think I'm any clearer on the use of comps than I was before.

BUT

I loved the original posters questions. It's like he or she thinks the same way I do. I wish we lived in the same town so we could spend hours talking over stuff.

Jen said...

Wow, what great questions OP. I never thought to be specific as to WHY to choose specific comps (style of writing, tone) so I always just picked something recently published that was similar to my novel and crossed my fingers and toes that it could work.

Back in my agent-hunting days, I used to go through an agent's client lists and see if their clients wrote in a similar vein. I found agents whose tastes were VERY different from mine, and therefore, probably not the best fit. Not surprisingly, not a single one of those agents ever got back to me. :)

But on the plus side, I also found agents whose clients wrote in a similar style. I found new books to devour from authors I never knew existed (always awesome), plus I could tell that these agents and I might be a good fit. I remember querying one particular agent and using his client as a comp because our styles were so similar. I ended up signing with him. Maybe you could try seeing how client lists fit with your work as well? You could find some good comps you never knew existed. Couldn't hurt, right (or could it)?

Claire Bobrow said...

Excellent questions, OP. I find comps fairly baffling. My querying strategy has been to say my manuscript is "similar in tone to X" or "will appeal to readers who enjoyed Y."

A couple of weeks ago, right before I hit "send" on a query, I realized one of my comps was for a book the agent had represented. Somehow that did not seem like a good plan. I worried they would pass because they'd already repped a similar book. So I swapped the comp for another. No idea if that was a good decision or not.

I've pre-ordered Sam's and Adib's books - so excited to read them!

Julie Weathers said...

Comps drive me peach orchard boar crazy.

I know I haven't written the only Civil War historical out there told from a female's perspective, Gone With the Wind and Cold Mountain immediately come to mind, but neither of them would be good comps most likely. Certainly not GWTW.

People who like the Jo Bourne Spymaster books might enjoy Rain Crow, but it isn't a romance novel, so that leaves those out.

I've read Civil War novels with female protagonists and I mostly want to throw them at a wall. I certainly wouldn't compare RC to them. Gods and Generals they are not.

I'll worry about it down the road. It's not good to have too many butterflies to chase at once.

Colin Smith said...

I'm still working on writing a query-worthy novel, so comps aren't on my radar at the moment. Once I've written something I'm happy to query, then I'll kick this one around. But I have been there before, and it's a pain in the beeeehind. I'd love to think the book's so awesome no-one cares what it's like. But alas! Oh well... :)

Colin Smith said...

"what it's like"--i.e., in terms of comps. Just clarifying. :)

BrendaLynn said...

You would think that comps on cozy detective fiction would be easy but it’s not. Every comp has a ‘but’ attached to it.

My book is similar to xyz but with more/less humor/violence/travel/ telekinesis/take your pick.

Thanks for the tip to qualify the comp, Janet. It will help keep the ‘but’ out of the equation.

AJ Blythe said...

OP here. As usual, my eternal gratitude to our QOTKU.
I never thought about stating why the comp was being used. *forehead slap* Why did that not occur to me?

Thank you to everyone who stuck their hand up to say they struggle with comps too. Nice to know I'm not alone. It's why I love you guys.

The Noise In Space said...

@Janet - Yep, bananacrackers has been used on Buzzfeed since at least 2017. Here's the earliest article I know of that uses it: https://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelwmiller/best-ask-a-manager-columns?utm_term=.mxpYDJnpq#.uvbej0Y29

gypsyharper said...

I'm so glad you mentioned a reading journal! It's probably been mentioned somewhere before and/or I should have thought of it myself, but today it came as a sort of revelation to me. I have a terrible memory, so a reading journal seems like a really excellent tool.