Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Comp titles: mine is a bestseller, can I still use it?

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.


Lucie Witt said...

Interesting distinction between bestsellers and books that have moved into a category of their own. I always assumed you should shy away from bestsellers across the board.

Comp titles are probably the part I hate the most about writing the query. For some reason it's difficult for me to come up with good ones. And it's not because my books are special snowflakes - my CPs have come up with great comps for me in the past (again, CPs are awesome).

xnye said...

What if you can't find something comparable. I mean, I know there's really nothing new, still it's hard to categorize some books. If you can't put your writing in a genre is it starting out crippled? Then do you write for what's out there, or what's in you?

Unknown said...

I think using best sellers as comp titles is brilliant, and I'll tell you why.

Given the above exceptions (authors who have branded themselves practically to the point of being their own genre), new authors who have recently become best sellers make for great comp titles. Agents are looking for the next Gillian Flynn, the next Victoria Aveyard, the next Andy Weir, the next Rick Yancey. Comparing yourself to one of these is a fantastic idea (so long as it's accurate -- otherwise it probably just strikes the agent as annoying). And these are the types of authors that agents are dreaming of finding!

You may be right, using a comp title by a best seller won't set you apart. Then again, it shouldn't. Your writing should.

Adib Khorram said...

One small correction...last line should be "you hope" instead of "you're hope."

Almost all the other writers I know in the query trenches have struggles with comp titles. I've always been the opposite: once I've written my book I can usually find three or four comp titles that work well. And I read quite a lot, so I can usually help steer them as well.

It's good to know that there's a distinction between "regular" bestsellers and "outlier" bestsellers. I note that all of them have major motion picture adaptations of their work as well. I wonder if that's correlation or causation.

xyne, this might be weird, but have you ever talked to a librarian? Or a bookseller? Tell them you're looking for a book like yours and they could probably point you to one (or several) that might be good as comps. Another thing that might work is picking a few key words that define your book and putting it into Amazon. I once helped someone find a comp title that way.

As an aside, I really liked all three Robert Galbraith books so far.

Today's robot-proofing made me select the waterfalls, which immediately got "Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls" stuck in my head.

Thanks, Google.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

As long as you steer clear of any variation of "my book is better than The Hunger Games or whatever the popular title of the day is and will definitely be a bestseller", you should be fine. Comps, I believe, are to place your work in the market. Isn't that correct?

Simply say something along the lines of "my book will suit readers who also enjoyed x,y, and z". At least this is my understanding from working with the agency I am doing my R&R for.

This is an agency to whom I was introduced by another writer prior to meeting QOTKU. They kindly sent me sample queries, synopsis of writers they rep so that I would understand about the comps and the like. Very helpful. Your book doesn't need (and probably shouldn't be) just like your comps. It should just serve the same tastes for the readers. My book/series isn't much like David Eddings' Belgariad or Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series, but the same readers who enjoyed those titles would enjoy mine as well. They all ride the same section of bookshelves.

Also, different agencies may have different requirements. One agent I am getting ready to query shuns comps. However, you would not know this unless you did a good bit of research as he seldom is open to querying. So research every agent as much as you can. Look at their clients and client blogs. Read client books. That will tell you if your book fits in with that agent or if agent is already flooded with books like yours. Look at what writers say on sites like QueryTracker.net. Listen to what other Reiders say who are in the query trenches or have broken through to the other side. And watch out for that annoyed horse that has now fallen way behind that cart. Said horse kicked me in the head recently, and I deserved it.

Megan V said...

Xnye and OP-

I think it's always possible to think of something comparable. Sometimes you just have to think outside the box. And—to disagree with the QOTKU—I think it's also possible to use books in a category of their own, so long as it's done to establish your unique premise.

I want to give an example from personal experience. I have a YA MS that garnered several full and partial requests thanks to the comp titles I used. (I was told by an agent or two that it was the comp. titles that really made them bite). My comps:


In just three short words it's possible to grasp the concept and genre (what I really hope and believe is a unique) MS and draw interest. Arguably books by Jeff Lindsay and Jane Austen are in a category all their own. But when these to books are put together, they WORK as comp titles for my first-person YA MS about a hubristic teenaged serial killing matchmaker who's desperate to recreate true love.

But while comp. titles can be extremely valuable, don't use them just to use them. It's important to find the right comp. titles. And remember that the reason you use comp titles is because you want to A. help establish plot, genre, and structure of your novel by using something familiar AND B. say without saying "hey this is going to SELL."

DLM said...

This is yet another time it's an advantage to write historicals. I don't comp. I hope I never will again. If I've written the story of the first king of France, the first Catholic king in Europe - or the story of the moment the so-called "Dark Ages" began ... it doesn't require clarification. Since comps often clarify concepts or settings that are not as straightforward as that, I don't really need to explain by likening. And I really do NOT want to go comparing myself to Hilary Mantel or Conn Iggulden or other capital 1N Names in the genre (I don't think I *do* compare to them ... and Cormac McCarthy may not be the way to go, *wink-wink* at Donna).

I think there is a *powerful* temptation to use comps as marketing - "My book will sell like (such-and-such blockbuster)" but the practical reason to use them is to explain what your book is LIKE. For genres or stories not as clear-cut as mine, comps help to give context - and to "place it on the shelves", giving agents an idea what they're dealing with and some hint whether it may be a fit for them. Pages don't necessarily always do that, and certainly we've seen queries don't. Comps are an X on the map.

Megan V - "don't just use them to use them." Exactly!

Anonymous said...

Adib Khorram, thank you for those wonderful ideas for how to find comps (...taking notes in my Submission Tips file...). As E.M. Goldsmith said, agents and agencies differ in whether they want to hear about my comps, but even if they don't I think the search for comps can be useful. By finding books that fit the "people who like X will also like my book" equation, I can make sure my book will satisfy readers' expectations and still be fresh.

Laura Mary said...

It's still a ways off for me, but at the moment I only really think of authors rather than specific books. I know who's writing has influenced me, and get a lot of 'you can tell you read a lot of so-and-so'. It's a step in the right direction!

As a slight aside, the other issue with, for example Harry Potter, is that those books are almost 10-20 years old now. I seem to remember reading somewhere that comps should have been written within the last 5 years - although if something is older but still/back on the bestseller list (film adaptations have this effect!) then is it a viable contender again?

Or, are there no 'Comp Police' either so we are free to pick as we choose?

Colin Smith said...

Comp titles give me the shivers a bit too. Such a minefield. What's a good comp? It seems from what Janet says, the thing to bear in mind is the audience: readers of what kind of book would enjoy yours? It's not so much about being the same as, or similar to. And I think the point about avoiding Harry Potter or Stephen King comps is that a) everybody comps them, and b) they don't really tell the agent anything about the novel other than it falls into some big, fairly generic category.

But would a sox-knocking-off query need comp titles? Probably not. Would agents request from a great query that doesn't have comp titles? I can't see why not. Comp titles can help to entice, but--and here's my question of the day to Janet--if the agent's already sold on the premise, s/he's not going to care about the comp titles, right? So how much should we really sweat over getting the perfect comp titles? OK, that's two questions. :)

Dena Pawling said...

If you really don't want to use the bestsellers, type “authors who are like XX” into google. Or put XX author's books into your Goodreads account. Either of these methods will give you a list of books similar to the bestsellers. Then read those books and decide which one/s are similar to yours. This way, even if you still decide to use the bestseller as a comp, you also have a non-bestseller to include in your comp list, so it doesn't give the wrong impression in your query.

Good luck.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I have cut myself on crisp new bills. And, more recently, on the federal tax forms I was sorting at the library. That one's leaving a scar, I think.

I may need better comp titles for The Last Song (though Lev Grossman's The Magicians isn't a bad one, necessarily). But I don't think it's my comp titles that're the problem. So there's that.

Donnaeve said...

FYI, I hope QOTKU won't mind this, but Rachelle Gardner's blog post yesterday is about this very thing:


Ardenwolfe said...

The argument against comparing your work to a bestseller is that it can come off arrogant or egotistical. I don't agree with this reasoning, but I've heard more than a few other agents make this observation.

Though, I will admit, the reasoning does have merit. For example:


Something of a double-edged sword as it were. Just something else to consider.

Anonymous said...

Argh, comp titles. Dancing Horses might have been The Pelican Brief goes to the rodeo and that's not even good. I was at Surrey visiting with a Maass agent in the bar and she asked me what I was writing. I told her. She asked what else I had going. I told her about Cowgirls Wanted and said, "It's kind of like a western League Of Their Own."

"I'd like to see it when it's done and that's exactly how you pitch it."

I have no idea how to comp Rain Crow. Joss Whedon does Gone With The Wind with a touch of Mata Hari, I guess.

I despise even thinking about comps. Despise it with the heat of a thousand hells.

I don't even want to think about it.

I will not ponder at my desk.
Nor at an agent's firm request.
I will not ponder in a ditch.
Though you say it makes me rich.
I will not ponder oh no, deary.
My mind's been shot from just the query.

Where's my Shiner Bock? Or maybe I need a nilla bean. A friend from Virginia sent me a video of his little girl talking about nilla beans from Shankey's Market. "His nilla beans jes brighten your face. Gotta have Shanks. They put some life in you. Put you in the groove. They make me zoom, but you gotta have Shanks nilla beans. Might make you a little chubby. That's what the doctors tell me."

Wandering off to find a nilla bean, damn the chub.

Unknown said...

Dena Pawling, that is some excellent advice on finding comps... and I think Adib Khorram's suggestion of asking a librarian was also excellent.

I've been reading some books that Brooks Sherman suggested as comps for the pitch I stammered at him at Midwest Writers Workshop last year (I had signed up for it before I read our QOTKU's prohibitions against them--please don't toss me into kale and throw away the key) and I've enjoyed them very much, but I don't think they're very close on--more proof that my pitch wasn't good or useful!

Comps done well-- I love the sound of DEXTER meets EMMA, Megan V, so your comping worked on me, at least.

Brigid said...

Julie, "Joss Whedon does Gone With The Wind" sounds amazing and I'd grab it off the shelves.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I still remember reading (was it on this blog? I think it was) a comparison for The Magician. I think Stephen King called it "Harry Potter with a shot of whiskey." I LOVED that. But that was another author's review for a published book, so I understand that it's different. Still, I thought it was great, and I immediately went to Amazon to buy the book.
I do have a question though: is it best to leave the comparison as simple as "Readers of X will enjoy this novel" or should you be more specific? Should you go into the details of why something is similar? For example, "Readers who loved the creative grammar and eight-page descriptions in LORD OF THE THINGS will enjoy my novel, THE SIMILARION."

Colin Smith said...

To my point above about the relative importance of comp titles when compared to writing a compelling "pitch" (i.e., the bit in the middle of the query that actually tells the agent what the book's about), here are three queries that "won" QueryShark on the first try:


What do they all have in common? No comp titles.

I'm not contradicting a word of what Janet said. I'm just trying to help me and my fellow woodland creatures get some perspective. I could be wrong, and please correct me if I am, Janet, but we should be putting the bulk of our creative energy into writing that "pitch", not fretting over comp titles. Yes?

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I tend to agree with Colin. Until I was asked for comps by my R&R agency (prior to my QOTKU introduction), I did not know what they were. I thought of what Megan V did as a pitch. Mine is pitched as the dark prophecies of Revelations meets the legend of Atlantis which is not comps. It is not even a query. Just the start of a 90 second pitch.

Some agents don't care a lick about comps. They can figure that out themselves when they need to know. The writer's job is to hook the agent with their story by way of query.

My R&R agency specifically asked for comps. There were 2 purposes for this. The writer who introduced me writes in a different genre. Her agent doesn't take new clients so he wanted to match me with the best junior agent for my work as well as the whole bookshelf thing.

I am thinking I will not include comps at all in my next query round unless the agent specifically asks for them in his or her guidelines. At least, now I am toying with that. Especially since I have found a couple of agents who say they are annoyed by comps done by writers. I suspect they've had too many writers with no clue what a comp really is. Just spitballing here.

Colin Smith said...

EM: I wonder if comps really are more useful for agents when they're pitching to editors. When an agent sees a comp, does s/he think, "I like the sound of that" or "ooo, I know an editor that would be a great fit for that"? Maybe both?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

The comp for my latest WIP isn't a novel at all. I plucked it from the headlines.
Don't cha' just love the word plucked?

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Carolynn, I do love the word "plucked". It has delicious rhyming possibilities.

Colin, I really do think you are right. Janet might chew off my leg for saying so. I do think the comps come into play further down the line in most circumstances.

The example of comps sent to me by my R&R agent was part of a package they sent to an editor for a book they shopped and successfully sold. The query example they sent me was less than 250 words and did not include comps. The senior agent told me to include my comps in last paragraph of my query so he could decide which of his precious minions might be serve me. So I think, even with this agency, they don't necessarily care about comps right out of the gate. Something to chew on.

Craig F said...

I write thrillers so it should seem easy to find comp titles. It isn't. Almost all of the thrillers near the top of sales lists have a protagonist with special forces in their background. Alas, mine is an inventor and Macgyver was such a long time ago.

If I can get a good enough query rolling I might skip the comp titles. Is that a good idea?

BJ Muntain said...

I don't see why people wouldn't use a best-seller as their comp title, if it's a valid comparison.

Me, I don't use comp titles. But I say very specifically in my query letter what genre my novel belongs to and the general tone. I'm not sure what a comp title would add to that. I did used to say, in Twitter pitches, "Men in Black kick butt in outer space", but I was told the reader would be expecting something more humorous, and while there is some humour in my work, it's a bit more serious than MIB.

Janet, would you be able to give us a good idea of what makes good comp titles in a query? I searched your blog back a ways, and didn't find anything definitive.

Is there anything definitive about comp titles?

Peggy: Janet doesn't 'prohibit' pitch sessions, but she doesn't like them. Me, I've come to like them. I like being able to answer the questions that the agent has, instead of having to guess at them in writing. And I've had some interesting questions, that I wouldn't have expected in a pitch session. Which made me think. At the very least, I'm practising for when I have book readings or interviews, someday.

Sherry Howard said...

Colin, I'm on team No Comps Unless They Make Sense. I'm not going to list a comp unless it works well. All of my novel-length is WIP and I can only think of the generic: might appeal to readers who enjoyed. . . In Pitch Wars, for instance, comps are heavily emphasized, and some of them left me confused about about the A meets B comparisons. I hope a good query without comps can stand on its own.

Tony Clavelli said...

I too have struggled with comp titles and as I'm nearing the end of my draft and getting ready for revisions, I want to be finding comps too. I have one that matches thematically but is VERY different in tone--a best seller, The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi. Like mine, it's near future, and there's a water shortage, but the comparison really ends there. (I am not done yet, but I kind of hate the book.) Am I better of with a book that is more similar in tone or in content? I hear "comp" but I wish I knew what factors I was supposed to compare. Can the comp book be NOTHING like my book in narrative but in style? I'm lost.

Also, Colin--Small thing I'm a little confused about something: you mention the "pitch" and say it's "the bit in the middle of the query that actually tells the agent what the book's about," and I'm just wondering about the phrase "in the middle." What goes before it? I ask this because I was told and saw lots of examples that dropped the whole "I'm writing because you like sci-fi and you rep Writerly Jane whom I love..." part and just get to the good stuff. Is that a bad choice?

Kate Larkindale said...

I think comps work best in a short form pitch, rather than in a query. When you have 250 words or so to explain what your novel is, you don't need the comps as much as if you're pitching in person or on Twitter. Comp titles are like shorthand to give a brief idea what your book might be like. And they only work if the person on the other end has read the book/seen the movie you're using as a comparison.

Adib Khorram said...

I've found comps to be useful shorthand—both for understanding my own work and where it fits, and for understanding others'. When doing critiques, there are times I've been on the fence about something, but a good comp will tip me over to wanting to read more.

I believe there are agents that feel the same way about them.

Peggy: I didn't realize you were at MWW as well! I wonder if we ever crossed paths.

John Frain said...

All this comp talk makes me wonder. If writers so often fail at classifying the correct genre for their manuscript, we must be downright miserable at getting the right comps.

I suck at it, so I cheated in my query. I comp a couple authors instead of specific books. I've sent out less than a handful of queries so far, so I could change my thinking if someone smarter than me (hint: everybody in this neighborhood) were to sway me.

A) Titles? B) Authors? C) No comps at all.

Clearly C is preferred because it's easiest. But is it what's best?

Lennon Faris said...

Colin, I hope you are right because I am sending out my first query letter this afternoon and I'm not using comps!

I do think comps can be great tools if they are accurate, though. Short, informative, sometimes entertaining (Joss Whedon does Gone with the Wind? sounds amazing), AND it can show that you are well-read and understand your own market. If you compare to HP or Twilight, that doesn't show anything, since everyone's read them and even people who haven't know the general stories.

Tony Clavelli - I wouldn't use a title of a book I hate, even if it's perfect otherwise. Your agent will (hopefully) love your book, and if they have the same taste as you, they might have hated that other one, too.

OK, off to proof-read the letter and first ten pages (printed and with a ruler under every line like Janet suggested somewhere...) Looking forward to joining those in the agent-searching trenches!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

John, I think 3 is just fine. Write a great query (treat it like FF- you're great at that), and as long as agent does not specifically ask for comps, let it fly. I have now found 5 examples of agents annoyed by comps. Not that I am ignoring my day job or anything.

And Lennon, welcome to the trenches. Wear a cup and keep the whiskey handy. You'll do fine.

Sorry, I am bang out of order today. Seems I have comment diarrhea.

Lucie Witt said...

I've also done the "comp light" thing, aka "should appeal to fans of Felix Buttonweezer" (that's his name, right?)

I'm been trying to think of comps for my R&R all morning. It's now confirmed - I'm really bad at this. "It's like if Judy Blume's Forever was about a feminist teenage Lorelei Gilmore - oh, wow, I've never gotten a form rejection this fast."

Colin Smith said...

Tony: I thought the same thing after I wrote that: "What do you mean in the middle, idiot?? OK, you didn't say idiot. That was me... to myself... ummm... oookay...

Depending on how you compose your query, "the bit in the middle" or "the pitch" as I am using the term here today--i.e., this is not an industry standard definition, like anyone in any industry cares how I define anything, it's either

a) the bit after the salutation and before the "housekeeping" stuff (The QOTKU Method, which ought to be the industry standard)


b) the bit after the "housekeeping" stuff and before the valediction (the sign-off: "Thank you for your time and consideration. I hope you enjoy the cookies and whiskey, and if you don't like this query, let me tell you about another book I'm working on...") :D

In other words, the "pitch" as I'm using the term here is the part of the query where you tell the agent what the book's about. IOW, The Most Important Part.

Sorry if I've caused confusion. Again...

Anonymous said...

I pulled babysitting duty this morning and now we're getting snowed in. I spent the babysitting time starting a new book, Stealing Secrets, How A Few Daring Women Deceived Generals, Impacted Battles, And Altered The Course Of The Civil War. It's very well researched and well written, so it's proving to be a good read. He's glossing over some spies that kind of surprised me, but I've already read numerous books about them. Anyway, that's the book report from Weathers and the weather report from Weathers.

Today is the second day of the second month. You're going to exchange a day that you will never be able to recover for what you do in this 24 hours. Will you find time to write? Six months from now you'll still be six months older whether you're close to finishing a book or still thinking about starting one.

At Surrey, there was a panel of agent who discussed comp titles in query letters and they were split smooth down the middle about whether they like them or not. Many do because you can give them in a few words an idea of what your book is like IF you get the comp right. If you don't, they are disappointed.

The risk you take when you say, "My book is just like the Hunger Games only set in space" is the agent may have detested Hunger Games.

With the panel being totally split on whether they like comps or not, I figure unless I have a very clear and honest comp, I'm not going to use them.

One hint they did pass along. Go to Amazon. Look up a book that is like yours. Then look at the other books Amazon recommends. Are those books good comps to your book?

Colin Smith said...

Lucy: If I recall correctly, the last book that appealed to fans of Felix Buttonweezer was THE KALE CHRONICLES: The story of a lima bean farmer who struck out into the wild frontiers of Carkoon to seek adventure, only to find love among the kale leaves. Yup, our hero fell in love with a kale plant.

Sorry to say, Felix doesn't have a very wide fandom... ;)

Colin Smith said...

LucIE!! Sorry!! :\

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Colin, I'm confused :/

Colin Smith said...

EM: Have some kale smoothie. Everything looks less confusing after a kale smoothie. 8-D

Panda in Chief said...

My unsuccessful query for Pandamorphosis (everyone loved the art, but didn't quite get the story concept), a wordless picture book, was Cat in the Hat meets Metamorphosis, but with pandas.

I don't know. I found it accurate as well as entertaining.

Go figure.

Can't wait to read THE KALE CHRONICLES!

John Frain said...


Due to limited distribution channels, THE KALE CHRONICLES is only available in (on?) Carkoon. I were you, I'd wait to read it as long as you can. Your current TBR pile looks too nice already.

Karen McCoy said...

An additional question might be: is it a success or a phenomenon?

If it's a success--comp your heart out!

If it's a phenomenon (like some of the series Janet listed)--steer clear!

Unknown said...

I went for the more generic 'this will appeal to fans of X' in my query and, rather than clarifying things, the comp caused confusion. Thank goodness the agent liked the rest. When we spoke, she told me the comparison confused her and I was like, 'Doh!' I was thinking of the first two books by the author in question -- which were 'cozier' than her later, more hard-edge work.

Tony Clavelli said...

Lennon--That's a good point. If I don't like the book it might not be smart to comp it--it's just a book that's been well-received and has a similar future outcome. My complaints for The Water Knifeare that the dialogue all sounds like bad cop dramas on TV, and I'm 30% into the book and it seems content to show us "the world" very nicely but doesn't have much of a plot. The title is pretty sweet though, and the non-dialogue sentences are pretty. I will have to think.

Colin--thanks for the clarity! sort of. (the clarity, not thanks.) I still don't know if you were saying if there was a consensus whether or not to ditch the "housekeeping." In my first round of (failed) querying, I only have a few requests for full/partials, and all came without the housekeeping, but also with different queries entirely from my housekept ones. It's a point that causes worry. My plan for the new book was only to include housekeeping for the agents who rejected my full manuscript but specifically said "Send me your next book," where I'd remind them about that.

AJ Blythe said...

EM and Lucie - what do you mean by R&R? Down Under it translates to "Rest & Relaxation" but that doesn't seem to substitute. Although, trying to think of comp titles might be rest & relaxation for you? If that's the case I think you need to lay off the kale smoothies for a while =)

Tony Clavelli said...

Correction: I think I used "housekeeping" wrong in there! I was referring to the stuff AFTER the salutation, BEFORE the pitch. The sort of "I like your client _____ and thus thought you'd be great," or whatever that junk is supposed to be. That's the stuff I want to do away with. Not the "housekeeping" I realize you were referring to. The "My book is this long and comps with this, so please ask me for more of it so I'll feel validated" part. I think that's the housekeeping you meant. I was asking if we can do away with the post-salutation, pre-actualquery crap about why you're choosing THIS agent.

I can't even write a clear comment response in a blog. Coffee needed.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Are comps necessary? I say no. No comp is better than a bad comp.

Can they help? If done right, and for the right reason. I find them useful for illustrating a theme or a mood that might not be readily apparent in the pitch.

Megan V had me at:


Yep. I'm hooked. This did an excellent job of illustrating mood.

I'm tempted to desc one of my books as "for fans of Twilight who wish Bella had more backbone." However, dunno if that would work as well as I want. My book isn't contemporary nor does it have a single vampire. My heroine, on the other hand, is not going to throw herself off a cliff into an ocean at the sign of love gone wrong.

2Ns: plucked is a fun word. Reminds me of a song one of our performers used to sing at the Tivoli: "I'm not the pheasant plucker, I'm the pheasant plucker's wife. And we'll be plucking pheasants all our pheasant plucking life..." Not once in years of performances did Dorothy accidentally spooner the lyrics. She was that good.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

AJ Blythe: In this context, R&R means "revise and resubmit".

Funny that it came up, because I got that kind of rejection on my other full today. A "not like how it is, but send it back if you revise." Which does somewhat soften the blow. Somewhat. The comments certainly made good sense.

AJ Blythe said...

Thanks for the explanation, Jennifer.

I've just realised how comp titles can go badly wrong, no matter how good the comp is. I really didn't like Dexter (found it morally wrong - committing evil to correct evil - and couldn't get passed that), so if I saw the comp DEXTER meets EMMA I wouldn't pick it up.

Megan V said...


I wouldn't say that the comps went wrong, in fact, I think quite the opposite happened. You don't like DEXTER and the comps told you that the MS is intended for/will appeal to an audience that does. :) Comps are about market placement as much as enticement.

Remember, not everyone is the right audience for every book. Goodness knows if someone asked me to read an MS that's THE NOTEBOOK meets TWILIGHT I'd beg the QOTKU to send me to Carkoon post-haste. I am definitely not the audience for that MS, but I know people who are...and might recommend said MS to them.

AJ Blythe said...

Megan, I guess I was thinking more in terms of what would happen if you sent to an agent who (in this case) felt the same way about Dexter as I do. They may not bother reading any pages. Now, the similarity between Dexter and the ms might not have anything to do with committing evil to correct evil but the agent won't read on to find out.

I would hate to do anything in my query that might deter an agent from reading/requesting my pages.

Megan V said...


I understand where you're coming from. There is a risk that an agent won't read pages. But, I think, for the most part, writers will eliminate an agent that doesn't like the comp. titles if they do sufficient research when developing their query list. There's no surefire way to ensure that the agent will like a MS, but research is a good place to start. Many agents list titles and authors that they LOVE. And don't forget their client list! If MS is comparable to a client's novel or an author that the agent likes, then comps are a great way for us to show we've done our homework. Sending an MS that doesn't match what the agent represents or is seeking is a quick way to sink the query ship, whether or not comps are used. And if it's JUST the comps that cause an agent to reject an MS, then it's likely that the agent isn't the right champion for that MS, whether or not .

I.E. The QOTKU has expressed her...aversion?...to the horror genre more than once. Thus, even if my DmE MS were not YA, I would not query her for it. But, say I send MS to a lover of the Horror Genre. If my comp titles are actual, and accurate comps, and Horror Loving Agent doesn't like those comps, then in all likelihood, HL Agent probably won't like my MS even if I skip the comps altogether.

I think sometimes we get so caught up in our desire to catch a shark that we forget that hooking a hammerhead is not the same as garnering the attention of a great-white. Neither shark is 'better' than the other, but only one of them will have a bite that best fits the chunk missing from the boat. (is that confusing? I tend to talk myself in circles).

Since this is comment three for me, I'll cut myself off here. Whew. :)

DeadSpiderEye said...

The protagonist could be represented as a synergy between Harry Potter and Jack Ryan, with the narrative exploiting the symbolic range of Moby Dick while encapsulating the relevance of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Uh yeah, comparisons should be used to demonstrate an author's market savvy, that's my opinion anyway. So titles should be selected with that in mind, titles likely to be understood in reference to a market, even if the person you're addressing hasn't read that particular title. Of course that notion puts less emphasis on stylistic comparisons but think about that for a second, should an author really be telling an agent that they write like someone else?