Thursday, October 08, 2020

Effective comps in your query

There are some basic things to know about comps:

1. They must be newer books. That means pubbed in 2017 or later.

2. They need to be by authors for whom the book was a debut or Book #2.

Comparing yourself as a debut to #17 in a series isn't effective.

Here are several other tips:

1. It's ok to compare your book to one on the agent's list. This can lead to some pretty hilarious problems if you haven't read the books.  The only person who knows my list better than I do are the writers of the books themselves. I'll know if you fuck up.

2. You don't need an exact match for time period.  Yes you can compare your historical fantasy set in the Ottoman Empire to historical fantasy set in the British Raj.

3. You need to stay in your own lane. Don't comp your middle grade novel to anything adult.

Don't comp your narrative to a graphic novel.

The purpose of comps is to give us an idea of where the book goes on the shelf and what to expect. If your comp does that, it's effective.


A great comp title for my current WIP, in a world with no need for #OwnVoices, would be When Dimple Met Rishi (with magic). That world doesn't exist, and I'm not Indian (and my WIP doesn't have any main character from India).

Would it be inappropriate to use that title?
I'm surprised at the things people take offense to.
And right now it's a particular minefield.
Agents vary in their level of outrage just like people do.
The YA category is more sensitive to perceived slights than other categories, but everyone in publishing is aware of the problem these days.
If you use this comp you'll always wonder if it was the comp that led to the pass.
Thus, choose something else.
Not because it's inappropriate but for your own peace of mind.


  1. I have to read more books. My comps are starting to expire. Also, one of the new books I am writing, I am not sure where it fits exactly - it's a modern take on the Billy Goats Gruff without any goats but lots of trolls. In Brooklyn and Glasgow. I will take reading recommendations so I can get some proper comps.

  2. Very good information to know! Thanks for the post.

    I've never heard the "comp only a debut or Book #2" advice before. We aren't supposed to go past any author's second book? or second book in a series?

  3. This doesn't quite narrow down the equation enough for me. I want to know if it's plot, setting or tone I should primarily be finding comps for. I guess the answer is "preferably all three" but... which should I focus on?

    (Its hard to find comps that fit comfortably for the somewhat peculiar things I've written. "It's like this... but more light-hearted and involving giant flying beasts." "It's like that... but zombies happen. " Like, uh, well, then it's nothing like this or that. So, uh. Um. Am I overthinking this??)

  4. When I use comps, I try to narrow down why I'm using the comp by using phrasing like:

    This novel is similar in tone to When Otters Fly.


    This novel is similar in structure to The Plot Thickens.

    I'll also use this phrasing: "This novel will appeal to readers of Very Appealing Book."

    I hope these are acceptable ways to use a comp.

    Caroline (second-guessing herself since 1999)

  5. Lennon Faris, I imagine it's because the sales of book 3 and beyond in a series is influenced by the fans established by the first book (or two). Since we're querying a stand-alone book or the first in a series, we need comps that would indicate similar sales.

  6. Being book 1 or book 10 by an author wouldn't change where your book gets shelved in a store, though. But I get it would change expectations of success.

  7. This is an earnest question, not snark. How on earth would comping to an author not of your ethnicity be offensive? Wouldn't it be more offensive to believe Indian authors write one way, white authors write another way, etc? I don't understand this at all.

  8. NLiu, I'd focus on the comps that have been the most successful. Obviously, they have to fit your list of legit comps. But you want agents (and then publishers) to associate your book with the successful one that's already out there.

    My book is about the history of a rock music venue in Greenwich Village that played a crucial role in pop culture. I had compiled a list of 8 or so comps and then narrowed down to 3 (I think). One I chose to include is a fairly successful book about the history of a famous street in the nearby East Village (St. Marks Is Dead). In my proposal, I mentioned that I'd take a similar approach to that one and that both are about the rich history of specific parts of downtown NYC.

  9. Unknown, you'd be surprised at what offends some people now, especially in our cancel culture. There is a whole "own voices" movement and G-d help anyone who inadvertently steps into it.

    This summer, a white woman who wrote a novel that took place in Hawaii and was steeped in Hawaiian culture was bullied into pulling her book from the publisher and groveling -- as well as removing all traces of her online presence

  10. I read the article that Leslie mentioned and it sent chills down my spine. Isn't this going a bit too far? To quote Jordan Marie Green, "If we could only write about our own personal experiences, there would be no fiction category. We write to explore other experiences and situations, not merely to catalog our own."

    My manuscript is about a homeless man, must I have been homeless to write this novel? Will critics be against me because my research has only been to read about and speak to homeless people on the streets of Paris instead of living the experience? Melanie Conklin who helped organize Everywhere Book Fest along with We Need Diverse Books co-founders stated, "The depth of knowledge from writers with lived experience can’t be duplicated simply by research." Well, then let's take half the books off the shelves.

    So, do I need to have lived in Paris to write a story that takes place in Paris? Not necessarily, but it would help. Green was more or less criticized for having “a sense of belonging” after spending time in Hawaii. Will I be spared because Paris is the city where I have lived the longest and know the best? Or must I be a French citizen and a Parisian to boot. Check and check.

    Conklin, goes so far as to say, “The question we should be asking ourselves as white writers is ‘Should I write this story?’ not ‘Can I write it?’” Do we have to go a step further and say, can one minority write about another minority, or should they? One of my protagonist is Brazilian-American. Will the Brazilian community come after me because how dare I write about Brazil when I'm Mexican-American? I purposely chose not to make her a Chicana because I didn't want people to assume this debut novel was about me. Of course there are a few incidences that have to do with being a minority that are similar to my own, but this story is fiction. If I wanted to write a memoir, I would've.

    All in all, I think we sometimes tend to carry things too far and as far as I'm concerned, all extremes are bad.

    (Sorry, Janet, for going over my limit.)

  11. Carolyn, my agent pitched my YA as Great Gatsby meets Dirty Dancing. A book published 100 years ago and an '80s movie. Does that give you a visual? Whatever is appropriate for your book. With other works, I've said "in the vein of" to let agents/publishers know that readers of those would hopefully enjoy mine. Same genre/tone/similar premise

  12. Here”s a question i would love to hear your thoughts on in one of your blogs. If you have multiple offers of representation but your dream agent is elsewhere l, can you pitch that person and say, I have multiple offers of representation, but I’d love you to be my agent...or is that frowned upon?


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