Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Am I A Delusional Nutbag?


I have read your many posts on comps, and I am reading (even more) books in my genre like a crazy person right now. But, I have found that the best comps for my book would be Dennis Lehane's GONE BABY, GONE and Delia Owens's WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING.


Now, I'm an unpublished writer and this is my first novel, so it would be arrogant of me to compare myself to two best sellers (and I know one of these books is too old to use as a comp anyway). I'm in no way saying that I think my writing is on par with these two authors, but the themes, subject matter and structure of my novel really is a loose hybrid of both (accidentally).


I guess what I'm trying to ask, in a not-so-articulate way, is—is there a way that a querying author could mention this without sounding like a delusional nutbag? Is there a way, after mentioning more recent comps (that are as close as possible to my novel, but don't really convey what I've written) to hint at these other books being similar in the ways I've stated?


I think I may be losing my mind with this comp business.


You may be losing your mind, but you are not a delusional nutbag. Well, at least not to any greater degree than all the rest of us who work in publishing.


Your book may well compare in theme, subject matter, and structure to Gone Baby Gone or Where the Crawdads Sing, BUT.


But, the other purpose of comps is to show the size of the prospective audience.


Gone Baby Gone was the fourth book in an established series featuring Boston PIs Kenzie and Gennaro.


Readers weren't looking for theme, subject matter or structure when they considered buying the book. They were mostly looking to spend more time with characters they already liked.


As a debut, you don't have that advantage.



Where The Crawdads Sing is such an outlier that it's not an effective comp anymore for anyone. The chances of repeating that book's success are not high.


Plus, Where The Crawdads Sing isn't really crime fiction. Amazon lists it as coming of age, and literary fiction.

The publisher lists it as general fiction.


Gone Baby Gone is crime fiction.


You wouldn't want to use both of these as comps because they are on different shelves.

So, you're not a delusional nutbag, but you're not on the right path either. Figure out your category first then look for books that are:

(1) recent (pubbed no earlier than 2019);

(2) from a debut author (or close to it);

(3) from a trade house (ie not self published).


Any questions?


Steve Forti said...

No question today. Just kudos on topic choice when trying to torment me as I've been really struggling trying to figure out comps for my new book. I had good ones on the last book, dunno why it's so much harder this time. Helpful advice, will keep banging had against wall, too. Urgh.

Kitty said...

Good luck, Steve, and Happy Thanksgiving to all the Reiders!

AJ Blythe said...

Comps are the worst part of writing a query letter, hands down.

It's funny, but I find I am more likely to reject a book to buy because of comps, than the other way around. If I disliked one of the comps, it becomes an auto no, but if I liked one of the comps it doesn't seem to matter all that much. Because I then assume everyone else thinks this way, including comps in a query makes me think I am just giving an agent a great big reason to reject me.

Mind you, this is probably just a demonstration of the weirdness of my brain.

Luralee said...

So… if there are no recent comps, there Is No Audience?????
I am getting ready to query with older comps because I’m pretty sure there is nothing in YA Sci-fi that is recent enough that I can use. Is there ever an exception to the three year thing? Cuz time travel books there aren’t many, cloning books there are even fewer, and forget about finding possessed musicians. Even the old comps that I was so happy to find aren’t that close in tone. Maybe better comps will be published before I finish my synopsis? I’m probably doomed.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I found 4 good comps (was told I really only needed 2 by multiple agents) by getting recommendations from friends and colleagues that read the genre in which I write. One of them came from the one of the Readers here. So ask people that would be in your audience what they have liked recently. You might be surprised. And you'll get some new fun things to read. It is really hard starting out not to be distracted by the bestsellers. It was hard for me to understand the purpose of a comp until I spent some time in this here Reef.

Oh, also look at titles perspective agents have recently sold. That might give you a clue to 1. what that agent represents and 2. what is able to sell right now. And will lead you toward recently sold titles that might belong to debut authors that will translate into comps.

Karen McCoy said...

To address Luralee's question, I think there is flexibility in comps. If the book has at least one aspect similar to yours, you can say, "with the element of A in X, and with B in Y" or something similar.

There is also a larger conversation going on about how books from marginalized authors don't have as many comps because, well, there aren't as many of those books out there, which is a bigger conversation about the publishing industry. But I digress...

Steve Forti said...

As Karen said, no comp will be a perfect match. Gonna have to pick the right aspects, I suppose. "It will appeal to fans of dinosaur westerns like (book abc), and with unreliable narrators like (book xyz). But in space."

smoketree said...

Maybe this is just my ignorance of the ways of agents, but I don't understand why authors are expected to provide comps at all. When I worked in publishing, our marketing team would come up with comps for our sales reps, and even when you work in the industry, it's pretty tough. It seems like a lot to expect authors to have this kind of marketing expertise.

NLiu said...

Ughhhhhhhhhhh compsssss whyyyyyy. Send them to Karkoon!

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Two cents alert:

I find that providing comps for one's novel is a writer skill in and of itself, like query and synopsis writing, that forms part of the whole writer package. It can be an opportunity for the writer to show astuteness, and pardon my French, that you know your shit. For me the hard part of this comps business is justifying the comp. If you cite Liane Moriarty as a comp, your novel or at least your query letter should show that your novel sounds like a book club-y, crime fiction-lite Liane Moriarty novel.

It seems to me a workable solution would be to provide comps in a limited/specific way, say, this novel has Liane Moriarty's flawed but family centric characters, etc.

Shah Kou said...

This here: "Readers weren't looking for theme, subject matter or structure when they considered buying the book. They were mostly looking to spend more time with characters they already liked." is sooooo helpful. In fact, your whole answer is super helpful. Thank you.