Yes, Virginia, there is a way to give title comps

Nothing is more irritating than to receive title comps that lack the pertinent information, or worse, the dreaded “there’s nothing out there like it.” Sometimes people say that to be funny, but the alarming rate at which I see a gaping hole in giving title comps, I’m not laughing. What’s more alarming is when I see it from agents, which makes me want to drink Draino because I understandably hold them to a higher standard.

Since this blog is about helping to increase authors’ chances of success, I thought I’d drop some helpful tips. So the main question is – Why do you need title comps in the first place?

Placement

We need to know where your book fits. Yes, I know people hate to be pigeonholed. If you’re one of those people, I suggest you take up knitting or ramping up that button collection. Publishing pigeonholes books down to the gnat’s knees because placement is all-important. A book can die if it has the wrong placement or classification. You may think your book is True Crime, and it could languish. But it may sell like hotcakes if it’s classified as Memoir/Personal Journey.  This takes lots of thought and contemplation. Comps help us see at a glance where your book will best fit. That’s not to say it won’t change upon further reflection.

You need to know your competition

Authors HATE giving title comps because few actually do any outside reading within their genre. Many writers believe they have a unique idea and sit down to write it. They don’t take the time to wonder whether they have a marketable idea, or if they’re writing the same thing that’s been done over and over again. If you don’t know your competition, then how can you convincingly advocate your book’s worthiness?

The idea of “know thine enemy” isn’t too far removed. While your competing titles don’t have swords, wear gladiator suits, and scream war songs at the top of their lungs, they are an obstacle to overcome, and it’s your job to know their strengths and weaknesses so that your book comes out on top.

Get used to it; people will ask, “how does your book compare to …?” Whether it’s in an interview or at an author event, you better know the answer and the reasons your book is a “gotta have it.”

I need to know the competition

When I seriously consider a book, I need to know what’s out there because I’m the one responsible for selling your book. If the bookshelves are filled with bipolar issues, chances are I’m going to pass UNLESS you present me with a list of your competitors and point out the comparisons and contrasts.

This is what Kate McLaughlin did with her fabulous book Mommy, I’m Still In Here. She knew she had a book in an impacted category and blew all the hot air right out of my sails. What could I say but, “send me the full, pleeeeze.”  Kate’s book is still selling because she offers a fabulously unique message that none of the other bipolar books have. Tra-la.

Sales Teams Need To Know the Competition

It’s not enough that we know the competition – our sales teams need that info as well because it’s part of their sales pitch to the libraries and genre buyers. They need to head off any hint of “been there, done that already” before it becomes a sentient thought in a buyer’s mind. They need to feel comfortable that your book has an audience.

Title Comp Etiquette

No, your title comps don’t need to know which is the salad fork and know burping at the table is tacky, but there is a way of presenting the info that makes cranky, soulless editors kiss errant beagles on their little wet noses.

  • Title of book – Ok, that’s a no-brainer.
  • Publication date and publisher – This info is so important, and many people don’t include it. It’s especially irritating because I have to go look it up to see who pubbed it and how recent it is. Comps should be recent – a year or two. The exception is if there is a great standby for all time, then no use ignoring the elephant in the room – use it.
  • Quick rundown of the title – This should be a line or two so we get the general idea.
  • Quick comparison - We want to know how the title compares in order to determine whether you have the appropriate comps. For example, if your book is a travel essay, then I need things like Charting the Unknown or A House in Fez, not How To Live In Rome For $100/Day.
  • Quick CONTRASTThis is vital because it’s what we invariably use in our own marketing material. This is your important selling point because you’re highlighting your UNIQUE-NESS.

Skipping any of these steps makes me cranky because I’m forced to do your job for you. And you can’t necessarily depend on your agent to tell you. Yes, I adore agents – they make my life worth living. But, alas, not all agents were created equally, and it’s your job to, well, know your job. There is no, “poor thing, she didn’t know any better” in this business. You snooze, you lose, and it doesn’t matter if your agent let you down. You still need to know whazzup.

Warning – Don’t Be Coy

I used to be a teacher in another life, and there were any number of times when a kid failed a test. They’d come crying to me and I’d ask whether they’d studied. “Oh, fer shure, Mrs. Price.” Uh huh…the truth was that they’d tried to wing it and got busted.

The same philosophy works here, too. If you just give out a bunch of titles that appear to be a fit and you didn’t read the books, you will be busted. No, really. We can smell this sort of thing out from a mile away, and I’ve nailed any number of authors for trying to pass off title comps they hadn’t read. Besides, you also run the risk of my having read that competitive title, as one author did when trying to tell me that DaVinci Code was based on real facts. Ouch.

In short, don’t discount title comps because this is a main artery in the publishing circulatory system. If you don’t include them or do a crappy job, then you may be looking at a literary infarction.

9 Responses to Yes, Virginia, there is a way to give title comps

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    Shudder. Lynn, you’re being scary again.

  2. Sorry, Ninjie, but in this application, I hope I am a little scary. This is such a vital piece of info, and too many people don’t know how to do this correctly.

  3. [...] Yes, Virginia, there is a way to give title comps: Why and how you should compare your book to competitors in your book proposal. I did this when I wrote my book proposal, and it provides great insight to do this part. It will help you make your book better. [...]

  4. Drax says:

    Scary? I’m $%^@ing terrified.

  5. Kids, kids, there is NO REASON to be terrified. You’ve read the post and now you’re all the wiser about what to do if you’re ever asked for title comps.

    And really, you should be well read in your genre anyway. That’s what tells you whether your story has unique qualities that will appeal to the marketplace. After all, why rewrite The DaVinci Code when Dan Brown already did it?

  6. Drax says:

    No, no, dear. I’m terrified of YOU.

  7. Ach, no reason to fear me – I’m relatively harmless. I merely explain how we think and why we think the way we do.

  8. Marie says:

    I know this is an old post, but I’m asking anyway. You say comps should be recent, in the last couple years. What if there aren’t any recent comp titles or if there is only one? Is it better to include some that are 4-5 years old or should you just include that single recent one?

  9. Hi Marie – absolutely include whatever you can find if you can’t find anything current. That said, I’ve had authors tell me this, and I go into Amazon and invariably find plenty current comps – so beware.

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