Comp Titles: How to Take the Jam Out of My Jelly Doughnut

April 25, 2017

Is there anything worse than getting a doughnut that doesn’t have enough jelly? It’s one of life’s tragedies, and the struggle is real. If I order a jelly doughnut, then please make sure there’s all sorts of gloppy, oozy jelly in there. So much the better if it dribbles down my chin. Pure. Bliss.

How to take that jam outta my jelly doughtnut? Well…

Tell me that your book has no book comparisons. Continue the blight by insisting you’re breaking “new ground.” Bless your heart. Maybe you are breaking new territory, but I can assure you that someone has done it before you…to some degree…which would be a title comparison.

I don’t ask for title comps for my health. I need them when I’m talking to my sales teams, bookstores, book fairs, basically anyone with a pulse. I. Need. Them. All publishers do, in fact. It’s a part of navigating this nutty biz.

Failure to do your part in providing important info pegs you as a Noob (someone who doesn’t know what they don’t know…and doesn’t care), or plain lazy. It tells me that you aren’t in touch with your competition – and yes, Mrs. Wigglesnort, there is always competition. Worse, is that I won’t take you seriously. If you insist you have zero competition, then I have to wonder about the veracity of your manuscript. It’s a matter of dominoes, and once they start to fall, it’s hard to win the game.

Competition is tough, tough, tough in the lit world, and you’re looking for reasons to engage us, not repel us. Make sure you submit a winning jelly doughnut. Know your competition. Read your competition.


Title Comps – What’s the Big Deal?

January 14, 2013

apples for apples

At some point in your query process, someone may ask you for a list of comparative titles (preferably three). You eyes will roll back in your head, and you’ll scream to the heavens. “Argh, I just wanna write. I don’t wanna be hassled with the business end.” There are few who have that luxury, so sticking your heels into quicksand isn’t going to help your writing career. It would be better to be ready, right?

The big question is this: Why do I need title comps?

A Frame of Reference

Sales teams and genre buyers need a frame of reference so they know how and where a book fits on store shelves, and how to appeal to readers. Sales teams can tell genre buyers, “Readers of that 2011 literary phenom, Invert Your Colon, will be attracted to this title, Eating Lawn Clippings: Live Healthy and Moo Like a Cow because it delves further into the health benefits of eating a freshly mowed lawn.”

Instantly, the genre buyers understand the book’s classification of where to shelve the book, and whether they want to issue an invoice for purchase. Now, of course, your publisher’s sales guys will do all the heavy lifting in terms of knowing how to pitch your book, but it’s really helpful if you, the author, are in touch with books that are comparable to yours. It’s a building block for us.

Just yesterday, I contacted one of our authors for title comps. Sure, I can get them myself – and I have – but his subject matter breaks new ground, so I’m naturally interested to get his feedback on the books he feels somewhat resemble his book, as a way of helping our sales and marketing folks.

Additionally, having a comparative title on the tip of your tongue helps when talking to readers. Imagine you’re sitting in a bar (easy if you’re the beagle). Someone asks about your book, so you give the general quickie synopsis because you’re a caring person and don’t want to put anyone to sleep. You can see the person looking a bit puzzled, as if he still doesn’t quite get what your book is about. But if you say, “My book has a similar theme to Gone Girl,” then a light bulb will turn on, and he’ll ask for more details and probably buy you a drink because you’re so fabulous. And that’s what you want; an invitation to talk more about your book.

Attracting an Audience

Title comps are a good way of attracting an audience, just like the bar example I gave above. Most writers read the genre they write, so they should have a strong idea of the titles that closely compare to their own.

It’s helpful when an author writes in their query letter, “Readers of Dancing With Sexy Toes will be attracted to my book, My Three Left Feet, because it deals with the same issues of foot fetishes, which was all the talk in America in 2012. Where My Three Left Feet changes course is when Merry, the main character, challenges today’s zeitgeist that dictates foot fetishes are abnormal and strange, by pursuing a high-fashion life of modeling foot apparel, thus bringing foot fetishes into the mainstream. “

This sort of thing is helpful to me because the author identifies a popular storyline, then tells me how she added her own twist. This tells me a couple things:

  1. She knows her competition
  2. She understands that she has something unique, and not cookie-cutter. This helps me decide whether I think this particular storyline will sell. And if I want to buy it, she’s helped me out by highlighting the selling points…which will attract an audience.

But I don’t wanna be pigeonholed!”

Yes, it’s true; by committing to comparative titles, you’re staking a claim as to what your book is, which can be tough if you’ve written something that’s a bit of a crossover. My suggestion would be to pick a couple title comps in both genres and give the same short comparison as I did in the above example.

Another reason writers don’t want to be pigeonholed is because they want to believe their books are for everyone. In truth, there are very few books that appeal to everyone. Furthermore, I don’t have “everyone” in my Rolodex, and our sales guys don’t, either. If you fit this description, then you need to tell yourself the truth; your book has a particular audience…who are they; and what books inspired you to write yours? How do they compare and contrast?

Don’t Get Caught With Your Vickie Secrets Down Around Your Ankles

I listened to a radio host interview a new author about her book. The radio host brought up a well-known title that ran along the same line as hers, and he wanted to talk about those elements. To my horror, the author coughed and hemmed, and finally said, “I didn’t read that book.” BoOm. End of interview. The radio host was caught flat-footed, and the whole thing went downhill from there. I nearly drove off the road because this was such a noob mistake.

You gotta, gotta, gotta know your competition and be able to speak intelligently to the contrasts and comparisons. Being caught with your Victoria Secrets down during an interview is a sure-fire way to never be invited back.

What Comps Do I Use?

They need to be current – preferably nothing older than three years. I’ve seen title comps that were written back in the 60s and were classics. Do you really believe your book can hold a candle to a classic? It may be that it can, but I advise letting others (like book reviewers) make that comparison…it’ll have far more weight.

Since you are well-read (or you better be!), it should be easy to figure out which books relate to yours. I groan loudly when authors tell me nothing compares to their book. Oh puhleeze…yes it does. Even if you’ve combined two genres, like Twilight, you still have comparisons. It’s a cop-out to use this lame excuse, and it makes me think that you’re not well-read. And if you’re not well-read in your genre, then chances are that you won’t be very affective at promoting your book…at least that’s been my experience with nonfiction.

So if you’re not up to date on books in your genre, get thee to a library post haste, and get cracking.

“Yabut, why???”

Ok, I hear you simpering out there. You’re busy writing and don’t have time to read. That’s like a surgeon saying he’s too busy operating to bone up on current techniques. You read because this is your art, and it behooves you to be an expert in your art. You read because it’s how you figure out if you have a story.

Case in point, an author queried me years ago about a book on cancer. Her query didn’t offer any earth-shattering stuff that hadn’t been written about many times before. I asked her what kind of reading she had done to know whether she had something new to say. Come to find out, she had done exactly zero reading on the subject. I sent her the Amazon link to the cancer books page and suggested she start doing her research.

Two months later, she wrote back to say that after all her reading, she realized she didn’t have anything unique to say. It broke my heart because I know she was sad to come to this conclusion. But it would have been far crueler to let her wander around thinking she had a marketable story. Better to know she has nothing new to say and give her the option of growing as a writer and delving into topics that aren’t covered in other cancer books.

If you write, you must read. If you write, you must know your competition. If you query, you must be able to speak intelligently about your competition and know how your book compares and contrasts. It’s simply good business. And you know what? This applies even if you plan to self-publish.

Title comps – make it count

March 17, 2012

It’s not unusual to have to supply comparative titles with your book propsal, and the idea is to make those comps count for for something. It’s a sure bet that my eyes will glaze over if I see someone has littered their proposal with books published by vanity presses.

It’s not a snobbery thing, but a practical thing. We are looking for books that best compare and contrast to your book because this helps during the marketing and promo phase. Book buyers want to know how best your book (an unkown) fits in with what is on the marketplace. It’s much easier to tell a potential reader that Title ABC is akin to Jan’s Story (which has sold about 30k units), than it is to use some book pubbed by AuthorHouse (which has probably seen very few sales and even less market traction.

Vanity or self-pubbed books don’t give an editor a clear picture of the competition – only commercially pubbed books can do this. Our sales teams don’t care about iUniverse books because they don’t have any distribution, and won’t be read by many people. It’s not a realistic gauge of the marketplace.

It’s also important to use current title comps. For example, let’s say that you suffered the heartache of inverted belly button syndrome in your teens. You looked for books that discussed diagnosis, how to cope, and treatment – and came up empty, so you decided to write your book to save others from suffering what you suffered. The problem is that you’re stuck in the past in terms of your comparative titles.

Those comparative titles you read many years ago are your basis for writing your book, and you’re dating yourself. Much has changed with inverted belly button syndrome since you last did your research, but you haven’t kept up, so your comps are out of date. You need to see what the new books have to say about this sydrome in order to see how your book compares and contrasts AND to see if you really have a marketable book.

The first thing I do when checking up on title comps is head over to Amazon and see the latest and greatest books in that same topic. If the author hasn’t included current books that are pubbed by commercial presses, then I have to weigh how well-versed the author is on their subject matter.

I pass those title comps to our sales and marketing guys, so I have to possess the latest and greatest. So make sure your title comps count for something.

Hey, nonfiction-ers, do you write in a crowded category?

December 21, 2011

This morning’s queries brought forth a story about cancer. I know the story is vitally important to the author, and I honor her for that, but I have no choice but to reject it because cancer has been done over and over and over. I’m not sure if the author realizes this or not because with memoir, many people have an experience and go no further than their laptop to bang out their story. They don’t know anything about trolling their competition.

Because this happens so often, I thought I’d share how editors look at stories written in crowded categories such as cancer, mid-life crisis, addiction, divorce, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s.

Since there are a gajillion books already written on these subjects, there is very little “new” under the sun. Authors should realize this because they need to tailor their query letter to win us over, to convince us their stories are unique.

When I say unique, I don’t mean, “Well of course my story is unique because the circumstances are different and the characters are different.” What I mean by unique is that the storyline/plot is unique from what’s currently on the shelves.

Do Da Research

Anyone writing a book should know their competition. You should choose at least three titles and be able to speak about how your book compares and contrasts to the competition. Not only do we use this information for promotion purposes, but we use it during our submission committee meetings. I heart authors who include this info in their queries. A lot.

Once you’ve analyzed your competition, you should be able to address your book’s unique qualities, what makes it stand out from all the others.

Confront the 500 pound gorilla

The next thing I suggest is to get it out there in your query letter. You and I know your story is in an overcrowded category, so address it. Kate McLaughlin, author of Mommy I’m Still In Here, did this, and she immediately won me over because she knew what I was thinking. Bipolar disorder is an extremely crowded topic, but Kate blew my doors off by acknowledging this fact and telling me the unique elements of her book.

I was hooked because it was/is a fantastic book, and I could see she understood the publishing industry and appreciated the dilemma of selling a book on this topic. Because we all knew the unique and uplifting message of Mommy I’m Still In Here, this book remains a bible for families and friends of those with bipolar disorder.

Platform – Who knows you, baby?

I know authors hate this word, but it’s the way of the world, so we may as well acknowledge it and appreciate it. Having a platform is the difference between rejection and a contract offer.

For example, I’d been considering a manuscript for a couple months. The writing was fantastic, but the story is written in a crowded category. I shared my concerns about the author’s lack of platform, and she wrote up several promo plans in hopes they would convince me that the story had legs. Alas, I finally had to turn her down. It hurt. If only the author was advocate for her subject matter and involved in foundations that deal with this topic, her book would have flown off the shelves.

As it stood, I knew our sales and marketing guys would have tossed a loaded brick at me if I’d come to them with this book because the first thing buyers are asking is, “What’s the author’s platform? What are they doing to promote the book?” The author has no affiliation with her subject matter other than her personal experience, so she had zero name recognition. That’s a death knell for a publisher – regardless of who that publisher is. I have colleagues with the Big Boys who have suffered from authors’ lack of platform.

Just because an author is with a Big Boy publisher doesn’t mean anything other than they may get more copies more widely distributed, but it doesn’t guarantee sales. If you write in a crowded category, then you need to work on your platform so you have name recognition. So many authors are dependent on social media, and I’m still wary about this dependence because social media is as crowded as the bookstores. It’s hard to swim to the top.

Consider your readership and become involved in foundations or groups where your book’s subject matter takes place. The more people know you, the bigger target you become – and we all lurve big targets.

In short, the world of literature is crowded, and there are certain topics that enjoy a huge number of titles. If your book is in one of those categories, then take some vital steps to ensure your success. Being an author these days puts you in a much more visible position by the merits of promotion. Take an unbiased look at your book and ask yourself what makes your book a gotta-have-it, and what those unique qualities are.

Yah, about those comparative titles…did you read them?

January 13, 2011

I watched an author interview the other day, and it’s a tossup as to who winced harder – the author or me. All went well with the interview clear up until Ms. Hairdo asked, “I loved your book! It picks up where ‘Comparative Title’ left off. Did you write your book with ‘Comparative Title’ in mind?”

Blink blink.

Deer in headlights look.

I could almost hear the author’s sphincter puckering.

He had no idea what Ms. Hairdo was talking about. Why? He hadn’t read the book. And now he was looking like an aarvark that had slipped on jello. On national TV. It was an awkward moment as Mr. Author tried to extricate himself from the sticky wicket. Ms. Hairdo – a bit slow on the uptake – tried to help him out by asking another question, but the pace and flow of the interview had left the building.

It’s so easy to make yourself look wonderful and knowledgeable if you simply know how to prepare. Most of us ask for comparative titles when you query, which in a perfect world shouldn’t be a big deal because all authors are well read in their genre, right? We ask for those comps because our sales teams need that information when they go a-calling on libraries and genre buyers. It’s one thing for a sales team to pitch a title and quite another to say, “in the field of Catholic abuse, there is no book like The Unbreakable Child, and readers of A Child Called It will find Kim Michele Richardson’s book a vital addition to their library for her uplifting message of forgiving the unforgiveable.”

Additionally, I’m confident that Kim Petersen would give a very glib answer to how Charting the Unknown compares to Eat, Pray, Love…besides saying Kim’s book is much better, that is.

Why is this so important? Because a comparative title gives a reader – or genre buyer – a frame of reference. The comp titles you provide to an editor is an integral part of selling the book because they know which marketplace and audience to target.

And I check these out like the beagle hot on the trail of a bacon sandwich. The better comp titles I have, the better we all can key in on the marketplace. Now, if you just wandered through Amazon and swiped three titles that appear to be in your particular genre and you didn’t read them, you could be doing yourself a huge disservice, like Mr. Author HolycowI’manidiot.

This happened to me not too long ago. I was uploading a title to our distributor’s database and came across the title comps the agent and author had sent to me. They sucked stale Twinkie cream because they had only the loosest association with our book. Iwas a bit cranky on two fronts:  not only did I know full well the author hadn’t read the books, but now I had to go back and get new title comps that actually fit the content of our book. So off to Amazon I went…nabbing titles I felt would work. The day was saved, I drank some wine, and the earth continued to spin on its axis.

Now, if the author ever happens to be asked about those comp titles, I daresay she’d be able to pull off a fabulous answer because she knows her stuff like she knows the color of her car. And she’s unflappable.

But how ’bout you? Are you unflappable and could muddle through with something brilliant and witty while on national TV? My point is that you must know your competition…not just to satisfy cranky editors and shark-toothed sales teams, but also to prevent you from looking like a doofus on TV.

Like I said, it’s so easy to look fabulous and prepared, but in order to look that way, you gotta be that way. Title comps. Read ’em. Look brilliant.

Ringin’ in the New Year – helpful query hints

January 2, 2011

I’m always hopeful that with every new year, writers are that much wiser and careful about their writing careers. In order to help with that endeavor, I’ll share a few of the query blunders that slid into my Inbox while I was out drinking champagne…

Calling Google…where are you?

If your query lists your accomplishments, then it makes sense that I should be able to find them, yes? If you’re as fabo as you attest, then I would expect you to include a link to your website. What? You don’t have one? How can you be a:

  • Motivational speaker
  • Community leader
  • Public figure

and not have a website or blog? People with platforms have these things. If I find zippo on google, then all your insistence that “yah, I’m all that” melts the ice in my margarita. After all, if I can’t find you, then how does your public find you? Your future readers?

Learn before you leap

The dreaded query letter…so much hinges on so little, and it’s so easy to earn a very quick rejection letter based on how you communicate your story. Or lack, thereof.


  • I’m a new writer. Not only is this unnecessary, but it could work against you because we’ve learned that new oftentimes means a glaring lack of understanding how to write a proper query. So we’re wary.
  • I attached my synopsis. NO. Do not attach anything unless you’ve been directed to do so. Many people won’t open attachments. Your pitch is short, and it belongs in the body of your email.
  • Reply to a rejection. Argh. Please sit on your fingers until the urge passes. The rejection letter went out, we’ve moved on. This isn’t an invitation to open a dialog, and it certainly isn’t an offer to send pages. I rejected an author yesterday for her lack of a coherent pitch, and she replied that she sent her synopsis (yes, I know…it was less than stellar). She decided that I needed to read her first four chapters. This is headbangy stuff that screams noob. As rude as it sounds, I really don’t need (or care) about the reasons why or how you blew your query. If I offered some insight in my rejection letter, cool. Move on and be smarter the next time. But you can keep me out of the loop. Really.
  • Can I rewrite my query and resend? I know there are differing opinions on this. Some agents/editors have no problem with authors asking if they can fix up their query and resend. If a story sounds interesting, I’ll contact the author and ask for more detail. Otherwise, a no is a no. And it goes back to that “a rejection letter isn’t an invitation to open up a dialog.” I’d suggest that you take your time, learn how to write a bang-on query. Go jump in the shark tank at Query Shark and do it right. If you have a fabulous query, go ahead and resend. You don’t need to ask permission.


  • Follow the submission guidelines.

Be clear…clue me in

I know you know your story. But. I. Don’t. Help a gal out, willya? I don’t need clever, I don’t need esoteric, I don’t need wandering diatribe. I need only one thing – what your story is about. It should always include:

Who’s your protagonist?
What does he/she want?

What’s keeping him/her from getting it?
What choice/decision does he face?
What terrible thing will happen if he chooses A; what terrible thing will happen if he doesn’t.

An incomplete pitch is the #1 reason for rejection.


With the exception of a poorly written pitch, the biggest problem I see is the author who writes in a heavily impacted category and has no clue that he’s facing some very stiff competition.

New writers tend to be very insular; they battle some affliction or another (cancer, depression, alcoholism, weight issues, etc.) and decide that the world MUST read their story. The problem is that they have no clue that the libraries and bookstores are FILLED with these stories, and that their stories invariably say the same things that hundreds of other books have already said.

I’m ok with a book written in an impacted category provided the author has the platform to back him up. As lousy as it feels, a platform is the only way to get that book noticed. It’s like wearing school uniforms. Everyone looks the same, yet there’s always someone who wears an outrageous pair of socks or hair-do in order to stand out.

If you’re gonna write about weight issues or cancer – or any theme that’s been heavily written, you better have one hell of a hook and a platform that will catch a large readership because I guarantee that readers of an impacted category are better read than you. You have to deliver a unique message, and that means that you can’t be insulated.

You. Must. Know. Your. Competition.

Word Count/Genre

I’m amazed at the number of writers who forget to include this info. It’s as important as your pitch. I’ve lost count of the times I was interested in a story only to find out it was 35,000 words. Yikes.

Fiction/Nonfiction – thar be a difference

Now stop it, I see you rolling your collective eyes. Just yesterday I read a query that stated up front that it was a memoir, but later down the page, it stated it was the author’s first novel. Eh? Whazzat? Which is it? Memoir or fiction?

A novel is fiction.

This means that you don’t say “fiction novel.” It’s like saying you bought an automobile car. Makes me do a double take, and Cosmic Muffin knows I do that enough during the day.

So those are my New Year’s gifties. May your plots be rich and your characters three-dimensional. Go forth and be successful!

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

December 2, 2010

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?


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.

Reading your competition

August 10, 2010

I requested a full proposal last week and noticed that it lacked the requisite title comps. Since this was a potentially impacted category, I wrote back to the author and told her I needed to see the title comps. Her reply?

“I have avoided reading competing titles, so I can’t give you any title comps.”

Wrong answer.

Solitary Confinement

This writer has been living on Writer’s Island. She’s isolated herself in order to write her book – in the name of remaining “pure” and “untouched” by other books.

What this conveys to me

Right or wrong, this reason forces several thoughts to come to  mind.

Confidence: she lacks confidence in her ability to write something fresh and new – and is afraid of being tainted by  reading someone else’s work. This tells me I’m working with a new writer who hasn’t yet found her voice or her footing.

Lazy?: As much as I hate to even consider it, I’ve seen too many authors who didn’t bother reading their competition because they were simply too lazy to see what was currently on the marketplace. They believed their idea transcended everything else that’s already been written. My question is – how do they know?

Didn’t know any better: The author may not have any idea what a title comp is.  This, of course, falls  into the Clueless Category, which I’ve bleated about to ad nauseum.

I don’t read: Eeep. A non-reading author? And yes, I’ve heard it numerous times. I’m not sure if it’s hubris or inbreeding, but for the life of me, I can’t abide by anyone who thinks they can write, yet they don’t read.

This group scares me most of all because they are unaware that there actually IS competition. All I know is that they’re in for a startling education as they dip their toes into the query pond.

Many of us are big readers, and we’re drawn to write in the genre that we tend to read, right? Well, except for the beagle. She reads doggie porn, yet thinks her mystery/fantasy/romance novel about Glenda, the magic poodle will be a big hit. I’ve chosen not to delude her since she has a lot of filing to do. But I digress…

It’s not my job

Lastly, it’s not my job to do your job for you, and I get very cranky when someone can’t provide me with title comps. I don’t care about your reasons why you don’t have them – only that you don’t have them.

This is a business where sales happen because we understand the competition. If the author can’t explain how their writing compares and contrasts to that of their competition, then how can I possibly take them seriously?

A word to the wise: If an editor asks you for something, YOU SHOULD DO IT.

There are hundreds of authors who are prepared, and you don’t want to get left behind, do you?

“My book has no competition”

November 8, 2009

And while I’m busy being cranky, avoid putting this type of stuff in your query letter…

Competition: No similar XYZ titles at Amazon & Barnes and Noble

…because I won’t believe you. For one thing, the particular category of this book, both in fiction and nonfiction, is THE RAGE. To say that your book is totally unique and no one else has addressed the same issues – especially in a huge category – tells me one thing. You Do. Not. Read.

Right off the top of my head, I had five comparative titles for this author’s book, which I was sorely tempted to mention in his rejection letter.

Unique vs. Comparison

I think authors are confused about comparative titles. They believe that if there are books already on the market that compare to their book, then it’s not unique and the publisher won’t want it. It’s easier to say, “Nope, thar be nuthin’ like mah book out there.” This is just plain silly because we know darn well that there are. And it shows that the author doesn’t understand the reason behind comp titles. Strike two. One more, and they’re out.

See, we need those comparative titles for our sales teams and marketing and promotion. We need to know where and how this book fits with what is already out there. Say, for instance, that you wrote a book on your pet gerbil. Depending on your comp titles, this will tell a buyer that your book is either inspirational or instructional. Remember, a sales person has scant minutes to pitch a title to a genre buyer, so those comp titles are there to clarify.

This differs from unique. You can write a book that’s in a very crowded category, like Alzheimer’s or bipolar disorder and still get published because you have elements that are unique to the main core of that category. Unique. Is. Good. It is the smart author who highlights their story’s unique qualities because that’s how we market and promote your book.

For instance, there is no way I’ll say that Barry Petersen’s upcoming book Jan’s Story is about Alzheimer’s. Big deal. There are gazillion Alzheimer’s books out there. No, I’ll say that Barry is the first one to talk about Early Onset Alzheimer’s and what happens when this disease hits patients, and their loved ones, while still in the prime of life. I’ll focus on how Barry discusses controversial issues such as what happens to the caretakers and how they become people of uncertain status. This is a book that will make people sit up and take notice because IT’S UNIQUE.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t be using Lisa Genova’s fabulous novel, Still Alice as a title comp because this tells buyers where Jan’s Story fits on the shelf. It also gives readers an instant recognition. Unique – Comparative Titles: don’t confuse the two.

Be Well Read

I’ve blathered on about this in past posts, but it bears repeating. It’s vital to know your competition and be well-versed in the books that closely relate to yours. Why? Because at some time you’re going to be asked. Imagine having Katie Couric ask you how your book compares to another book, and you sit there with your finger up your nose. Trust me, I’ll be able to hear your editor screeching from inside my darkened cave.

If you’re well-read, you’re equipped to elevate your book over that NY Times bestseller. Instead of dripping mouth goo, you can fold your hands and say, “Well, Katie, NYT bestseller deals with an unruly dog that ripped apart the owner’s brand new LazyBoy and swam in the church baptism pool, while my book deals with the curative powers of my dog’s love. He loved me when no one else did. He didn’t care if my teeth weren’t brushed or I was overweight. His unconditional devotion to my welfare gave me the strength to get out of bed, seek medical help, and become a survivor. When he got sick, I was more than ready to return the favor.”

SOB! Gawd, who wouldn’t want THAT book? That’s what being well-read can do. It’s not that you want to diminish your competition – because that’s just bad karma – but you want to be able to compare and highlight why your book is so worthy.

Repeat after me: I. Will. Read…I. Will. Know. My. Competition.

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