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.

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