How to Choose the Right Comp Titles for Your Book When Querying an Agent

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A comp title (short for comparative title) is a book that’s similar to yours. Comps are the books you would compare your own to either when pitching to an agent or a publisher to show that you understand the current market and know your audience or to potential readers who want to know what to expect. 

Though not every agent asks for comps and not every author chooses to include them on their book jacket (or digital equivalent), it is important to know your audience and how your story fits into the market, and comps offer an easy way to explain the essence of your book to prospective readers. Sometimes, however, it’s not that easy to come up with the best titles. 

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What exactly are comp titles? 

Comp titles are published books that have style, genre, tone, and potential target audience similar to yours. They shouldn’t be too old (keep in mind this is about selling your book in the current market, not in the 1800s), and they shouldn’t be too different from yours (at least stick with the same genre). Still, that doesn’t mean they must have the same plot or tell the same kind of story as yours. In fact, if you find a book that’s too similar to your own, you might want to reconsider a few things. After all, you don’t want to simply retell a familiar story. 

A comp title may be similar to your work in one way but not in another—perhaps your plot is similar to this title, your writing style to that title, and your characters to that other title. Also, you want to choose books popular enough so that people will know them. If you use underground works with tiny followings as comp titles, they won’t provide valuable information to agents or readers. Basically, the point of choosing comparative titles is to pinpoint the readers who would like your book based on other books they’ve enjoyed recently. 

So, where do you start? 

Market research

To know your market, you have to do some research. Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, knowing and understanding the current market and your target audience are essential for the commercial success of your book. Start searching for titles that deal with similar topics or themes and go from there. Find out who the target audience for those books is, look into what other books the authors have published and how they’ve been received, and research trends and bestseller lists to get an idea of where the market is at and where your story fits in. It’s a good idea to start researching before you even start writing since this research can help inform how you structure your story. You can also take inspiration from other books in the genre to craft an engaging story that your target audience is likely to enjoy.

Try finding comps that aren’t too popular (household names like Harry Potter tend to appeal to large swaths of the population and don’t say much about their genre’s place in the market) or too obscure (the agent or the reader might not have even heard of them or it might signal that there isn’t a market for such fare). Focus on finding titles that have a similar feel to yours and will appeal to the same audience, and make sure you’ve actually read the book before you pitch it as a comp title.

Framing your comps

There are a few trusted formulas for framing your comps. The first is thinking of two stories that, combined, would produce one similar to yours. For example, “Eat, Pray, Love meets The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” The second way is to consider what kinds of books your target audience likes. For example, “If you like The Book Thief, you’ll like my new book.” You can also think of a well-known book that could be adapted to be more similar to your own, for example, “Pride and Prejudice but with zombie ducks.” Thinking of your comps within these boundaries will help you find a way to describe the essence of your book without even mentioning the plot. 

We suggest testing a few of these out on your friends, colleagues, and family and gauging the reactions they produce. You can try this test in different ways. If these people have already read your manuscript, ask whether they agree with your comp title pitches and, if not, whether they have any suggestions. In case they haven’t read your book, find out whether your proposed comp title pitch piques their interest and would make them want to pick up the book. Also, ask about the impression the pitch gives them about your story.

Always keep your audience in mind when choosing your comps as you might not present the same titles to an agent as you would to a potential reader. Don’t feel as if you need to explain your choices—let them be intrigued enough to want to read your book. Remember: Comp titles aren’t mandatory for marketing, so only share them if you feel that they truly represent your book and will help you sell it. They may, however, be mandatory when pitching to an agent, so keep that in mind.

If you’re still struggling to find appropriate comp titles, it may be that your topic is too narrow or you need to immerse yourself more fully in the publishing industry and become more familiar with a wider range of titles and authors. If you’re ready to pitch your manuscript to a literary agent, check out our targeted lists of agents and publishers

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