You don’t know COMP! – Part 2

So you’ve assembled your Comparable Title list, and you’ve started plowing through each title. Once you’ve narrowed the list down to your top few titles (2-3 recommended) it is time to get really cozy with them. What makes these books the best comparisons to your book? How are they really similar, and how are they critically different?

You should take some notes about each of your Comps. Treat it like a book report, but this isn’t like any report you wrote in the tenth grade. You are doing research that is both technical and literary with a goal to understand how these Comps work and how they were published.

Let’s handle the easy stuff first. Are your Comps longer or shorter than your book? (Word counts, not page counts please). Do they use the same point of view? (first person, third person) Are there critical similarities of setting or character? Do they take place at the same time? Read these books and see how they stand up against what you have written.

Next let’s get to the publishing history on your Comps. When was the book first published? By whom? How did it sell? Ideally you’d like to use a Comp that sold well and has had a long publishing life.

*Important note. At least one of your Comps should have been published in the last 10 years. Using two Comps that are both considered to be ‘classics’ will not help you to position your book in today’s market. Find something recent even if it isn’t as well known as the classic you are using as a model.

It is important to know what publishing house handled the book, as you may want to target Editors from that Imprint.

Now, you have read the book, right? Did you read the acknowledgements? If you didn’t, go back and read them. You will likely find the name of the agent who represented this author in their acknowledgement section. If not look up the author online. Most likely they will have some information about their representation on their webpage or social media. Take note of both the Agent and the Agency as you may want to pitch or query them directly if given the opportunity.

Finally, once you have tracked down the nuts and bolts of your Comps ask the hard questions:

How is this book the same as your manuscript?

How are they different?

What makes your manuscript unique?

What makes your manuscript fit in?

By now you should have a few pages of notes on your Comps. Put them aside and do something else for a day or more, but not more than a week. After you’ve let things germinate do your Comps still make sense? Did you pick the right ones?

When I finally settled in to examine my Comps in detail I found two books which rose above the rest as novels that were appropriate comparisons; NEVER LET ME GO by Katsu Ishiguro and THE BODY ELECTRIC by Beth Revis. Now I am not saying by any means that I am as skilled a writer as either of these novelists, but the stories they crafted are models that I am using in the development of my own work. Their books help me to provide a shorthand to Agents and Editors about what I am trying  to achieve in my own writing and where my book might someday end up on the shelf. Fingers crossed, maybe someday I’ll get there.

Keep writing!

PS You might have noticed I included WHAT MAKES THIS BOOK SO GREAT by Jo Walton in my Comp stack photo. (Go back and look). That is my personal cheat on Comps. Great Critics like Jo Walton can help you to sort out a pile of excellent books. When you are reading in your genre take a little time to read the criticisms and you might find out a little more about your own writing in the process. If you are writing speculative fiction, like I am check this book out. It is worth the time.



One thought on “You don’t know COMP! – Part 2

  1. Hi Ralph, this is great! I tell my writer peeps to use comps as a “template” for the book you want to create. Especially those who are writing memoirs as that is a really tricky genre. And yes, it feels weird comparing yourself to writers with much more publishing experience, but what you are really doing is setting a higher standard for yourself and that always, always results in better writing.


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