Woes with Comparative Titles

One of my weaknesses that I have identified this summer is that I am not very good at coming up with “comps” for books. “Comps” are comparative titles: what books is the manuscript similar to? We usually use two or three titles at once: Mark Twain meets Stephanie Meyer. Jodi Picoult meets Stephen King. Another intern and I came up with an exaggerated comp for one of the manuscripts we read: Sabrina the Teenage Witch meets Princess Diaries meets Hercules meets Twilight.

The problem I have with comps is that I always view each book as its own entity. Sure, there are similarities between voices or plots, but the book becomes so unique that when I say, “It’s like this…”, I second guess myself and think, well actually it’s really not. Other times, I know it sounds familiar but I can’t remember where I’ve read something like it. And then there are times when I really haven’t read anything like it before.

This isn’t a problem that I can just write off, however. Comps are important. Agents use them in pitch letters to editors, and writers should use them in query letters (that can be hard on writers because we all want to say, “But my book is a breakthrough that is nothing like anything that’s ever been written!”). A good comp can give you an idea of the voice and the plot of a book without you ever having to read a page of the story. For example, the book I just finished, Don’t Look Down by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer, has the sass of Janet Evanovich and the action of Tom Clancy. Now, instead of just having the title, you have an idea of how the book will read. In a business where we don’t have enough time to read everything, that is a HUGE time saver and can tell someone whether the book will hit their spot or not.

So now all that’s left is for me to get better at coming up with comps. My plan is twofold: first, to read, read, read in many genres so that I’ll always have read something similar. Second, with each book I read, to identify comparative titles. I already started with the example of Don’t Look Down! Now off to do more reading…