November 19, 2019 § 11 Comments
In a query, comps help the agent understand where your book fits in the market. Comps can be titles or authors:
My memoir, Not Just Good Hair: The True Story of an Anchorman will appeal to readers of Walter Cronkite’s A Reporter’s Life and Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News
Complete at 70,000 words, Plummeting Beats Paperwork: How I Survived Everest and My Million-Dollar Divorce combines the humor of Tori Spelling’s Unknown TerriTori with the adrenaline rush of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air.
Lydia Yuknavitch meets Marie Kondo in this memoir of decluttering my own psyche after trauma.
In a query, pop culture, movies and TV are fair game, if and only if you are confident your manuscript will wow the agent like the show does, or it truly ties into a major cultural moment.
Parking Daniel Craig’s Lambo: My Celebrity Assistant Life will appeal to Bond movie fans with my behind-the-scenes stories from the Skyfall set, and to readers of Page Six, for whom I debunk rumors about Craig’s underwear, tattoos, and what really happened at the Oscars.
Big Little Lies meets The Parent Trap in I Would Have Killed Her Myself: Mourning the Twin Sister I Hated.
Remember, if you use non-book comps, you are literally comparing your work to media with million-dollar budgets and saying “my book’s that good.” You’ll need a very strong hook to make a non-book comp seem logical, rather than overly aspirational or flat-out deluded.
In a proposal, comps show how your book fits a pre-existing market and appeals to the same readers. Describe the content, what’s great about that book, and (gently!) express how your own manuscript is different/better/fills an unmet need. For example:
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How To Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King (1994, reprinted 2004, revised edition HarperCollins: 2010)
With chapters on dialogue, exposition, POV and interior monologue, this book seeks to replicate the process of working with a professional editor. Some reviewers complained the book seemed overly compressed and “hard to follow.”
SEVEN DRAFTS: Self-Edit Like a Pro From Blank Page to Book is clear about how each type of draft builds on the previous round, and lays out specific steps for the writer to take in each draft.
At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe by Tsh Oxenreider (Thomas Nelson 2017)
“In this candid, funny, thought-provoking account, Tsh shows that it’s possible to combine a love for adventure with a love for home” (publisher’s description). This book embodies the travel-without-itinerary concept, but with a focus on family travel and homeschooling rather than GO EAST YOUNG WOMAN’s solo expeditions.
Your proposal’s comps section includes 3-5 titles that are:
- Current within the last 1-4 years.
- Good sellers, to show a healthy market…
- …but not bestsellers. Eat Pray Love is a phenomenon, not a realistic comp. The exception is if you have a clever/fun comparison, or it’s unavoidable, i.e., you wrote about going to Italy, India and Indonesia as a deliberate recreation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey.
- Not written by celebrities, because “famous person speaks” is its own genre.
How to find your comps:
- Walk into your local chain and indie bookstores and figure out where your book will be shelved. Write down the other titles on that shelf.
- Repeat step 1 at the library, then ask the librarian what other books she’d recommend like those.
- Enter the writers’ names at Literature-Map, to find similar authors.
- Look the books up on Amazon. Or, if you’ve skipped directly to this step, look up a big-deal book in your category. Scroll down to Product Details a ranking section that looks like this:
Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #108,983 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Each of those subjects is a clickable link that will take you to the rankings of all the books in that category. Look at the top 50 books on each list.
- If a book is not in the top 50, it is probably not popular enough to be a good comp. If a book is in the top 5, it may be too popular. Choose titles with ranks <200,000 in Books and <5000 in their smaller categories. It’s also a good sign if the book has 50+ reviews.
- Read reviews and note what readers love and what they complain about, and the book’s description. Use these to sum up the content, say what’s great about the book, and a respectful statement of what this book lacks that your book brings. Remember that book’s agent may read your proposal, and you want them to nod in agreement, not get irritated at your criticism.
- Think laterally. The best comps may mirror one of your themes or plot arcs, rather than being a similar story. For example, an author writing about learning to be a good parent might use comps about climbing a mountain, negotiating with terrorists, or running a restaurant, rather than strictly parenting memoirs.
Finding comps can be tedious, but it doesn’t have to be painful. It’s a series of bite-size tasks to do when you want to work on your book but you’re getting interrupted a lot. And hey, make sure to say hello and buy a book when you’re in that indie store—they’ll be hosting your reading in a year or two.
Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. She would like to inform you that after the fun of six months of proposal writing, it’s entirely likely you’ll be revising the whole thing with your agent (thanks, Janet!). Follow Allison on Instagram for writing, memoir, and writing retreat news!