by Avery Silverberg
“My young adult book is like The Hate U Give meets Looking for Alaska.”
“My graphic novel is like if Guts and New Kid had a baby…”
“Mine is definitely more of a Speak and What Girls Are Made Of crossover.”
We’ve all been there.
You’re at a critique group or a conference. Perhaps you’re scrolling through Twitter’s famous Pitmad or Pitchwars, reading the #YA section, watching writers comparing their novels to books you know and love. Perhaps you’re wracking your brain, scanning the imaginary bookshelves in your mind, panicking over which titles fit yours, and whether you’re crazy to think they actually might. You’re not alone.
Comp titles are a tricky (yet common) way to pitch your book to agents and editors. It allows them to quickly picture the essence of your book as a means to judge whether it is something they are looking for. If all else, comp titles are a great way to see where your book could potentially fit into the market. What types of readers does your comp title reach? What works for your comp title stylistically that you would like to see work for your own writing? What doesn’t work? And if you are left thinking – “there is NO other book in the universe that is like mine!” – you either haven’t read it yet or aren’t reading between the lines.
Here is a simple, yet effective way to finding your perfect comp title.
Perhaps you are right in thinking the specific subject matter you are writing about hasn’t been tackled yet. If so, you most certainly can find a similar theme in another book, even if they are writing about something entirely different. Say you are writing a middle grade fantasy novel about a boy who discovers he can fly on his 13th birthday. Even if you can’t find a book with this exact type of story arch, perhaps you can find a book highlighting themes of identity – which is what your book is really about.
What feeling does your book evoke in readers? Yes, this can change chapter to chapter, as your protagonist breathes and lives within the story. But what is the general flow of tone and how does it move? Look for other writers who work their tone into their narrative in a similar way as you do.
Some writer’s voices are the key component of the novel. Let’s say you have a 16-year-old, female, protagonist, written in the first person: she’s sassy, outspoken, and unfiltered. You’re not going to want to find a book in the first-person perspective of a 16-year-old boy. You also won’t want one in the third person point of view. Study writers who utilize their voice in the way you want to.
Does your novel have flashbacks? Is it written in present tense or past? Perhaps you are writing fantasy, from the perspective of God, Death, or a mythical being. Track the modern-day market and see what stylistic choices are working.
There’s a common saying that says everything in the world has been written about. They say there are no unique ideas – only unique ways to write about them. Whether you feel like this is true or not, it can be incredibly helpful to seek out books that are most similar to yours in terms of content.
And, lastly – annotate. Write your reactions in the margins. If you have trouble integrating action with dialogue, highlight passages where the author of your comp title achieves it well. Annotate your comp title like you are back in 11th grade AP English Lit and you’re being graded for the amount of metaphors you can find. Okay, maybe not literally – but annotating your comp title can definitely help you work through some of the most difficult moments of the writing process. And as you read and compare, fight the natural writer’s instinct to throw your manuscript in the garbage disposal. At the end of your day, your book is your book. You’re never going to be your comp title. Your book is never going to be The Hate U Give or Looking for Alaska. We already have those books – now, we need yours.