So, you’re a writer ready to take that next step into the publishing process by querying your manuscript to potential agents or publishers. Congratulations on reaching this very exciting stage in the journey to selling your book. Now it’s time to turn to the all important query letter and the comparison title! It is a crucial element that can make or break your query’s success. Having worked for major publishers and read countless manuscripts and pitches from agents and authors as part of that work, I can tell you that nailing your comparison title will put you leaps and bounds ahead in your pitch. I’ve been in the room with publishers, listening to the discussion about if a title is worth acquiring, so let me help you put your best foot forward. We’ll delve into the art of selecting comparison titles that resonate with your manuscript and enhance its marketability!
Understanding the Importance of Comparison Titles
Before we dive into how you should choose your comparison titles, let’s discuss why they are important in the first place. Comparison titles, also known as comp titles, are a way to signpost to a prospective agent or publisher what your book is like and where it could fit within the current publishing landscape. They assist agents and publishers to gauge how marketable your novel may be, its overall appeal and crucially, make it easier to agents to envision who they can place your book with in terms of genre and target audience.
When your manuscript comes to a publisher to potential acquisition, it will be seen by a lot of people, some of which are time poor. While the publisher and editors who may work on the book if acquired will more than likely read the entirety of the manuscript, staff in other teams such as marketing, sales and publicity who are asked to provide feedback on the marketability and potential of a manuscript often don’t have the luxury of time to read the entire novel. This is where your comparison titles play a valuable role in bridging the gap between the few chapters they are able to read, and the potential success they can see for your novel based on what you’ve likened it to. It could just be the thing that convinces someone to say yes to buying your novel.
Research Your Genre
The first step in choosing effective comparison titles is to understand the genre your manuscript sites within. Identifying the primary genre and any sub-genres that it may fall into. Look for books that share similar themes, tones and writing styles. It’s good to consider recent releases first, but don’t shy away from classics of the genre if they do align well with your story. You want to ensure you’ve undertaken a comprehensive look at the market landscape and found the most appropriate options within your genre.
Match Themes and Tones
So now you’ve got your manuscripts genre, focus on finding comparison titles that share themes, tropes or tone with your work. Ask yourself some questions:
- What makes your story unique? What makes it similar?
- Is it a fresh take on a familiar concept?
- A classic take on a genre trope?
- A character driven novel filled with complex relationships?
By asking yourself questions about your manuscript you can use those answers to help you seek out books that capture these similar elements and fit with the emotional impact of your work.
Consider Commercial Success
It is essential to choose comparison titles that align thematically, to give an agent or publisher the right idea about your book. But it is worth considering the commercial success of those comparison titles as well. Agents and publishers are not only looking for well crafted stories but ones with market potential! Identify titles that have been successful in sales or critical acclaim and use those strategically in your query to highlight your manuscripts marketability.
I will note it is not always helpful to put the biggest titles in the genre your manuscript falls into because they are commercially successful. I have read many pitches where an author has listed their fantasy book is like A Court of Thorns and Roses when their story is nothing like Sarah J Maas’s or even her writing style. It becomes apparent very quickly when someone reads the manuscript, and if they’re time poor, they are less likely to understand where you fit in the market, and likely won’t both to take the time to figure it out themselves unless your opening chapters are truly the best thing to come across their desk at the time.
It is important to balance commercial success with how accurately they align with your manuscript. That way you can help make an agent or publishers decision easier and quicker.
This is a big one. Make sure that whatever comparison titles you choose are ideally recent and relevant. The publishing landscape changes and evolves, trends come and go. Review what has been published within the last few years to show that you know your market and understand what readers are wanting in the current landscape.
If you’re stuck on where to look, go to your bookshelf and look at who published the books that inspired you to write this manuscript in the first place. Publisher websites will always have a new release section which can provide some comparison title inspiration. Start by checking out these publisher’s websites:
Tailor Your Pitch
Once you’ve selected the right comparison titles, incorporate them seamlessly into your query letter. Provide a brief explanation of why these titles are great comparisons for your manuscript, highlighting specific similarities in themes, tones, or target audiences. This not only helps agents understand your work but also shows that you’ve done your homework.
Look Beyond Books
This is dependent on the submission requirements of the agent or publisher, but you can also look beyond books for comparison titles. If there is a movie, TV show or even music that really captures the theme, plot or emotions of your manuscript include those with an explanation of why. I’ve read some great pitches for romance novels that included a mix of recently published romance novels, a list of specific Taylor Swift songs or a scene from a film that the author thought best highlighted how their novel felt. And it has worked! Don’t be afraid to branch out and explore other creative mediums to choose your comparison titles.
For example: If Icebreaker was set to Taylor Swift’s Reputation album, and included the Mr Darcy hand flex from the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film. It gives you a pretty good idea of the emotional feeling of what is being pitched using different creative mediums.
By now I hope you have a better understanding of the importance of selecting the right comparison titles for your query letter. It requires a thoughtful blend of research, creativity and clear understanding of your work and the market. By carefully curating comp titles that highlight the potential of your work you can increase your chances of capturing the attention of literary agents and publishers who are eager to discover the next bestseller.
Until next time,
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