Comparative Titles in a Query

Kristen asked the following comparative titles or “comp titles” question a few weeks ago about a post I did on how to write a simple, compelling query. Here goes:

What about jumping straight into the query synopsis after the “Dear (Agent)” salutation, and sticking the “I am seeking representation for X” at the end? Also, I’ve been adding a sentence that goes something like this: “(Book title) will appeal to fans of (author) and (author)” — is this type of comparative titles analysis a pro or con?

comparative titles, comp title, comparative titles
“I’m basically like all of these comparative titles … but better.”

The Scoop on Comparative Titles

Let’s get the easy answer out of the way first. This is your query. The order of the sentences that comprise it is completely up to you (but check out this post with successful query tips). Personally, I like to know genre/word count/basic stats on the manuscript up front, that way I don’t read a query out of context and then get surprised that the author was actually describing a 100,000 metafictional picture book (hyperbolic on purpose) when I thought they were talking about a YA fantasy. It just helps me get my marbles all in order as I’m reading (How long should a book be?)

Now, on to the stickier part. As for drawing comparisons to other authors, you can do that all you want, but make sure it’s true. 🙂

Someone can say comparative titles like, they’re J.K. Rowling crossed with Sarah Dessen until the cows come home, but I’ll be the judge of that. Rarely are people ever truly excellent at objective self-evaluation. Most people want to write like a Sara Zarr or a John Green or a Holly Black or a Neil Gaiman or a whoever, precious few actually do. In fact, drawing these kinds of comparisons is something I might do when I’m pitching your work to an editor. If you compare yourself to someone, your writing is excellent and I completely agree with your comparative titles, you’ll make that part of my pitch easier!

So yes, theoretically, an author can take a looong step back, figure out exactly who their comp titles are and where they’ll fit in the market, let me know, and then we’ll dance into the sunset of publication hand in hand. More often than not, however, the kind of writers who draw comparisons between themselves and others (namely Rowling, Meyer, Brown and Patterson) are self-aggrandizing and delusional and don’t stand a chance of finding an analogous author because their writing is only comparable to one thing: drivel.

As with most things to do with publishing and the craft of writing, if you’re going to do it, make sure you do it well, and that includes comparative titles. That’s good advice for pretty much anything, I think.

Wondering how to pitch and market yourself? I do query letter editing, which includes advice on comparative titles, if you’re getting ready to submit.

13 Replies to “Comparative Titles in a Query”

  1. Tell it like it is, Mary. Sometimes we writers who sit in front of our computers all day need to hear that. Thanks!

  2. Hi Mary!

    I totally agree with what you’re saying, but… what if other folks compare your writing to famous writers? Personally, I think my writing sounds like Brandi Hall’s, but I often hear it reminds people of 2 names I won’t mention…lol. My gut says, “keep it to yourself”, but you always wonder in the back of your mind if it’s true, should you mention it. I don’t like comparing my “books” to other titles, but writing “style” makes me wonder…hmmmmmm.

  3. Brandi — Personally, my own perception of a person’s writing is most important. I like to make up my own mind. It also depends on who is doing the comparing. If your friends who don’t really read a lot of YA think you’re a great Stephenie Meyer comp, well, I don’t know how much their thoughts will matter to an agent. If another (published) writer or publishing professional says the same, maybe I’ll listen. At the end of the day, the writing itself is way more important, either way, than what it’s compared to. Just really be wary of including sentences like “The kids I babysit…” or “My mom…” or “My husband really loves this book and thinks I’m the next Dan Brown” in a pitch. That means absolutely nothing to me unless the kids you babysit, your mom or your husband are editors who want to acquire your novel. 🙂

  4. Right on!!

    I’m wondering, before a writer is published/picked up by an agent, would it help to have a couple published authors read and endorse your writing?

  5. Mary, instead of comparing myself to a particular author, might it be better to compare myself to individual books? For example, I’ve just written a picture book for the 0-2 year old age group that I think is very similar in structure, form and audience to Mem Fox’s “Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes” or Helen Oxbury’s “Itsy-bitsy Babies”. Now, I’m not saying I write like Mem, but I am saying that my book could sit alongside hers in terms of style. How would that sit with you in a query?

  6. Lynn — Very helpful, but not for the endorsements, I’d say. As a writer, I’d be much more interested in their feedback to me and their notes on how to improve my craft. It’s always amazing what writers can learn from those further down the publishing path. You can put endorsements in the query but… as I said before, the only endorsement I care about is my own. 🙂 My friend can love a movie that I hated… it won’t really change my opinion of the movie.

    Karen — That’s great. I love it when savvy writers provide comp (comparative) titles. It shows they know where their book fits in the marketplace.

  7. This is very close to a question I’ve been thinking of asking. So, I guess I’ll do it here. In my query I have said that “I believe my novel will appeal to fans of…” I know this as fact since all my readers are fans of said books and have compared my book to it. Here’s the rub- I am not myself a big fan of the books though they are immensely popular. And I have read several agent/editor comments which tend to agree with my own issue with the books. So, do I use it as a comparison? In my latest batch of queries I’ve been using a much lesser known author whose books I admire though none of my readers have read her stuff.

  8. Susan — Great question. This touches on a few things most writers struggle with. Do you aim for the commercial (which you might not admire) or the artistic and respectable? I’d say you can mix it up. What about “This story will appeal to fans of Bestselling Author and Cult Favorite Author.” You’ve got a little bit of the commercial but a hint of the uniqueness of your project, by naming someone who’s off the beaten path, that should appeal to editors, who aren’t just looking for fluff (most of them, anyway).

  9. Thanks for this post – I’ve asked this question a number of times and not received as clear an answer. I’m with Karen (above) and like to use titles rather than authors as comparisons.

  10. Sumner Wilson says:

    Dear Mary:

    Would it be possible to omit the “I’m seeking representation–” from a query? I assume you already know this. After all, you are an agent–right?


  11. Timely post as I am nearing the query stage for a novel inspired by and in the genre of [popular novel]. So far, crit partners and [finicky members of target audience] agree with the similarities, but none of them fits your definition of a reference with credibility. Thanks.

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