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Using Comp Titles in Queries

A reader asks:

I have a few #askagent questions, all regarding the use of comps in queries.

This first one is like the opposite of comparing manuscripts to NYT bestsellers…
Can a comp be “too indie”? Should I worry that an agent might not be familiar with the comp or should I stick with an indie comp to increase chances of finding an agent with interests like mine? Do indie comps make the manuscript seem too niche?

What are your thoughts on comps that are more than 2 years old? (I saw a blog post that said only comp books published within last 2 years and my brain melted.)

What about not using comps at all in a query?

I’m going to take these questions from the bottom up and start by telling you that I think it’s absolutely A-OK to not use any comps at all in a query. In fact, I’m one of the few agents who might actually encourage you not to use comps.

My feeling on comps is that they are personal. If you know for a fact the agent is looking for the next NEXT YEAR IN HAVANA (this like this girl– #MSWL) then you should absolutely comp that book in your query. If however, you’re comping titles because you feel like you’re supposed to or struggling to come up with comp titles, skip it. One of the reasons I recommend against comping is that you don’t always know the personal experiences/preferences of agents and comping an author or book they greatly disliked could turn them off when, in fact, they are the perfect person for you.

I suppose a comp could be too “indie” or uncommon, the same way a comp can be overdone (GONE GIRL anyone), but I think any smart agent is willing to admit and accept that for all of the thousands of books we’ve read (published and unpublished) there are thousands we haven’t yet read or even heard of. In other words, I wouldn’t overthink it.

If you have the perfect comp, use it. If you don’t, skip it.

Thanks for another great question.

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7 comments

  1. Ohh thank you, you are the first person I’ve heard who doesn’t think comps are the best thing since sliced bread.
    I don’t like comps in general on books or their advertising. I really dislike an author telling me that because I like someone else’s hard work I’m just going love hers. My answer is usually along the lines of “write a blurb to hook me in like she did and maybe we’ll find out.”

    It makes me think of the author as lazy, even though I know how much goes into writing a book. Selling your book, to an agent/publisher or the public by tying to someone’s coat tails and not trying to make it fly alone as it should, is kinda wrong.

  2. Great news! Lol. My biggest struggle is comping novels. Thank you for sharing your expertise. Its nice to see a top agent say this.

  3. Perhaps in a follow up post, would love to know your thoughts on comping outside one’s category. Can someone writing adult comp to YA (e.g. “THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE for grown-ups”)? Or can someone writing historical fiction with an adventure story at its core comp to a contemporary adventure story?

  4. Your post is music to my ears! I have had a hard time finding something recent, not too bestseller, yet still relevant to my manuscript. Part of me thinks, “Good!” because each author should get the chance to shine on their own.

    Some agents ask for comp titles. What would you recommend a pre-published author do in that circumstance?

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