The Importance of Choosing Current Comp Titles

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: May 09 2019

Comps aka competitive titles and the subject of much discussion within the writing community. I’ve written on this a few times before, giving my opinion on their importance. What I haven’t yet written about is the importance of choosing comp titles that are current.

Some of my most recent reading has been series or books that are older, some of them published as long as 20 years ago. Books or series that I suspect would have a very difficult time if submitted today. Not because these books aren’t good or enjoyable, but because the way they present things feels, well, cringy in today’s world.

Comps in Nonfiction

In one case the book is nonfiction by an author I greatly admired when I first started BookEnds. A NYT bestseller who taught young businesswomen how to fight for themselves. In today’s world her advice felt less like fighting and more like giving in. Listening to a recent interview with her left me uncomfortable.

Throughout the interview this woman, someone coaching young women to stand up for themselves, deferred to the men around her for approval. At the end of each answer, she turned to them and said something along the lines of, “don’t you agree.” Implying they had the real answers.

To be frank, her ideas no longer felt relevant and I can’t imagine trying to submit that book in today’s world.

Comps in Fiction

The other recent read that felt dated was part of a fiction series by an author I love and admire. It was what I’m not calling “old-school” detective fiction. A tough guy detective who gets the girl and the bad guy in one swoop. A relatable James Bond let’s say. There are a lot of books like this.

I couldn’t help thinking, whether this character would have the same success if he launched today. Would his non-PC way of speaking and thinking get past both editors and readers?

There are a lot of books and authors who would never be published if they went out on submission today. Many are read widely and often (of course some as part of college courses). That doesn’t make those books bad. It doesn’t mean they should never have published, but markets and tastes change and so must publishing.

Making Comp Choices

When making your own choices for comps it’s important to keep this in mind. You might have loved a certain nonfiction book 20 years ago, but is it still relevant today? Is one published five years ago still relevant? Many times the answer is no.

When agents and publishers take on a new author and book they are looking one to two years into the future. It means today’s comp will be five years old by the time your book is published.

Choosing comps isn’t easy, but knowing where to start can help.

4 responses to “The Importance of Choosing Current Comp Titles”

  1. Avatar AJ Blythe says:

    I’ve decided not to use comp titles. I think (hope!) my query speaks for itself and the genre is very defined.

    I would also worry that a) the agent hadn’t read the comp title and b) they didn’t like the comp title (because I know if someone recommends a book to me and says “it’s like this book” I won’t read it if I didn’t like the comparison book).

    • Avatar Katherine Adlam says:

      I recently listened to a webinar on this topic in Julie Hedlunds 12 X 12. Tara Luebbe did an excellent presentation on how to choose comp titles. Tara gave us a list of resources and tips. Before the webinar I was stuck using comps that dated back to when my children were young, or horrors, back to my university days taking Children’s Lit. Now I feel comfortable in why and how to choose comps. Also 12 X 12 s facebook page has a wealth of people who can help you select comps.

  2. Avatar Wiley Brooks says:

    I took a different approach than listing titles. I used two current and high selling authors . For one, I compared how we build similar character types. For the other, I showed how my crisp, tight writing style is like his. I have no idea yet if this approach works. Just started my client search,

    • Avatar Leslie Van Zee says:

      Thank you for skating this approach, that feels much more useful and accurate. I’m going too borrow this!