Don’t let comparison titles steal your joy
There is a lot of talk about using comparison titles in query letters to agents and it can feel like a minefield. How do you find the right things to compare your book to and why go to all that effort?
The main reason – they are a great way to show off!
- Comparison titles show off your up-to-date knowledge of your genre – by referencing new(ish) releases in the area you’re writing in, you effectively display that you are keyed in to what is going on in the book world (or at least the part of it you want to break into)
- Comparison titles show off your understanding of the market – because you’ve clearly shown that you know where you fit into it. So when you agent/publisher wants to talk to you about changing markets and sales, you’ll have some idea of what they’re talking about because you already vaguely know where your book fits
- Comparison titles show off your love of reading – and this is an important one. It shouldn’t shock you that agents and publishers are bookish people. They will want to talk about books with you. By using good comparison titles, you’re showing that you support other authors, are a keen reader, and actually enjoy the kind of book you’re writing (it’s weird how many people write a crime novel having never picked one up…)
Now you’re convinced that it’s a good idea to put in a bit of time to find the right comparison titles (and you totally are, right?), here is how to do it:
- The key to finding good comparison titles is reflecting the feel – You may have written an epic space saga that spans 400 years and includes not only romance but several crimes and a cute puppy. Even if you haven’t written something like this, you may be finding it hard to place your book directly alongside others. But the truth is that your book will have to sit alongside others and to sell well it will need to be compared in some way to something that came before it. Concentrating on the feel of your story rather than the content is a good way to find comparison titles that really clearly point to the kind of story you’re telling. One example of this is the novels of Elizabeth Strout and Becky Chambers. Plot-wise, they are as far from one another as can be. Strout writes about family drama in small town America, while Chambers details epic space journeys hundreds of years from now. However, I would argue that they have a similar feel. They are both gentle reads, and their books delve deeply into character and relationships. Superficially, they are not the same but they share the same heart
- It doesn’t have to just be books – so long as you’re reflecting the feel, you can compare your book to whatever you like. Films, TV shows, albums, magazines, podcasts, etc. This can be another great way of showing off – not only do you read well in your genre but you are finding a wider reach for your book as well
- Just find one or two – this makes your job so much easier! All you need to find is one thing that reflects a key element of your story – be that the plot, themes, characters – anything! If you can find two, it’s great to combine them in some way, e.g. My YA fantasy novel combines the kind of light-hearted love story found in High School Musical with the gritty realism of a harsh dystopia like the Hunger Games. (Someone please write this!)
- Try not to go too old or two big – which would defeat a lot of the points I made about showing off. If you go too old, then how would anyone reading your query letter know that you’re up-to-date with current treads and love supporting others? And if you compare your book to someone everyone has read, then it doesn’t really show you know where your books fit in because those books are too fluky to really try to replicate. This is also a way to make sure that your query stands out – lots of people will compare themselves to big names but if you pick something really carefully, it just might be interesting enough to catch an agent’s attention
One last thing to say – comparison titles are 100% not essential. They are helpful but an agent isn’t going to reject your query just because you don’t have them. If you’re really struggling, then leave them out of your query letter. This is better than referencing anything that doesn’t feel right.
However, if you are struggling it might be worth reading some new releases in the genre and age group you’re writing in. This can only be a positive thing as it will give you a sense of where your area is at, but hopefully you will also find something that reflects some element of your book.
In this very small area of your life, I would suggest that comparison can bring you joy. Please please PLEASE remember this though – do not compare your stories to others in any other way. Don’t fall into the trap of comparing your timeline, output, agent, publisher, sales, film optioning, advances… ANYTHING to anyone else. Your journey is unique and so is the way you write and create stories, so try to stay away from the poison that is comparison (in any other form than comparison titles!)
You do you, and let everyone else find their own way.