Nope, not algebra – COMPS!
Comps are comparable titles to your manuscript. Often expressed as “my story is X meets Y” – as in “My YA science fiction novel is DUNE meets DIVERGENT.” (Not a comp I’d go for, personally.)
Today, I got to thinking about comps when I saw these two great tweets from Jessica Sinsheimer: (@jsinsheim) of ManuscriptWishList.com:
You don’t HAVE to use comps for fiction. If you find comps that give a strong image of your work, go for it. If not, I say go without. 1/2
We were talking about this last week at
@mswlma. Comps are like the triple axel. Pull it off? Awesome! Think you’ll slip? Safer without.
Jessica’s right. You don’t have to have comps for your query. You can play it safe and skip them. You can mention books and/or writers that have inspired you.
Whatever you do, DON’T say that your book is the next [INSERT BLOCKBUSTER BESTSELLER HERE]!
Agents hate that. And it’s usually not true. You can say your middle-grade fantasy is “Harry Potter” meets “Matilda” – if that’s what it really is – but it’s immodest at best to claim your story is going to be a best-selling/literary prize-winning book. Plus, if you really have just re-written Harry Potter?
Likely not a win for an agent. See, it was already written and is still selling well.
Personally, as a writer, I tend to cite other books or writers that inspired me. As an agent, I am excited by comps for books and writers I love or a particularly intriguing combination.
But all too often, the sample pages don’t live up to the comps. And then, as Jessica says, your poor story is left sprawled on the ice, your query limping off to the locker room, because you didn’t nail the triple axel.
Comps create expectations – make sure you live up to them. Like most things about writing, practice makes perfect. You should be reading a lot in your genre/audience, too. Nothing spells disaster faster than an outdated comp – and if you’re using a classic, make sure there’s a good reason for it.
After all this, why bother making up a comp? Well, a great comp can make for a great pitch – kind of a two-for-one. Twitter pitch, elevator pitch, cocktail party convo – you’ll be all set. 🙂