How to Find the Right Books for the Comparables Section of a Proposal

Recently I received thoughtful questions from a writer about how to find the right comparable titles. Today I will offer my insights. Please note that my examples use classic novels. I recommend comparing your book to current offerings, preferably those released within the past two to three years.

The writer asked:

Could you elaborate on what types of similarities or level of similarities are important?

Is it about:

Plot? Yes. Offer a brief plot summary of your compared title, then show how yours is different. For example, if you are comparing your book to Gone with the Wind, you might say that while GWTW is about a woman sacrificing everything to keep her home during and after the Civil War, your plot focuses on a woman forfeiting everything to save her condo building in contemporary Manhattan from destruction.

Characters? Yes. For instance, you might say, And Ladies of the Club follows two women in Ohio after the Civil War; but your book follows two members of a women’s garden club in Savannah, Georgia, in the 1940s.

The subject of conflict or challenge? Yes. For instance, the adventure novel The Count of Monte Cristo focuses on revenge and takes place in the 1800s, while your adventure novel focuses on reconciliation and takes place during WWII.

Arc of the plot? Yes. If your book is a romance novel, you can use comparisons with other romance novels to show that yours fits that category. Use the same logic for other categories.

Language? I don’t recommend that even evil characters take the name of the Lord in vain in a Christian novel. Some publishers are more lenient on lesser swears than others. I recommend using great caution here. As for listing comparables, I don’t recommend emphasizing this category unless there is a particular reason to do so.

Setting? Setting can almost be a character in itself; and, indeed, there are times when a story can’t work in a different context. For instance, 1984 would not have been as powerful unless it was set in what was then the future. Now that the year has passed, some book critics enjoy showing how the story was accurate and where it was off in its predictions. Yet the plot, by taking place in the future but not the faraway future, worked well at the time.

Voice? You might want to compare your book to others written in the same POV, such as first person, first person present, omniscient, or third person, primarily if there is a reason you chose this POV.


Your turn:

 What suggestions can you offer?

What are two similar, yet different books that you enjoyed reading?



24 Responses to How to Find the Right Books for the Comparables Section of a Proposal

  1. J.D. Wininger May 21, 2020 at 6:36 am #

    May I request a similar post in the future for non-fiction books? I recognize there may have been one in the past, so apologies if this is a repeat. Thank you for your willingness to help us learn and grow.

    • Les May 21, 2020 at 1:49 pm #

      I agree. My WIP is nonfiction, so that would be helpful.

  2. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 21, 2020 at 6:38 am #

    The bookstore shelves will soon be full
    with my new release,
    where Jonathan Livington Seagull
    channels War and Peace.
    Comparisons, oh me, oh my,
    there’s some do come to thought;
    like Borland’s When The Legends Die,
    and The Land That Time Forgot.
    It’s a lot like Ivanhoe,
    and more like Needful Things,
    and it’s Where The Red Fern Grows
    meets Lord Of The Rings.
    to find in The Way Of The Knife
    a truly Purpose-Driven Life.

    • claire o'sullivan May 21, 2020 at 10:14 am #


      you never cease to amuse me with your thoughts!

      God bless you, brother!

  3. Cindy Fowell May 21, 2020 at 7:29 am #

    Thank you for this post, Tamela. I was wondering about this information just the other day. Very timely for me.

  4. Damon J. Gray May 21, 2020 at 7:36 am #

    Interesting post, Tamela. Is there a distinct list for nonfiction?

  5. Loretta Eidson May 21, 2020 at 7:44 am #

    Well, I’ve just learned something new. Thank you, Tamela.

  6. Denise Peters May 21, 2020 at 7:48 am #

    As I make my way through honing my writing skills, hoping to be published someday, I am finding bits of information here and there that I can both grasp and use. After reading your blog this morning, I can confidently say that this post was a gem. I think I finally understand what literary agents are looking for in the comparable books section. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.

  7. Kristen Joy Wilks May 21, 2020 at 8:01 am #

    If someone is chatting with you after critiquing your work and compares your story to a popular published one, then write that down quick. It probably means that your voice reminds them of the voice of this other author and their work could make an excellent comparable title for your proposal. I’ve had this happen and it is always helpful.

  8. Roberta Sarver May 21, 2020 at 9:06 am #

    Tamela, this is so helpful. I echo J.D. and Damon above; do you have a list for non-fiction?

    Another related question: When composing a comparable section for non-fiction, is it still important to go back only a few years? When writing a list for my non-fiction WIP I found several books on the same subject which were 10-20 years old, but only one within the past year or two.

    Thanks for your helpfulness.

  9. janis hutchinson May 21, 2020 at 9:11 am #

    Please do one for nonfiction books!

  10. Jennifer May 21, 2020 at 9:23 am #

    Thanks for the insight! 🙂

  11. claire o'sullivan May 21, 2020 at 10:28 am #


    Wonderful…! This was one of the most difficult things for me to come up with, ha.

    Most agents and publishing houses asks these questions. One of the questions was what was similar, what differed, and how it would affect the audience, and last, why should we publish?

    The best I could come up with was “Bourne Identity meets Bird on a Wire.” A cross between comedy, drama, and, of course, amnesia.

    Who would it appeal to? Those who like Christy Barritt and those who enjoy Dannie Petrie. How was it different? The MC is wholly unlikeable. It takes her time to accept the Lord. How would it affect the audience? Meets those Christians who have backslidden, those who like snarky characters, and those who don’t believe. Last and most difficult was the “Why should we publish your book (and/or what makes you qualified to write this?)?”

    Yikes. Because of those it can reach. Audiences also can spot mistakes a mile away. It helps to have a background in all things your book… however, that being said, I am not a thief. But everything else was true. Research helps, interviews are invaluable.

    A good tagline/logline helps (a lot).

    Be ready (like Paul says, however out of context this may be…) to give a defense of your book.

    Good reminder since my 2nd book could be untimely and may very well be dismissed on that one issue alone. Be always ready to put a manuscript away until the market is ready. And know your audience!

  12. Tamela Hancock Murray May 21, 2020 at 2:22 pm #

    Thanks for all your great comments, everyone! I’ll work toward posting guidelines for nonfiction as well.

  13. Amber Schamel May 21, 2020 at 3:03 pm #

    Thank you very much for this breakdown, Tamela. This is usually the hardest part of the proposal for me.

  14. Len May 21, 2020 at 3:38 pm #

    My problem (among others) is that I don’t read in the genre I write. I hate reading mysteries and fantasy, but I write them. I don’t read ghost stories but I write them. ?! I would rather take a beating than read Sherlock Holmes but it has been my bread and butter . . .


  15. Linda Riggs Mayfield May 21, 2020 at 3:54 pm #

    Such specific and clearly illustrated advice, Tamela–thank you! I signed a contract this week to consult and edit for a woman who is preparing an invited proposal for a college textbook for a major academic (only non-fiction) publisher. The company provided a rubric for the proposal. I was surprised, then amused, when I saw that instead of the heading “Comparables,” theirs was “Competition”! I guess that’s one way to guarantee she won’t compare her book to ones that are more than 2-3 years old, and definitely not to classics in her field! ;-D

  16. OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU May 22, 2020 at 5:23 am #

    Hi Steve, thanks for the useful suggestions on the levels of comparison authors can use to find similarities with their own books. It was helpful to realise that you recommend using novels within the last 3 years! How does one achieve this? Before I saw your post, I confidently pulled out a book from my library that seemed to be the best perfect fit. Francine River’s ‘Redeeming Grace ‘ was published in 1997!! Thanks.
    Sophia London, UK

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 26, 2020 at 10:27 am #

      You can cite Francine’s work, but search the Internet to find more recent titles as well.

  17. OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU May 22, 2020 at 5:24 am #

    Hi Steve, thanks for the useful suggestions on the levels of comparison authors can use to find similarities with their own books. It was helpful to realise that you recommend using novels within the last 3 years! How does one achieve this? Before I saw your post, I confidently pulled out a book from my library that seemed to be the best perfect fit. Francine River’s ‘Redeeming Grace ‘ was published in 1997!! Thanks.
    London, UK

  18. Stuart Schadt May 22, 2020 at 5:29 am #

    Thanks Tamela. This was excellent.

  19. Mysti Zumach May 27, 2020 at 1:20 pm #

    I love this breakdown, thank you Tamela.
    I recently read a novel called Over Her Head by Christian writer, Shelley Adina (FaithWords) and another novel called I Am Watching You by a non-Christian British writer Theresa Driscoll (Thomas & Mercer).
    Both novels highlighted the effect crime has on families. The first novel I mentioned focused on the character’s of the accused family and the second novel focused on the family of the victim. Interestingly enough in both novels, there are interwoven ties between families on either side.

  20. Kathy May 28, 2020 at 3:05 pm #

    These are great suggestions! I also try to make sure I’m comparing books aimed at the same age, and of the same genre as mine.

  21. OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU May 29, 2020 at 4:19 am #

    Thanks Tamela for your response. Very helpful. God bless you.

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