Proposals: Make Comparison Titles Work for You

When I mention adding comp titles to a proposal, this is the response I often get from both nonfiction and fiction authors: “AARRRGGHH! Why? It’s so hard!”

Well, there are two main reasons as to the why:

  • Comp titles show there’s a market out there for books like yours.
  • Comp titles help the editor/author “get” your book better.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can just grab any book that’s similar and say, “See? There’s a market!” Instead, look for books that:

  1. Are popular and selling well. I know, I know, we don’t have access to sales figures. But we can see books that are on the bestseller lists, or in the top 100 lists. You can also see books that have a lot of positive reviews.
  2. Have been published recently. Folks don’t want to know that there was a market for the book five years ago. Even three years ago. Find titles that have published in the last year. The exception to this is if the book was published awhile ago, but has been brought to people’s attention again by something like a movie or world event.
  3. Are as similar to yours as possible. Can’t find an identical match? No worries. Look for books that are similar to yours in some aspect, such as focus, setting, audience, tone, voice, or message.

For both fiction and nonfiction writers, choosing your comp titles is only half the work. Now you need to let those titles work for you to clarify what makes your book stand out from what’s already published. Give a brief description of the comp title, then offer a sort of “comparative analysis.” It doesn’t have to be involved, just clear. So here’s an example, using a made up book, for my suspense novel Shattered Justice:

The Family that Preys Together, Jo Schmoe, Big-Time Publisher, May 2014.

In this suspense novel, a father has to fight to save his family when a gang on the run from the law invades their home.

As with this book, Shattered Justice focuses on a family in jeopardy. However, the father in Shattered Justice is in law enforcement, and not only is his family in jeopardy, but so are the people of the small town where they live. Shattered Justice also brings in the facet of faith in the face of doubts and anger.

So you let your chosen comp titles show the market is out there, ready and waiting, and then you pinpoint the similarities and then the differences.  I generally encourage writers to use at least 3 comp titles. And yes, even if you’re writing a faith-based book, you can use at least one title from the general market.

Hope that helps!




19 Responses to Proposals: Make Comparison Titles Work for You

  1. Avatar
    Jackie Layton September 17, 2014 at 4:10 am #

    Hi Karen,

    In my proposal I picked two stories to compare mine to. One is secular and one is inspirational. I did this in hopes of showing my story will appeal to a wide audience. But my book is inspirational.

    After reading your post I wonder if I should only use inspirational comps. What do you think? And how many stories should I compare my book to?

    Thanks so much!

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball September 17, 2014 at 11:56 am #

      Jackie, it’s fine to use a comp from the general market, but I’d probably encourage you to fine one more inspirational title to use as well.

  2. Avatar
    Rick Barry September 17, 2014 at 6:18 am #

    In one succinct post, you’ve answered several questions that I’ve heard writers agonize over during discussions at writers conferences. Thanks for making our job a little easier and less stressful!

  3. Avatar
    Meghan Carver September 17, 2014 at 6:36 am #

    Good morning, Karen! Thank you for such a helpful post. Your example is particularly helpful — informative but brief. What about comparison titles if a writer is targeting category romance? Are they still necessary? If so, choose titles that are similar in plot or character or setting? Thanks for your time today!

    • Avatar
      karen Ball September 17, 2014 at 11:59 am #

      Meghan, seems to me comp titles would still be of help, but take a look at what the specific publisher wants in a proposal.

  4. Avatar
    CaLana Love September 17, 2014 at 6:59 am #

    Hi, Karen! I’m appreciating this series. I’m working on a project (another author’s) in which his work could be a trailblazer. I’m taking heed to number 3 above. Is it wise to suggest our thoughts, in the proposal, about the uniqueness of his content compared to other works? We’re having a hard time finding a good selection of titles that truly is comparative. Or even if we muster a few like #3 advises, should we assume the wisdom and experience of the proposal reader can best deem the work a first of it’s kind? Thank you!

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball September 17, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

      CaLana, agents and editors hear all the time from writers that their project is ground-breaking, never been done before, better than all the rest. It’s too seldom true. So yes, let the agent/editor determine all that themselves.

      • Avatar
        CaLana Lovee September 20, 2014 at 10:02 am #

        LOL! I can imagine. I’ll suggest taking the humble approach. Thank you!

  5. Avatar
    April Gardner September 17, 2014 at 7:06 am #

    When we went through my last proposal, I had an aha! moment when it came to the comps section. This article solidified what I learned. Not saying it still won’t be a pain in the patookie! But at least I’ll have a better grasp of the goal. Thank you!

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball September 17, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

      LOL! Thanks, April. Always happy to reduce patookie pain. 🙂

  6. Avatar
    Sandy Faye Mauck September 17, 2014 at 7:27 am #

    Huge help, Karen.

    # 3 was a confirmation of what my feeble brain was trying to compile.

    And the Shattered Justice “made up book” part really helps, too.

    Will be working on this! You are a great teacher. Thanks (<;

  7. Avatar
    Penelope A Childers September 17, 2014 at 8:52 am #

    Thanks Karen! This really does help.

  8. Avatar
    Jenni Brummett September 17, 2014 at 11:44 am #

    Karen, is it acceptable to compare to a book from the past if that title defines a genre, and its followers, in the present as well? I’m pretty sure the specific title I’m thinking of has never gone out of print.

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball September 17, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

      Jenni, there are a couple of problems with doing that. First, there’s no way to tell if that title would do today what it did in its day. What made a best-seller years ago doesn’t necessarily make one today.

      Second, you’re setting the bar pretty high. If you compare your fiction to C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia or your devotional to Streams in the Desert, you’re saying your book will have a similar impact on today’s readers as those books did when they came out. Not just today’s readers, but in today’s publishing climate. You need to have some pretty solid, provable reasons for saying that.

      • Avatar
        Jenni Brummett September 17, 2014 at 6:35 pm #

        Thanks, Karen. Your points make way too much sense.

  9. Avatar
    Karen Ball September 17, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

    Sandy and Penelope, thanks!

  10. Avatar
    Jennifer Dyer September 17, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

    Karen…so helpful. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get New Posts by Email

Get New Posts by Email

Each article is packed with helpful info and encouragement for writers. You can unsubscribe at any time with one click. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!