Tips on Comparables

The comparables section of a book proposal is one of the most challenging for many authors. Here are a few quick tips for a successful entry:

Define It

The comparables section shows what books are on the market that compete with yours.

Know the Purpose

The purpose of providing this information is to help agents and editors position your book. Agents will use this to decide which editors need to see your work. Editors need to predict how their sales team will react.

Choose Wisely

The best books to choose for the section are:

  1. Aimed for the same or a similar audience.
  2. Published recently, preferably within the past five years.
  3. Released by the same or competing publishers. For instance, a comparison from the general market isn’t as effective as comparisons from CBA publishers if your audience is looking for a CBA book.

Show the Differences

How is your book different from those already available?

Unlike novelists, authors of nonfiction must justify their book because they provide new information needed by a specific audience for a particular reason. A novelist’s audience seeks entertainment and escape. This author seeks placement within the publisher’s line of novels. Therefore, the comparables section for each type of author will differ in approach.

Regardless of the type of book you offer, make sure agents and editors come away from your proposal with a clear understanding of how your book will overcome current marketplace challenges. The comparables section helps show them how.

15 Responses to Tips on Comparables

  1. Jeannie Delahunt August 12, 2021 at 5:29 am #

    Greatly appreciate this information. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Loretta Eidson August 12, 2021 at 6:39 am #

    This part of the proposal always intimidated me. I wasn’t sure exactly why the comparables were important. Thank you for the explanation.

  3. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 12, 2021 at 6:44 am #

    Don’t know how I’ll find comps for my WIP…

    It’s a New-Age Christian romance
    with Gothic horror overtones
    in a time when women wear the pants
    and all the men are clones
    who look like Ronald Reagan
    with 90s boy-band hair
    and say ‘billions’ like Carl Sagan
    while they dance like Fred Astaire.
    They’re after crystals stolen
    by Amish on the run;
    aided by a friendly Golem,
    they pursue them to the Sun,
    where, of course, the final fight
    takes place in the dead of night.

    Kind of ironic that Carl Sagan’s lasting claim to fame is ‘billions and billions’.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 12, 2021 at 10:24 am #

      Andrew, perhaps Carl was once in charge of the Federal Budget. Only now he’d have to say, “Trillions and Trillions.”

  4. Elliott Slaughter August 12, 2021 at 7:05 am #

    I’ve heard some people say you shouldn’t use comps to books on a best-sellers list like the NYT. But I’ve always been confused by this because, even on the best-sellers lists, there is still a great deal of variation in how famous/well-known the authors are. Looking at the current NYT for middle grade hardcover, for example, I see both cultural-phenomenon-level authors, as well as debut authors. I wouldn’t want to comp against the former, but the latter seem at least plausible, right?

    What’s your take on this? Where do you draw the line?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 12, 2021 at 10:30 am #

      Elliott, that’s a great question. Each proposal is the author’s personal work. I don’t have any hard and fast rules for this section, or for that matter, any part of a proposal, except that all information must be as accurate as possible.

      I think the issue of comparing oneself as a debut author to a list of bestselling authors is that the debut author might come across as overconfident to say, for instance, “My theology book is a combination of the works of (fill in your favorite theologians), only better.”

      On the other hand, a debut author doesn’t want to say that the book only compares to other books that few are reading.

      I suggest a mix, if appropriate and applicable.

  5. Kristen Joy Wilks August 12, 2021 at 8:06 am #

    Thanks for the tips, Tamela! I find it a lot easier to write the comparable titles section if I regularly read in my genre. My problem, there are way more middle grade novels in the general market than in the Christian market. Still, I read both and after consuming a book, it is fairly easy to see how it is both similar and different from my own attempts. I think of comparable titles as a peek into the current library of my readers. What do they already love? What do their parents want to buy for them next? What are they hoping to read now that they have finished all of these other great books?

  6. Jan Rogers Wimberley August 12, 2021 at 11:07 am #

    Thank you for clarification on the difference with comparables for novels and non fiction.

    Jan Rogers Wimberley

  7. Chris Whitlock August 12, 2021 at 5:05 pm #

    Writing biblical study books and Bible studies, I look a miriad of studies and similar nonfiction but finding a specific niche’ can be difficult as they all get lumped together. I can’t read them online so it can be pricey. You clarified some things and even though it seems daunting, you have helped me stay the course.

  8. Linda Riggs Mayfield August 12, 2021 at 9:34 pm #

    Such solid and specific information and advice, Tamela! I’ve found that good old Google searches using keywords that fit my novels give me data and an instant view of books that could be comps. Searches also help me identify what makes mine similar and different. My MC is a nurse who lost her dad to a heart attack and her fiance’ to–well, that’s too complicated for here. Her mind and body’s response was panic attacks. I used keywords nurse, grief, panic attacks. From reading, I knew my book had similarities to best-selling Carrie Stuart Parks novels in which the MC is a professional woman who has a health issue and has suffered loss, but the search showed me that my book was different because most books about grief and panic attacks are non-fiction self-help books, and not distinctively Christian. Learning that there are 3.8M RNs in the US, and as many as 11% of Americans experience a panic attack at least once, I knew what the comps were and who my target reader is, and that the market is substantial!

    • Carrie Stuart Parks August 17, 2021 at 10:46 am #

      Hi Linda, Fragments of Fear has a woman with panic attacks and grief (although she’s not a professional woman.) The Gwen Marcy series has a professional woman with health issues (and an ex-husband and daughter giving her grief!) I would classify them as mystery/suspense/thrillers. If your books don’t have the mystery angle, you might want to look at contemporary stories. God Bless!!

  9. Pam Halter August 15, 2021 at 5:58 am #

    I’ve learned to say, “readers of such and such book will also enjoy mine”. Something like that.

    Thanks for the tips, Tamela!

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