What are Comp Titles?
‘Comp’ is short for ‘comparable’. Comp titles are published books that would appeal to a similar readership as your novel. It’s a good idea to mention two or three comp titles in your cover letter when you submit a novel to a literary agent. It’s likely that a literary agent will then use comp titles when pitching the novel to publishers and that these titles – or new ones – will be used as the manuscript jumps through various hoops to secure a publishing deal.
Why do we use them?
Comp titles are a more precise way of getting across a novel’s genre. I just typed ‘romance novels’ into Google and the first two results were Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and It Starts With Us by Colleen Hoover. These novels will appeal to very different audiences. So, though you should tell agents it’s a romance novel and could also tell them if it’s a historical or contemporary romance novel, and if it’s a commercial or upmarket or literary romance novel, the most helpful way to tell an agent who your novel is written for is to mention comparable titles.
“Originality is crucial, but ‘there aren’t any other novels like mine’ isn’t going to encourage anyone. Your novel needs to be original within an established market.”
Your editor will use comp titles to prove to the sales team that there is a market for the book. Originality is crucial, but ‘there aren’t any other novels like mine’ isn’t going to encourage anyone. Your novel needs to be original within an established market, especially as the industry increasingly goes for the ‘safe option’, e.g. novels written by celebrities or debuts which mimic a bestseller.
How do you choose them?
Many writers get hung up trying to think of titles with similar content to their own novel. If your novel is about a gymnast, the comp titles don’t need to be about gymnasts. If your novel is about a teenager looking for her birth parents, the comp titles don’t need to be about teenagers looking for their birth parents. Comp titles are meant to give an idea of tone, genre and audience, not content. The main question to ask yourself is: would someone who loved that book also love my book? You could also ask: would it have a similar style of front cover and sit on the same shelf in the bookshop?
“Comp titles are meant to give an idea of tone, genre and audience, not content. The main question to ask yourself is: would someone who loved that book also love my book?”
Chances are that the books which will make suitable comp titles are ones you’ve already read (and enjoyed)!
Consider these things:
- When was it published? It’s best to pick novels released in the last five years or so, to show that it has a place in today’s market.
- How well did it sell? It’s important to choose novels that were successful, but you might not want to go for the no.1 bestseller as it could seem that you don’t actually read widely in your own genre and have gone for the obvious choice.
- When is it set? For historical fiction, the comp titles should be set fairly close to your own and if your submission is contemporary, the comps should be too!
- How literary or commercial is it? If you’re writing general fiction, the main purpose of the comp titles is to suggest where the book sits on this spectrum. It’s good to have an idea of whether your novel is more likely to be a Richard and Judy pick (commercial) or a Booker prizewinner (literary). Is it likely to do well as an e-book (commercial) or a hardback (literary)? Or does it sit somewhere in the middle? You can usually tell from a book cover and the blurb whether a novel is commercial or literary – try to pick comps that sit in a similar place on the spectrum, and bear in mind that it’s quite common to think your work is more literary than it is.
How do you include comp titles in a cover letter?
You can mention comp titles at the beginning or end of your cover letter – just make sure they’re in there! You might phrase it like this: ‘My novel would appeal to readers of __ by __ and __ by __.’ Or you could say: ‘__ might sit on the bookshelf alongside __ and __.’ You could also combine this sentence with the mention of your novel’s genre: ‘This is a contemporary romance novel with a witty first-person voice reminiscent of __ by __ and an uplifting love story in the style of __.’
“If your novel crosses two genres or does something new within an established genre, you might consider a ‘Comp 1 meets Comp 2’ style pitch.”
If your novel crosses two genres or does something new within an established genre, you might consider a ‘Comp 1 meets Comp 2’ style pitch. ‘My novel is a dark comedy with supernatural elements that you might describe as The Lighthouse Witches meets The Banshees of Insherin.’ (It’s fine to use a film or series if it’s a good fit!) If you go for this option, the two titles should be pretty different but combine to provide a solid picture of your novel.