The Importance of Comps
That’s the way it is, when you hear a new term. Your brain doesn’t have time to stop and figure it out, especially when you’re listening intently to a speaker. But eventually, your brain skids to a halt and goes, “Wait. What?” And if you’re lucky, there’s a knowledgeable person sitting next to you and you lean over, and ever so politely, whisper, “What’s a comp?”
Think of me as that person sitting next to you at the writer’s conference. Because now, I’ve got this.
So when you hear an agent or an editor discuss comps, they are referring to comparable titles, books or stories that are similar in some way to the book you’ve written.
Sometimes, it’s just an easy and quick way to get everyone on the same page.
Let’s say, for example, that a speaker tells you that she’s just come across the most amazing Romeo and Juliet manuscript. In a succinct manner, she’s relayed a couple key points about a manuscript you’ve never read:
a. It’s a romance (with at least two protagonists, the lovers, and at least one antagonist)
b. It involves some sort of forbidden love (the conflict)
It’s often very helpful to use well-known stories, fairy tales, novels or plays as comps, particularly if you’re pitching a novel and word count is limited. Saying that your manuscript is a Cinderella story gets to the heart of your pitch in a snap. And then you have all those additional words to explain the twist that makes your well-known story unique!
But sometimes, using a well-known story as a comp is not such a good idea.
Many agents like to see comps in a query. But there’s a good way to use a comp and a not-so-good way to use a comp. It’s really swell to know the difference.
Let’s say that you have written a middle grade book about a child who is on a journey to fulfill his or her destiny. You might think it’s a good idea to say that your book is the next Harry Potter! But what you have done, instead, is projected an image of a writer who’s over-confident and amateurish because there is no way that your book can compare to J.K. Rowling’s tour de force.
But you can use comp titles to let an agent know where your book fits in the market, thus giving a forecast of how your book might perform with the same target audience. Look for similar books, in subject, reading level, and word count, but stay away from comparing your book to best sellers. And do explain how your book fills a need in the market that the comps do not meet.
Do your homework well and the agent can pass on your comps to an editor, who can use those comps as a selling tool when your manuscript arrives at an acquisitions meeting.
And that’s the really important part of knowing comps!
~Cathy C. Hall