After I read the first contemporary novel, I examined the others. Every book was a boarding school story on another planet. Harry Potter goes to Mars, etc. Why oh why was the only unique recommendation War of the Worlds? And why didn’t science play a bigger part in these books? I also noticed that there was no diversity among the authors.
I put creating a better list but on the back burner until I signed up for a DIY MFA starter kit from Gabriela Pereira. One assignment was to compile a reading list to study the type of book you are writing. Gabriela includes 4 types of books--
These are the titles your book will be up against in the market place. Many of them will be the same genre as your book. Others may be the same theme or setting. All will be recent.
My comp titles:
- The Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm. I found this title because I had seen a recent interview with Holm. This was my jumping off place. I looked it up on my library web catalog and then used the NoveList feature to find read-alikes.
- An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
- The Moon Platoon by Jeremy Kraatz
- Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee
- Sleepers by Darcy Pattison
These titles inform your writing. They may be research. They may offer breadth in the genre or topic. They don’t have to be recent.
My contextual titles:
- Space Case by Stuarts Gibbs
- The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow. I read this one when it came out and loved it.
- The Planet Thieves by Dan Krokos
- Minrs by Kevin Sylvester. My grandad was a mining engineer. This was an easy sell.
- The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. Hint: If your book is compared to Firefly, I will pick it up.
Even if a book doesn’t directly compete with yours, you need to know what is being published in your genre. These books may not be contextual but again add breadth to your list.
My contemporary titles:
- Randoms by David Lee
- #MurderTrending by Gretchen McNeil. Running man with a teenage girl protagonist. Yes!
- The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch
- Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza
- The Secret Lake by Karen Inglis
These are the foundational titles, the ones that led to what we see today. Because I’m writing a book for young readers, I chose several early dystopian novels for tweens.
- War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. It was written in 1897. How much more foundational can you get?
- The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey
- City of Ember by Jeanne Du Prau
- The Giver by Lois Lowry
- Enders Game by Orson Scott Card
Not only are the plots more diverse than my original list, so are the writers and the characters. This is a solid list but I couldn’t develop it until I started looking beyond comp titles and include contextual titles, classics and a broader scope of contemporary books.
Like Cathy recently pointed out in her post, writers need to be readers. Are you reading from all four categories?
Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 27 books for young readers. To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.
Sue is also the instructor for Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins February 1, 2021) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins February 1, 2021).