Why authors should research comp titles?

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For all of us in the querying business, you’d know that comp titles are important. Comp titles are examples of previously published books that are similar to the one you’re writing or querying.

But comp titles are not just for the querying stage. I believe they’re so much more useful when done right. Here are the reasons why:

Setting up your book: I like to read a few comp titles after I write my first draft. I need to see how my book  can be different. Like for Seoul-Mates, a romantic suspense, there were plenty of books with the marriage-of-convenience trope. But I had to set myself apart and that’s where the cultural aspects of Korea came into play. After you read a comp title, make a list of how your book is similar. And then differentiate your work based on that. Agents don’t want to sell the same stuff. They want to know how your book stands apart from the already published crowd.

Weaving your theme: All books have a theme and when you’re going to send your work to a book cover artist, book trailer maker, blogger, marketing department, you will have to provide this. Take a look at this list of themes. Comp titles can be a good way to learn how the theme has to be woven in. Whichever theme you select for your trope, it has to be stitched into the fabric of your story seamlessly. What better way than finding out from published authors? With Under a Scottish sky, I knew there were tons of love stories in Scotland. Its a magical place to fall in love. But my theme was forgiveness and so the story and its characters had to be primed and set up around that. My characters had to have a past that were riddled with mistakes.

Determining the audience: This is so important not just pre-publishing but in post publishing stages as well. Comp titles will tell you what audience will buy your book, who will read your work, where to find these readers, where to advertise, what kind of trailer to create, what merchandise will go with it? If I was re-writing Seoul-Mates for teenagers I would have to create Instagram or Snapchat, but for adults my current social platforms of Facebook and Twitter are adequate. With the audience plenty changes, the vocabulary; the language and even the style.

Evoking tone and style: You also need to study the tone and style of your genre. Be very careful, because sometimes its very easy for another’s tone, voice or style to bleed into your work. Which is why I do this only after I’ve finished my own first draft. You want to keep your voice, but study the tone of the genre or niche in which you’re writing. Maybe the atmosphere from that book  is what you want to evoke.

Querying: Many people mention how this manuscript will compare, be better than or similar to a published book in query letters. How to do this? Dan Barlow has some amazing tips on how to select and use comp titles in a query letter. I personally don’t like using Comp Titles. Its three extra lines where I could squeeze more about my book rather than advertise an already published one. Janet Reid says,”But honest to godiva, you can shoot yourself in the foot so easily here I wish you’d believe me when I tell you that you do not need comps if your query is compelling enough.”

What do you think about comp titles?

When do you research comp titles?

Do you have any additional uses for them?

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