When Comparison is Good

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

When you’re trying to interest an agent or publisher in your book, you’re often asked to provide “comps” — other books that could be compared to yours, or books that might compete with yours. A good book proposal always has a “Competition” or “Comparable Books” section, and even if you’re self-publishing, it helps if you give readers a frame of reference in the form of similar books.

comparing apples and orangesOne of the most common questions I’m regularly asked is, “How do I figure out what books to include in my comps?” People get all hung up on it, especially with fiction. Do I look for books with the same premise or plot? Same time period? Same writing style? How do I know what to include?

I’m going to make it easy for you. Keep this line in mind:

“People who enjoy the following books are likely to enjoy my book.”

 

You can use that line in a proposal, then follow it with the comparable books, and for each one, a brief explanation of why your book would appeal to those same readers. This approach frees you from trying to decipher what an agent is looking for, and instead, use those comps to identify your audience.

If you can’t readily identify six to ten books or authors whom your potential readers are already reading, then you need to stop what you’re doing and get a lot more educated about what’s already out in the marketplace, and who your potential audience is. If you can’t identify your audience, then how will you sell your book to them?

Providing “comps” is all about helping your agent, your editors, your marketing team, and your readers to capture a vision for your book.

Too often, writers tell me, “I’ve looked and looked, and I can’t find anything quite like my book.” Take a different approach. Think about your potential readers, and figure out what they are already reading. 

To read a little more about how to create a strong Competition section for your book proposal, click HERE.

Do you know what books your potential readers are already enjoying? How do you research this?

 

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34 Comments

  • It isn’t hard for me. I started writing because I wanted to have more of that certain ‘feeling’ some authors gave me – authors like Susan Howatch, Andrew Greeley, and Nevil Shute.

    They created worlds and communities of characters that made me look up, made me want to be something better and more than what I was.

    I wanted to write like that. I hope I do.

    So I guess I ‘started’ with comps, but those comps are necessarily a little dated. This gave me the grand excuse to spend Saturdays and Sundays at the bookstores, discovering contemporary authors (like Beth Vogt and Sarah Sundin) who give me the same emotional and spiritual charge.

    It’s a mixture of voice and style and love and values, and above all, faith.

    • Rachelle Gardner Rachelle Gardner says:

      Interesting that you started there, Andrew. Btw, Susan Howatch is one of my all-time favorites.

  • Your suggestion resonates with me, Rachelle. I was seeing it more competitively, as in “my book is better than these others because . . .” This helps me define my readers. Thank you.

  • Rachelle, I’m with Shirlee … I always saw it as trying to explain why my book is better than others that are similar. Thank you for clarifying that.

    One struggle… mine is middle grade, and I have trouble finding a comparable book in the Christian book stores (I have comps in the others, and maybe that is all I need). They don’t have their books for middle grade in any certain order … like they are just placed into the “ONE” small shelf where ever they can be squeezed in. It appears that kid’s books are being tossed aside. Seems like parents are forced to buy their middle grade kid’s books at Barnes & Nobles … probably YA, too.

    I started to try to buy a “wholesome” book for my girls there … but it was so frustrating, that we bought their new Bibles, and nothing more.

    Maybe that is just a problem here in Texas.

    • Rachelle Gardner Rachelle Gardner says:

      It’s a problem across the Christian market, Shelli. Middle grade is a tough category. You could always find the best of general-market middle grade fiction, wholesome or not, and describe why kids love it, and hence why they’ll like yours as well… but with yours, they’ll also get a subtle Christian message.

    • I’ve noticed the lack of wholesome reading material for middle grade and teens, too. :(

      • I am writing a middle grade Christian book right now, so I am thrilled to get confirmation that this is a need. I am far from writing any proposals yet, but I have one book in mind to compare it to based on what someone said my character reminds him of. This conversation motivates me to get busy figuring this out.

    • Sheila King says:

      Shelli, I too wrote a middle-grade novel. (As a Christian school librarian, I found that I had to carefully screen materials intended for that age group.)
      I have recently begun writing for “Lilybell” which is an online app based magazine for girls 8-12 years old. It will launch in September and be marketed to encourage girls to delight in the world around them. Until it gets off the ground, it doesn’t pay, but I get a byline and feedback from an editor with 20 years in the magazine and book publishing world. AND it forces me to write a lot of different stuff – fiction, non-fiction, “lists”, etc. Let me know if you would like submission info.

  • Lori Benton says:

    Like Andrew, I wanted to create stories that move readers like a certain handful of authors, both CBA and general market, are able to do for me. Because those author’s works have filled my creative well, the writing I produce carries something of their flavor. Therefore, it’s likely my books will appeal to other readers who enjoy their books too.

    To keep abreast of books being written that are similar to mine, by authors I may not be as familiar with, I pay attention on the various book chatting forums I frequent, especially Facebook and Compuserve’s Books and Writers Community, to know what’s out there for my own reading exploration, and to know what others are enjoying in the genre I write.

    • Rachelle Gardner Rachelle Gardner says:

      Great ideas, Lori!

      • Jenny Leo says:

        For all these reasons, I love recommendations that begin, “If you like Author X, then you may enjoy these others.” I’ve found more great new-to-me authors this way. Often public libraries offer lists like these.

  • This is a helpful post. I know some books that would be comparable to what I’m writing, but I need to do some more research, I believe. Sigh. I guess I’ll have to go spend some time at a book store in the near future. ;)

    I have a couple questions:
    1. If someone is targeting a specific line (i.e. LI book, or trade length), should that writer look for similar books within that line, or be broader?
    2. If someone is writing for a Christian audience, should that writer find comparable books within CBA, or should they also look at similar ABA books?

    Thanks for sharing such helpful posts each week, Rachelle! They are much appreciated!

  • I regard comparisons as something of a point of honour.

    If I have the temerity to compare my work to that of authors whom I greatly admire, it is incumbent upon me to ensure that my work is up to the task of standing in their mighty company.

    This is one of the few exceptions to the Scriptural view of modesty, embodied in the story of the party guest who takes the lowest place, and is enjoined to take a more prominent place at the table.

    When we look at our work, we must be clear-eyed, being appropriately humble but firmly setting aside false modesty. We are obligated to place our work in the company in whose ambience we truly feel it supports.

  • Micky Wolf says:

    Great post, Rachelle! Appreciate the clarity and your one-liner-to-remember. Thank you. :)

  • Jim Lupis says:

    Thank you for the much needed information, Rachelle. I am in the process of developing a book proposal and struggling with comparisons.

    “Think about your potential readers…” Is just perfect and gives me the direction that I needed.

    Can a comparison hurt a writer if the book he is comparing is too similar to his? Will an agent/editor feel that the story has already been told?

  • Ohh, great topic , Rachelle!

    I loathed the comp section of my proposal because I felt like a poacher and a wannabe. All the time, we writers hear “Don’t compare your self to others, this is YOUR work”. And then kaboom, “please compare your story to another”.
    Of course, one is an emotional mine field, and the other is simply “I’m sorta like….”.

    Another slight dent, is that there aren’t many hist/fic CBA writers dealing with Native American-Anglo cross cultural issues in which the Natives are NOT the villians. That narrowed my search area pretty quick.

    I used Laura Frantz’s Courting Morrow Little, Lori (The Triple Christy Winner!!) Benton’s Burning Sky, did I mention the ChristySSS? and Sandi Rog’s Walks Alone.
    Each book deals with similar issues, and yet is completely different from the others, but all three fall nicely into my comp file.

  • Rachelle, thank you for your always straight forward and helpful posts. Just last Sunday, in the church library, a friend who’s a voracious reader pointed out some Christian mysteries that she highly recommends. I took one home and discovered that my writing is similar to that author’s–yeah!

    I’d been struggling to figure out my comparisons since I’ve read mostly classic mysteries such a Sayers and Agatha Christie (I’m also rereading The Woman in White). I plan to read more of Terri Blackstock’s books now that I’ve discovered our similarities. I like a mix of romance and inspiration in it while leaving the crime solving as the main theme.

    Is there a risk that I may lose my own distinct voice by reading a similar author’s books?

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

  • Jenny Leo says:

    This topic could not be more timely for me, as I’m struggling with the comps section of my new proposal even as we speak.

    I have two questions/observations:

    *I understand that the books should be recent, but does it matter how well they’re selling? I don’t know how to gauge how well a book has sold (other than whether it makes it onto a bestseller list). If sales figures matter, where would I find them?

    *My gut feeling is that if you can find comparable books in ABA, but not yet in CBA, then that might be a good thing to point out, since CBA tends to lag behind ABA a little when it comes to trends. Your book might be the first to introduce something fresh into CBA that’s already doing well in ABA. Is this a reasonable thought (assuming, of course, that the subject matter is suitable for CBA and not, say, the first “Christian” Fifty Shades of Gray)?

    • I would really like to hear Rachelle’s answer to your second question, Jenny.
      Does pointing out that it hasn’t been done in CBA show it as a bigger risk for a publisher to take on? Especially if you’re a debut author?

  • Christalee Froese says:

    Question for you Rachelle – does your agency represent writers who are not specifically producing christian-based material?

  • Great post! How many comparable books should I list in a query letter?

  • Stephanie says:

    This was actually the easiest part of writing my query. I found two books that had the same formula as mine, and although they were vastly different plot and characterwise, they both had suspense, a mystery, the big reveal and a satisfying ending. They were by debut authors, so I’m hoping the agents are familar with the titles.

  • Goodreads is a fantastic place to research what my prospective reader is reading, or what they’re longing to read, but are having a hard time finding. I’ve joined groups on Goodreads in the genre that I would love to revive. It’s also a genre that I haven’t seen much of in CBA.
    Pinterest is another launching point for connections. The board I’ve created for Vintage Gothic Romance has the highest number of followers of any of my boards.

  • Jack Orchison says:

    All this runs the risk of immediately losing your individuality in a welter of other peoples’ work. Surely your novel is DIFFERENT? It had better be!

  • Susan Sage says:

    Mainly I listen. When I hear about or read about a book that seems to be comparable to mine, I jot it down and take a look at it on Amazon or Good Reads at another time.
    I’m not sure how to find out what my potential readers are already enjoying. Guess I’ll have to look into that one.

  • Sondra Kraak says:

    Thanks for making a difficult subject clearer.

  • Karin Gall says:

    This is a very timely topic. I just got back from a conference where I pitched my memoir. My question related to this topic of comps is the following. My memoir also covers spirituality/angels. Does the CBA market cover spirituality/angels? Thanks. Love your blog.

  • Linda says:

    This has helped me more than I can say. Great advice.

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