Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
On Thursday, Mary wrote about how creating a synopsis for a proposal confounds many writers. Another part of the proposal that I frequently hear questions about is the Title Comparables or Competition section.
The first thing to grasp about this section is that publishers ask for this information because they want to know:
What other titles would yours compete against? If you’ve written a book targeted for teen readers that you believe would appeal to the readers of The Fault in Our Stars, you’ve hit on the sort of novel that teens adore. On the other hand, the publisher will ask, Is there room for another novel like John Green’s huge hit? That’s where another role of comparables comes in:
How is your title different from each one you’ve listed? Writers often choose to engage in magical thinking when they ask themselves this question. Sometimes when I’ve challenged my clients about how unique their manuscript is, I’ll hear something like this: “I know it seems a lot like The Fault in Our Stars, but my main character is a boy not a girl, and mine is told in third person.” As the writer, those, of course, seem like mammoth differences, but to the typical reader who will spend about 30 seconds deciding whether to buy your book…not so much.
Or let’s say you’ve written a memoir on how you overcame depression. You can’t ignore the elephant in the room, Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson, which currently is on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. That title must appear on your comparables list, and you must point to what truly distinguishes your book from Lawson’s. Let’s say your book has outtakes from your journal that include pen and ink drawings you made during your journey out of the blues. (And they’re really good.) Okay, now we’re talking not only about what’s unique in your work but also about something the reader will quickly recognize as different.
How do you decide what to include in the list? You must include all the obvious choices–the books that are the standouts in the category. If you don’t put them on the list, the comparables become suspect. Either you aren’t aware of your competition (which is bad–how will you know the ways to focus your manuscript so it is unique?) or you’re choosing not to mention those titles so yours looks like a standout (which is even worse).
You also need to list titles that might not be as well-known but that show there is a market for your book. If you can’t find books that would appear on the same shelf in the bookstore, that spot in the store might not even exist. Yes, I know many people don’t shop in literal bookstores, but imagining a store’s shelves helps us to have an image of how many books are jammed onto the shelf–or sitting there by themselves.
How many comparables do you need? You don’t have to list every vaguely connected book. I would suggest going for the obvious choices and those that are closest to being like yours. You also don’t need to go back to 1988 to find titles–unless some groundbreaking book that still sells with vigor was released that year. I’d search back about 10 years.
What if you can’t find any competition? That would be bad. It either means your book will be lonely on that bookshelf (and probably unpublished in the traditional realm) or you haven’t looked in the right places. A rare exception occurs when a writer tweaks a trend in a clever way and creates something new. But, then it isn’t entirely new is it? It’s connected to the books that created the trend.
A helpful resource one of our clients, librarian Judy Gann, made us aware of recently is a website called Novelist. Many libraries subscribe to it because it enables them to make recommendations to readers who are looking for a certain type of book or who read a book and want to read something similar. While that name suggests only novels are available, Novelist Plus subscribers can access fiction, nonfiction, and audio books. Subscriptions are also available to libraries for K-8th grade reads.
If you know one book that is related to yours, the librarian can access others. There are a variety of ways to conduct those searches, too. For example, if you’ve written a WWII novel, you don’t have to wade through all the novels written for that time period. You can focus it on WWII clean romances. Give your local library a call to see if they subscribe.
I also find checking out a similar title on Amazon can lead me to others I wasn’t aware of. Although that does take some investigating because sometimes Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item also Bought” can be perplexing to find the correlation.
Ultimately, your list should show that, yes, readers are interested in this sort of book, but the shelf isn’t jammed. There’s room for your unique take on the subject.
What do you struggle with when you look for comparable titles? Have you found a solution?
What do publishers look for in a book proposal’s competition section? Click to tweet.
What titles should a writer compare his/her manuscript to in a proposal? Click to tweet.
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