There are a number of materials you need to have ready to go when you start pitching your work to an agent. A small, but significant part of this preparation is knowing your comp titles.
I stole a most eloquent definition for “Comp Titles” from Above the Treeline:
Comp Title: noun, Comparable (comp) titles are other already published books that are used as a comparison on which to base opening orders for a new title by helping to predict its performance.
This should be an apples-to-apples comparison; in which your work is similar in genre, target audience (kids/YA/adult), and perhaps even subject matter. Ideally, the example you choose is not only accurate, but an example of a successful book. Bonus points if it’s a successful book that the agent you’re pitching to has represented.
Sometimes it’s a clear match. I’m dating myself here, but the Bad News Ballet series and The Babysitter’s Club are pretty comparable to each other.
Sometimes you may have to fake it. For example, Ender’s Game and the first Harry Potter book both center on a young boy going off to school; but beyond that you’re going to have to make a really good argument for their similarities. Think about where these books get shelved in the bookstore (genre, age group they’re aimed at, etc), on top of what they’re actually about.
Researching comp titles is handy for both you and the agent. To the agent, the comp titles help them figure out how the book is marketed to publishers and also to the public. It indicates the business path your work is likely to follow.
Your business path is vital for your own knowledge as well. Looking for work that’s similar to yours gives you a much better sense of the market. For a lot of us, we write the stories we wish we had growing up. The market — the world, for that matter — has changed a lot since then. Best case scenario, you’ll start reading and learning from authors with whom you have a great deal in common. If you find work that’s extremely similar to yours; don’t fret. It means there are kindred spirits out there in authors — and an entire readership.
Pretty exciting, huh?
You can reverse-engineer it as well. Go to the books you really adore and grab one that has a lot in common with your own. Read the publishing information in the front. Read the author’s acknowledgements in the back. Amidst the friend and family names, their editor and agent are probably listed as well. If you can make an argument for it, that’s a comp title. Go to their website and see if they’re taking submissions.
Even if you fake it ’til you make it, getting others to read your work is the goal. If you can do that, the world is your oyster.
“We…we could be friends.’
We COULD be rare specimens of an exotic breed of dancing African elephants, but we’re not. At least, I’M not.”
— Neil Gaiman (Coraline)
“So obscure are the greatest events, as some take for granted any hearsay, whatever its source, others turn truth into falsehood, and both errors find encouragement with posterity.”