Tag Archives: marketing

Researching Comp Titles #SFWC2014

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.
— Tacitus

(Rammstein, Sonne)
What’s similar? Different? Where do you fit on the shelf?

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Commercial vs. Eternal Writing

There seems to be a big philosophical split between commercial writing and eternal writing. If you’re in one camp, you tend to think little of the other. For every web-site describing the Eight Steps To a Successful Novel, there’s another that emphasizes the purity of authentic expression in all art forms (because grammar is The Man’s way of keeping us down). If you’re open to what each side has to offer, the next thing to consider is whether you’re eager to publish, or eager to publish this story.

Say you want to publish just to get your name out there. Commercial success requires collaboration. Collaboration (even in ideal situations) requires some compromise with your editor, agent, publishing house and/or scriptwriter and director. You may have to demonstrate flexibility and versatility in order to maximize your access to opportunities.

On the other hand, if you have a soul-deep connection to your story as it is – you must honor that connection. Compromising on your baby hollows you out. The more specific your needs, the longer it may take you to find a dream team that doesn’t want to change what you have. If you’re committed to telling this story, then that’s the only story you can tell.

Ultimately we’re pursuing mastery: the balance of technical expertise and purity of expression. A ballerina will practice dancing thousands of routines in her lifetime. Only a few of those will be opening nights with giant crowds. As he hones his craft and develops technical excellence, he’ll be better able to express his art at will. His greatest and most breathtaking performances may take place in the studio, with only his reflection as a witness. Does that make the standing ovations less gratifying? Is commercial success or highest excellence more important?

I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.

The more you write, the more you read, the more you study – the more you hone your craft – the closer you are to excellence: your ability to manifest your dearest aspirations. Whether skin-deep or soul-deep, your writing is always yours.

Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
― Aristotle

The ludicrous element in our feelings does not make them any less authentic.”
― Milan Kundera


(Fun fact: the Greek arete and the Chinese gongfu are similar terms; the former expresses manifestation of one’s full potential, and the latter describes any study, learning, or practice that requires patience, energy, and time to complete. It is implied that athletics are an integral part of arete
, and the word gongfu/kung-fu has become synonymous with martial arts in its modern usage.

Healthy body, healthy mind, eh?)