Prep for Publishing: Know Your Comparable Titles by Kristi Tuck Austin

What are comparable titles, and why do authors need them?

Identifying comparable titles is one of the most important tasks any author can do, regardless of whether they traditionally publish or self-publish.

A comparable title is a book that’s similar to yours in characterization, theme, tone, audience or another storytelling element.

When we recommend a book, film, or television show to a friend, we often say things like, “Do you like the Avengers movies? If so, you’ll love the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Or maybe, “Do you enjoy Sherrilyn Kenyon’s books? If so, you should read Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files.” These are comparable titles.

8 Benefits of Knowing Your Comparable Titles

  1. Comparable titles can illuminate how to improve your writing craft.
  2. Comparable titles can help you determine agents and publishers to pitch if you plan to go with the “Big Five” or with mid to small publishers.
  3. Comparable titles can lead you to editors, cover designers, and other professionals if you plan to self-publish.
  4. Comparable titles can guide your selection of a book title that will sell.
  5. Comparable titles can influence your book’s packaging.
  6. Comparable titles can suggest authors whose blurbs will attract your target audience.
  7. Comparable titles can show how to market your book to the people who want to read it. (We’ll talk more about finding your audience on August 17.)
  8. Comparable titles will reveal a book’s metadata, including categories and keywords, that help the right readers find your book. (We’ll cover this on October 19).

    In this post: 8 Benefits of Knowing Titles Comparable to the Book You've Written. @KristiAustin #85K90 Click To Tweet

Common Objections to Finding Comp Titles

After talking to many authors, I’ve heard the following reasons why writers hesitate to find comp titles. My rebuttals follow.

Writers feel their book is wildly unique.

Writers often say, “There’s no book like mine.” I call bullshit on that idea. None of us exist in a creative vacuum. When we read, we compare the book we’re reading to other books we’ve read. When we write, we’re influenced by the books we’ve loved and hated. We’re always contemplating comparable titles, even if we don’t know what to call them.

Every writer brings their unique perspectives to their books, but as for plots, characterization, and all the other elements of a book—whether fiction or nonfiction—we’ll refer to Shakespeare.

Shakespeare, whom many consider to be the most influential writer in English and who introduced hundreds of words into the language, knew where his work fit in the storytelling canon. Romeo and Juliet drew on stories of illicit love, including medieval stories of Tristan and Isolde. Shakespeare was aware of his sources and why his plays would appeal to audiences who’d recently seen plays by Marlowe, Kyd, and other contemporaries who were making bank at the box office. His writing was art, but it was also a product he knew how to sell. If we want to be career authors, we have to take the same approach and know how we fit in the storytelling canon.

Shakespeare knew where his work fit in the storytelling canon. You should, too. @KristiAustin explains.… Click To Tweet

Writers fear being derivative.

If Shakespeare wasn’t afraid of being derivative, you shouldn’t be. Every story and trope you draw upon will be filtered through your perception and your writing style. Agents, publishers, and readers know this. So go ahead and make it easier for them to find their next book.

@KristiAustin: If Shakespeare wasn’t afraid of being derivative, you shouldn’t be. #85K90 Click To Tweet Make it easy for readers to find your book. @KristiAustin There's value in knowing your comp titles.… Click To Tweet

The writer’s ego comes out to play.

Just as there is a spectrum of writing skill, there’s a spectrum of writing confidence. I’ve seen writers err wildly on the confidence scale. Some feel they’ve written the best book that’s been written in twenty years and can’t find comp titles because they won’t sully their masterpiece. One writer I consulted with claimed no good books had been written since Hemingway. (I began to wonder how he found books and why he would want to write at all.) He didn’t want comp titles to tie his manuscript to “lesser” works.

Other authors are consumed with self-doubt; they struggle to find comp titles because they can’t compare their “flawed” manuscript to the works that have inspired them.

In both cases, honest beta readers are vital. Who will give you an unbiased opinion of your work? Getting an outside opinion is why people hire editors or want an agent.

Eventually, we need to take our ego out of the equation. Stop focusing on subjective quality and focus on more objective elements, such as plot, themes, setting, and genre when describing your comp titles.

Leave ego out of it. When choosing comp titles, set subjective qualities aside. Focus on objective… Click To Tweet

IMAGE: Man comparing papers; paying attention to details.

11 Resources for Finding Comp Titles

  1. Ask a bookseller. Visit brick-and-mortar bookstores, both “big box” and indie. (Consult indiebound.org for indie bookstores near you.) 
  2. Research comp titles on BookLikes, Bookstr, GoodReads, LibraryThing, and others.
  3. Research comp titles on online bookstores like Alibris, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, Kobo, iBooks, and others.
  4. Consult resources available to you through writing organizations and conferences in your genre.
  5. Ask a librarian.
  6. Attend author talks. Authors who write similar books sometimes mention other titles in the genre.
  7. Conduct searches on search engines.
  8. Research your reading and viewing history. If you have written a book that you would like to read, your own reading history may inform the types of titles readers like you prefer to read.
  9. List books that influenced you as a writer. If this influence informed your writing and helped shape the book you’ve written, you may have identified a comp title.
  10. List your favorite authors. If you feel certain your writing style is similar to one of those authors, you may have identified an audience of targeted readers who enjoy that writing style.
  11. List other stories that influenced you as you wrote your book; include films, television, plays, graphic novels, and more. If one of these storylines is comparable to the storyline you’ve written, you may have identified a comp title.
#ampublishing? #writingtip: 11 Resources for Finding Comp Titles. @KristiAustin #85K90 Click To Tweet

11 Details to Record About Your Comp Titles

  1. Title
  2. Author
  3. Publisher
  4. Publication date
  5. Category
  6. How you learned about this title
  7. Comparison to your book
  8. Agent
  9. Editor
  10. Cover designer, if listed
  11. Publicist, if listed

Take the time to write down your comp titles, and keep this list handy. You’ll add to it as more books are released or come to your attention. You’ll use it at every step of the publication and marketing process because comparable titles set pros apart from struggling amateurs.

11 Details to Record About Your Comp Titles @KristiAustin #writechat #amwriting #writerslife Click To TweetUse this Comparable Titles Spreadsheet to record your comp titles. @KristiAustin #ampublishing #querytip… Click To Tweet

Use this Comparable Titles Spreadsheet to record your comp titles:

Comparable Titles Spreadsheet in Google Drive: https://goo.gl/fH8WGk
To edit in Google Sheets, select File > Make a Copy.
To edit in Excel, select File > Download As.

We’ll return to your comparable titles next week so take a few minutes this week to start your list. I look forward to seeing you next week to talk about audience.

– Kristi

Additional Helpful Resources During the 60-Day Prep

About Kristi Tuck Austin

Kristi Tuck Austin waded New York City sewers, ran from trains, and slid through a water pipe to the Harlem River while researching her novels. She’s celebrated Thanksgiving in the Paris catacombs, hiking, crawling, wading (again), and dining by candlelight. In her daily life, which is dry and above ground, she’s founder of Tuck Austin Associates, a literary and media services company that helps authors connect with readers.

Did you know?

Kristi Tuck Austin answers reader-submitted questions about publishing, marketing, and the writing life in a once-monthly email delivered to her subscribers. It’s a Dear Abby for authors. Join the discussion at http://eepurl.com/cX1Li9.

As a member of the 85K Writing Challenge Editorial Board, Kristi Tuck Austin is a weekly contributor to the site during the 60-Day Prep cycle. Enjoy Kristi’s posts every Thursday throughout August and September. Connect with Kristi in our Forum and on Kristi Tuck Austin’s Member Profile Page on the 85K Writing Challenge. She’d love to hear about your comp title research!

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Julie Valerie

Julie Valerie

85K Writing Challenge: Embracing the writing life by advancing the practice of productive writing from first word to first reader.

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