Monday, July 1, 2024

Looking for Comp Titles Catching Up with a Whole Genre by Adrienne Miles


When it comes time to submit a manuscript for representation or publication, agents and publishers need to know where it fits among all the books that are currently being published. One bit of shorthand for this is a list of comparison titles, or “comps.”

Fair enough. That said, filling a box on a query form labeled "List some books that are similar to yours. (500 characters or less)" can be daunting to the uninitiated. Speculative fiction is only part of what I read, and for most of my adult life, my reading hours have been limited by, well, life.

What to do? I thought hard, perused Writer’s Digest’s gargantuan array of information and instruction, thumbed through several books, researched online, and pored over awards lists. I consulted the most recent Locus Recommended Reading List (—which is awesome, by the way, for finding reading material. I found a zillion new favorite authors but no comps—at least nothing matchy-matchy, which is probably a good thing. But what was I supposed to type in that dratted rectangle on the query forms?

I started making headway at answering this question when I found the podcast, The Shit No One Tells You About Writing, whose delightful presenters critique real query letters submitted by listeners and often feature a guest speaker once the critiques are done. They have a Substack, too.

Then I discovered more agents who are actively demystifying the publishing process. I almost tripped over the Short Fuse Guides from Fuse Literary when researching agents to query. I sprang for the paid version of Kate McKean’s Substack, Agents and Books, when I read her post, “Don’t Be Dr. Frankenstein,” about comp titles because not only did that post answer my questions about comps, I learn something new every time she posts.

I learned some more at the Las Vegas Writers Conference in April 2023. They had an entire track on what to do with a finished manuscript.

One common thread running through almost all the advice I read or listened to was the recommendation to ask for help from a librarian to build a list of potential comparison titles. Then start reading. You want to make sure that the titles that look like comps actually are.

Duh. I’m a retired librarian; I have done reader advisory interviews by the bucketful. The tools for finding “readalikes” have not changed much since I retired, so I dug in.

First I did the lazy thing. I went to Goodreads, selected books that came close, and went to the “Readers Also Enjoyed” display at the foot of the screen. This can be tricky because that list appears to be a list of other books that people who clicked on your target book also clicked on. I’m not the only person in the universe with eclectic taste in literature. But once you’re in the ballpark, eliminating the obvious duds is pretty simple. Amazon and Overdrive have similar services; the same caveats apply. I also had a great time on, looking for books my favorite authors recommend.

As I plowed through the lists, it occurred to me that looking for comp titles is a little like networking. The best networking is rarely focused; it happens when you live your life and pay attention to the people around you. With that in mind, I added titles to my to-be-read list that may or may not be comps but I think I’ll enjoy reading.

Then I went into librarian mode and dived into some databases my local public library makes available: Books and Authors, Literature Resource Center, Novelist, and WorldCat. Most aren’t free, but many public libraries offer free access for library card holders.

The gold standard for reader advisory, though, is finding somebody who knows the genre inside and out. Somebody like the sweet, motherly children’s librarian where I used to work. She was our resident authority on true crime books.

But wait! My local library lists a resource called Your Next Great Read in alphabetical order on its web page, right after WorldCat. It’s their own form. Fill it out with the names of books and authors close to what you seek, give them your email address and library card number, press submit, and it’ll be in the librarians’ inbox.

You bet I filled that form out. Sure enough, a living, breathing librarian sent me a list of authors to try. While some on the list are familiar, many are new to me and I can’t wait to read their work. 

If you are looking for me, I’ll have my nose in a book. I am re-learning the genre inside and out.

Adrienne Bengtson, who writes science fantasy as Adrienne Miles, picked back up her lifelong interest in writing after retiring from the U.S. Air Force and a 25- year career as a librarian. She is getting ready to publish her debut novel, Spider’s Wyrd, with Brick Cave Media later this year. In addition to reading and writing, she enjoys travel, hiking, fiber arts, and doting on her daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren. She plays Celtic traditional music on the penny whistle and keyless flute, and sometimes plays the great Highland bagpipes in public. She lives in Mesa with her husband and their cats. For more:

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