Finding Your Book Twin

Unlocking Secrets to Comp Title Discovery

“What’s the comp title for this?” The number of times someone in publishing has heard this question is probably greater than the age of Earth (4.543 billion, or 6,000 for you Creationists out there). In self-publishing, it’s also encouraged to take this question seriously. And if you’re feeling skeptical about comparing your work to someone else’s, well just wait a second, we’ll get to that, too.

Agents, publishers, and editors use comp titles to figure out how to position their new book in the market.

Similarly, for an author, it can be incredibly useful for your book/baby’s publishing journey to do the same. It can help you determine the appropriate price, category, BISAC codes, ways to write book descriptions, and think about your cover design. No one can argue that getting a helping hand with all of these important decisions is super useful.

So, how to find appropriate comp titles for you?

Easy. Naturally, the temptation is to rely on plot: “So, it’s like, set in a dystopian world, and there’s this strong female protagonist who has to compete… .” But, more importantly — what’s the genre and tone of your book? What’s the voice?

When a reader finishes reading it, what book do you think (or hope) it will remind them of?

Next, make sure that the books you’re thinking of as comps are: a) attainable, b) recent, c) selling relatively well. Does your book feel just like the works of John Grisham of Stephen King? That’s cool, but very few authors get to the point of having endless bestsellers that go straight to number 1 based on their name alone. So, it’s not very useful to mold your metadata decisions around theirs. Anything published before 2005 (as a general rule) was published in a very different landscape than today — so also not that helpful. And that great read you found that’s sold only a couple hundred copies may be an underrated gem, but that’s also not going to show you what success looks like.

So, keeping all of this in mind, head to online retailers and look up a title. See what others have bought and what gets listed in the “You May Also Like” bit. Make note of their prices, how they’ve written their copy, if there is some similarity between your comp titles’ cover design, and use this as a guiding force for making decisions for your own book. If this doesn’t sound very scientific to you, don’t worry, it isn’t. And guaranteed, publishers are at their desk doing the very same thing.

Listen, we get it, every book is a unique snowflake; nothing can really be exactly like anything else (unless you’ve plagiarized, and if so then please go away). But remember, comp titles are not about plot, but tone, genre, and the feeling you get when you read something. And yes, sometimes relying on comp titles can be limiting, and they can reduce the desire to take risks and step outside of the box. If you’re feeling restricted by this, and still unconvinced of their necessity, then, what can I say? Go with your gut.

The beauty of ebooks and self publishing is, if your metadata isn’t doing for you what you want, then feel free to change things. Mix it up. And have fun with telling people your books are like Roxane Gay meets Elin Hilderbrand (wait, can someone please write that STAT?).