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Using Comparative Titles in Your Query Letter by Mary Kole and Book Giveaway

Happy Wednesday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have Mary Kole here to share a fantastic guest post about using comparative titles in your query letter. Agents want writers to include comp titles, but it can be challenging to come up with the right ones. I know I struggle with this.

Mary shares some great tips on how to come up with them. I’m hosting a giveaway of one of her books to say thanks to her for sharing her great advice today.

Now here’s Mary!

Using Comparative Titles in Your Query Letter

Comparative titles—or comp titles—are an important part of the query and submission process for writers in any category, from fiction to picture book to memoir to nonfiction (where deep analysis of your competition is actually expected!). A lot of writers put a great deal of attention on this element—and it generates a lot of anxiety. I’m here to put comp titles into perspective and offer some suggested best practices.

 First, if you don’t have comparative titles for your project, I would recommend generating at least one or two. You can do the “meets” comparison or you can just talk about them. You’ll see some examples below. Generally speaking, what makes for a great comp title? The books you choose should be: 

·       Recent: Curate books that have been published within the last three or four years. If you choose one classic book in your comparison, balance that with a recent release.

·       Aligned: The comp should represent your book in some way, whether with a character or plot element, voice or writing style, premise, genre, or audience. That being said, it’s not unheard of to pull from a different realm—like film and TV.

·       Within Reach: Avoid naming obvious bestsellers, as your comparison of your work to Harry Potter will communicate distorted expectations of the market to the agent or publisher. If you do end up choosing a very familiar comp title, balance it with something more niche or obscure.

Yes, comp titles have gained focus in publishing circles. But they don’t have to be intimidating. You’re allowed to have fun with them. You can also choose certain elements of books, even if the title is not in the same genre or written for the same audience. For example, if you have written a science fiction story featuring an unreliable narrator who is building battle mechs on Mars, you might call it “The Iron Widow meets Before Mars”. Both books are recent. The former is a YA smash-the-patriarchy blowout, the latter is a story for adult readers with an element of psychological suspense. This hits upon the sci-fi mechs element, a psychological suspense plot, as well as the Mars setting.

Is this hypothetical mash-up of the two projects a perfect portrait of the book I’m pitching? No. The perfect comp title combination that hits upon each element of your project doesn’t exist. You should use comparative titles to get as close to approximating your project as possible.

Sometimes, that means highlighting elements from works if your comps aren’t exact. For example, you can pitch a sapphic contemporary romance with a snappy voice and real-world issues at its heart as having “the self-sabotaging romantic tension of The Falling in Love Montage combined with the poignant emotional exploration of We Are Okay.” Here, I’ve chosen specific elements from each of the two novels to call attention to. As I do so, I am pitching that the project has romantic tension and is emotional, rather than a light and breezy rom com.

You can also identify authors whose styles are similar to yours. For example, if you have a nonfiction project that explores the hidden economies of the food chain, you might pitch it as “a work for fans of Malcolm Gladwell and Michael Pollan.”

Think of using this sentence in your query—and yes, that’s really all it is … one sentence in a one-page cover letter—to send a signal to the agent or publisher. That signal is that you have done your research, you understand where your project might fit, and you have clear eyes when it comes to how you see yourself and your work.

To be perfectly honest, there’s a chance that the agent or publisher reviewing your query hasn’t been reading current releases. They might not even understand the references you’re making. You cannot anticipate all reactions to your story, your query, and your comps. Therefore, you need to do the best you can and use this element to bolster your query. But don’t stress over it or give it too much of your focus.

Comparative titles, when done thoughtfully and intentionally, will communicate the elements of your project that you believe are important to highlight. That is the real point behind this exercise. Solid comps can also demonstrate that you have a sense of the market and that you are well-versed in what’s happening on shelves today. However, it’s very unlikely that comparative titles will make or break your query letter.

Happy submitting, and happy reading—let your comp title research be a fun reminder to read in and outside of your category and keep an eye on the current market. It’s all part of being a writer on submission!

Former literary agent Mary Kole founded Mary Kole Editorial in 2013 and provides consulting and developmental editing services to writers of all categories and genres, working on children’s book projects from picture book to young adult, and all kinds of trade market literature, including fantasy, sci-fi, romance, and memoir. She founded Good Story Company in 2019 with the aim of providing valuable content—like the Good Story Podcast, Story Mastermind, and Good Story Learning—to writers of all categories and ability levels. In 2020, she partnered with literary agent John Cusick to create Upswell Media, an intellectual property company which develops compelling modern middle grade and young adult properties for today’s diverse and dynamic publishing marketplace. She also provides select ghostwriting and done-for-you revision services at Manuscript Studio.

She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and has worked at Chronicle Books, the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and Movable Type Management. She has been blogging at Kidlit.com since 2009. Her book, Writing Irresistible Kidlit, a writing reference guide for middle grade and young adult writers, is available from Writer's Digest Books/Penguin Random House. Mary has appeared at regional, national, and international SCBWI conferences, as well as independent conferences including Writer's Digest, Penn Writers, Writer's League of Texas, San Francisco Writers Conference, WIFYR, Writing Day, and dozens of others. She has guest lectured at Harvard Extension, the Ringling College of Art and Design, the Highlights Foundation, and the Loft, and her classes can be found online at Writing Mastery Academy, Writing Blueprints, Udemy, and LinkedIn Learning.

You can find Mary at:

Company: https://goodstorycompany.com

Editing: https://marykole.com

Blog: https://kidlit.com

Facebook: https://facebook.com/goodstoryco

Facebook: https://facebook.com/marykoleeditorial/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/goodstoryco

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kid_lit

Instagram: https://instagram.com/goodstorycompany

YouTube: http://bit.ly/ytgoodstory

Podcast: https://goodstorypodcast.com

Book: http://bit.ly/kolekidlit

Upswell Media: https://upswellmedia.com

Giveaway Details

Mary is offering followers of Literary Rambles a $25 discount of $400 or more of services.

I’m offering a giveaway of one of Mary’s books: Writing Irresistible Kidlit or Successful Query Letters, winner’s choice. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment telling me which book you want by April 30th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This giveaway is U.S.

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Saturday, April 16th I’m participating in the Raindrops on Roses Giveaway Hop

Monday, April 18th I have an agent/debut author guest post with Andrea Somberg and Carolyn Tara O’Neil and a giveaway of Carolyn’s YA historical fiction Daughters of a Dead Empire and a query critique by Andrea

Monday, April 25th I have a guest post by debut author Christina Matula with a giveaway of her MG contemporary The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei

Wednesday, May 4th I have an interview with debut author Betty Yee and a giveaway of her YA historical Gold Mountain

Monday, May 9th I have an agent spotlight interview with Jennifer Unter and a query critique giveaway

Hope to see you on Saturday!







Cristina Raymer said...

Thanks for this extremely helpful interview! I would love a copy of Writing Irresistable Kidlit. Thanks for the opportunity!

I also shared on Twitter and follow

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That was helpful! And it's all right to pull from films as well?

Liz A. said...

I kind of just want to skip the comp part of the query. As I'm very far from being there anyway, I'll continue to stick my head in the sand. Good explanation, though.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Wow! Mary Kole is everywhere with her amazing advice!

Melissa Miles said...

Hi Natalie, this was so helpful! I'd love a chance to win a copy of Writing Irresistible Kidlit! Thanks!

Science Writer said...

Thanks so much for this helpful article! I would love to have her book on query letters!!

Eileen said...

Thank you so much! Finding recent comps really has been a challenge. I've got one so far...
This advice is so helpful!
I would love a copy of Writing Irresistible Kidlit!

Computer Tutor said...

I appreciate hearing your take on comp titles. As a writer, if feels like I'm trying to compare my writing to the greatness of the authors I mention, but--thankfully--agents don't see it that way. I write prehistoric fiction and in no way think I compare to Jean Auel!

Danielle H. said...

Thank you for the comp title tips--I enjoyed the details about how to find them as well as what aspects of my story I can focus on with comp titles. I follow Natalie on Twitter and shared: https://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/681520836259217408/using-comparative-titles-in-your-query-letter-by

Gwen Gardner said...

Thanks for the comp tips!

Joyce Ray said...

Thank you so much! Mary's advice on comp titles is much needed.I know I spend way too much time researching to find just the right titles. This article is a big help. I'd love a chance to win Writing Irresistible Kidlit. joyce@joyceraybooks.com

Sandra Cox said...

Interesting. I wouldn't have thought about comparative titles.
Happy Easter.

Biz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Biz said...

Great interview! The comp nut is such a hard one to crack. Please sign me up for your giveaway. I would love a copy of "Writing Irresistible Kidlit".. thank you!
I follow you and tweeted about the contest: https://twitter.com/BizHanson/status/1515348171605614596.
My email is: elizabethchestney@gmail.com

Nancy P said...

I would LOVE to win the KidLit book. positive.ideas.4youATgmail.com

momo said...

Love this! I shared on twitter too@June
Using Comparative Titles in Your Query Letter by Mary Kole and Book Giveaway http://literaryrambles.com/2022/04/using-comparative-titles-in-your-query.html via

Angie Quantrell said...

The ever allusive comp titles! I'm still struggling with this, but each time I discover great comp titles, I'm so excited. Thanks, Mary!

I would love Writing Irresistible Kidlit!

I follow by email at angelecolline at yahoo dot com

Leela said...

I'm an email subscriber.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Entering a comment for Diane Englert to enter her in the contest. dianeenglert@me.com