The Best Guide to Comp Books and Why You Need to Know Them

If you’ve ever gone to submit your story anywhere, you may have come across the question: what are your comp books? Which normally leads to this question: what is a comp book?

Comp books are essential to pitching your book and overall marketing, so it’s important to know what they are upfront. Here’s the best guide to help you understand them so you can find your own for your story.

Comp Books for Your Story | The Ultimate Guide to Comps and When to use them

The Best Guide to Comp Books and Why You Need to Know Them:

What is a Comp Book?

The basic definition of a comp book is something that already exists in the marketplace in which you can compare to your story. There are two types of ways to list your comps:

  1. Those that would sit on the same shelf as your book. These comp books have the same target reader.
  2. Those that have a similar topic to yours. These you would compare to your book, but say how yours is different.

What’s the difference? And how do you know which type to use?

Now that you know the two different kinds of comp books, it’s important to know when to use them. I go through a process every time I have a new book idea that helps me find comp books for my story. Here are the steps I take:

1 – Start by researching similar concepts/ideas.

Whenever you have a new story idea, it’s important to make sure it doesn’t already exist. And if it does exist, that your idea is at least different enough to make it worth pursuing.

You do this by Googling or searching Amazon for books that talk about a similar topic as yours. My opinion is that if I can’t search it, then it doesn’t matter enough to change my mind. (Meaning if a book does exist but you can’t find it, chances are your readers won’t be able to either, so you’re free to write about that topic!)

Any books you find during your search that are similar to your story idea would be considered comps. Those are the ones you want to find at the library or bookstore and read before you write.

It will give you an idea of what’s been previously published about the topic, what publishes are familiar with, and what readers have learned to expect.

If any of these books are notable (well-known by title or on a certain publisher’s list) then they’re important to mention them in the query letter. You would say my story is like ‘X’ book but this makes it different.

The difference part is key to helping a publisher or agent see that there’s enough of a twist to make it fresh to the readers and more marketable.

Kidlit Writer's Starter Kit | Your guide to help you write a children's book

2 – Next, read popular books in your genre that readers will have already read or are currently reading.

Sometimes when you’re submitting your story, to agents especially, they will have a fillable form for you to fill out instead of a query. And one of the questions will be what are your comp books.

This type of comp book is meant to be the other books your story would be shelved with. Or the types of books that share a similar target reader to your book and already are popular in the marketplace.

These can be a bit more ambiguous.

For instance, if you’re writing a YA fantasy that stems from a fairy tale slant, you could list possible comps like Cinder by Marissa Meyer or A Court of Thorns & Roses by Sarah J. Maas.

Or if you’re writing a middle grade book about middle school woes, you could reference the Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell or Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. However, if your book also tells the story from your main character’s diary then these comps would fall in the top section.

3 – Make sure the stories are well-known enough, but not necessarily international best-sellers.

No matter how amazing your book is, it’s never a good idea to compare it to one of the top-selling books of all time. Like Harry Potter.

A – that’s going to set super high expectations that your story might not be able to exceed, even though you’ve written a truly good story. B – it can come across as amateurish and cocky. Which are two impressions you don’t want to instill when you’re trying to convince someone to buy your book.

However, you can get away with referencing a top-selling book when it truly fits your story as a comp. For instance, the series The Selection by Kiera Cass can be pitched as the Hunger Games meets the Bachelor. Even though the Hunger Games is a HUGE book, it totally works as a comp in this situation.

Finding comp books doesn’t have to be like finding a needle in a haystack. In fact, they’re pretty easy to find if you know what you’re looking for. Be sure to follow the steps in this guide as you begin to look for books to compare to your story.

Then use them properly as you’re submitting to agents and publishing houses.

And for more help with understanding your target reader and the value of comp books, check out these other articles around the blog:

Help Finding Comp Books for Your Story!

Download the free children's book template

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