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Publishing 101: Comp Titles Demystified

Sometimes when you work in publishing, living and breathing it every day, it’s difficult to remember that the industry has its own language. For a business that revolves entirely around the written word, you’d think we’d be better at communicating what our own industry language means to outsiders! Comp titles are one of those things that, if you aren’t familiar with them, can be totally and completely confusing. What the heck are “comp titles?” What should authors use them for? What do editors use them for? WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE? I’ve got all the answers (at least about this, please don’t ask me too much about the meaning of life) below!

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What are comp titles?

“Comp titles” is shorthand for “comparison titles,” which are exactly what they sound like: previously published books that authors, agents, and editors use to compare their own books to. That’s it! Nothing mystical or mysterious about it!

How do editors use them?

Comp titles are SUPER IMPORTANT for editors, or, more accurately, sales. When editors “launch” a book, or set the publication process in motion, we have to provide several comp titles, and there are a lot of specific rules about how old they can be, whether they're books your publishing house has done or other houses have done, etc. Sales uses these when pitching your book to buyers—comp titles give them an idea of how many copies we think we might sell, but more importantly, how we plan on publishing this book, how we are going to focus the marketing , who the potential audience is, and all of that good stuff. It can be an extremely tedious job to find the right comp titles—I’ve spent hours pouring over catalogs to find just the right one—but if done right, it should be worth it!

What do authors use them for?

Most commonly, authors use comp titles in queries to agents. This helps the agent know what kind of book they’ll be getting if they request the full manuscript from the querying writer—it can often serve as a kind of shorthand for the plot, theme, or many other aspects of the book. “The intricate worldbuilding of Six of Crows meets the meet-cute romance of When Dimple Met Rishi,” for example. In query letters, you’ve only got a few hundred words to try and explain the masterpiece that is your book, so any shorthand you can take is useful! Using good comp titles also shows that an author knows who the audience for their book is—if you use a horror comp title for a manuscript that’s strictly romance, for example, it’s pretty clear that you don’t have a good vision for who will be buying your book! Good comp titles are incredibly important for both editors and authors, which brings me to...

How do I figure out which ones to use?!

Brittney Morris, author of the upcoming YA novel Slay, has a GENIUS thread on the three quick rules for finding the best comp titles:

She hits the nail right on the head here: RECENT, RELEVANT, and REALISTIC. This goes for both authors and editors, and is a quick and easy way to remember just what it takes to think of the right comp title! For editors, it’s especially important to pick something that has sold approximately the same number of copies you expect/hope to sell, as this sets a precedent for the sales team.

And that’s it! Are there any other weird, unfamiliar terms you hear thrown around in the writing community that you think “Everyone seems to know what that is, why do I not know what that is???” Let us know in the comments!

Author spotlight

Rachel D.

Growing up in rural Oregon, books were my way out. Now, books are my way of reconnecting with my home. …

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