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Publishing 101: How to Ace the Comp Title Game

You probably know by now that people in publishing love to abbreviate words. Publication date becomes “pub date.” The American Library Association becomes “ALA,” which stands not only for the organization itself but for the organization’s conferences. Subsidiary rights, or the rights we sell to audio publishers, book clubs, etc. become “subrights.”

It’s possible you’ve heard editors, agents, or authors talk about “comp titles” and think, “What’s a comp title?” So let’s break it down!

WHAT: A comp title is a “comparison title” that we use to think about what books are similar to each other. These books are usually published in the last few years, written for the same readership as our book (so, teen, for Swoon Reads), and share some essential element with our book (like genre, subject matter, tone). That doesn’t mean that comp titles have to be exactly like your book; we’re just looking for titles that share some of the same ingredients as the books we’re positioning.

WHY: Simply put, editors uses comp titles to help us figure out what else like this book is on the market. We’re an industry that looks at patterns, so if we want to publish a vampire book and can find a dozen other vampire books that have been published and sold well, those would serve as comp titles to help us make our case. We also use comp titles after a book is acquired to help our sales team understand where it fits in the market.

HOW: Every editor goes about looking for comp titles differently. Sometimes, I’ll go to a local bookstore and ask the bookseller what they’ve been selling in a specific genre, or for a specific age range. Sometimes I’ll scroll through pages of recently published books. Sometimes our sales department helps us out, because they know the breadth of our list best.

WHO: It’s the editor’s job to find comp titles, but we have a lot of help (see above!). The author can also help! I love when authors have a sense of what their book is similar to before I acquire it. That both helps me position the book correctly with my colleagues and clues me in to the fact that the author is savvy of the book market—a huge asset in the publishing process!

So what can you as an author do to help? Keep a close eye on the genre you’re writing in, read recently published books, and always be on the lookout for books that share some essential DNA with yours. And don’t only look for huge bestsellers; books that have gotten great reviews or a lot of buzz are often much more useful as comps than books that have been on the top of the bestseller list for months.

What are you dying to know about comp titles, or the publishing process in general? Tell us in the comments below!

Author spotlight

Kat Brzozowski

Native New Hampshirite. Broadway musical nerd. Work team softball slugger. Embroidery aficionado. I’m one part Ramona, one part the monkeys …

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