We in the publishing industry like to think the books we publish change lives. It’s why we do what we do. However, there’s another aspect of the industry we must pay attention to: money.
Before we publish a title, we must determine if it will actually sell; to do that, we need to compare the upcoming title with similar books that are already on the market. That’s where comparative (comp) titles come in. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to use A Series of Small Maneuvers by Eliot Treichel as an example. This novel, which follows a fifteen-year-old girl who must fight for survival after a canoe trip goes awry, was published by Ooligan Press. (It is currently a finalist for the 2017 Oregon Book Award for Young Adult Literature.)
- Determine the most important details. As you search for comp titles, you must keep basic information about your book at the front of your mind. Having this information handy will make it much easier to find similar titles. Here are a few details to consider:
- Author fame (e.g., debut author vs. best-selling author)
- Form (e.g., poems, short stories, etc.)
- Number of pages
- Themes (e.g., coming-of-age, dealing with grief, etc.)
- Paperback vs. hardcover
- Target audience (e.g., young women aged 15–19)
- Publisher size (e.g., Big Five vs. independent publisher)
- Determine which items are likely to be chief selling points. With A Series of Small Maneuvers (henceforth SSM), the most important details are that it’s a young adult novel and it deals with themes of death, grief, survival, and family. The young female protagonist and outdoorsy setting could also help narrow the field.
- Use Amazon’s “advanced search” feature.
With the chief selling points in mind, it’s time to head to Amazon. There, you can use the vast ocean of data and titles to zero in on books that are the most like yours. The advanced search function is a good place to start. Simply go to the books department and click “advanced search.” Then, type in a few keywords that are likely to produce results—something like “death, survival, outdoors.” I can also limit the search to teen novels, as well as books published within the last four years or so. For a clear picture of today’s market, it’s important to select relatively recent comp titles.
4. Browse Amazon’s categories and subcategories.