Looking at comparative titles, or comp titles, is a great way to understand the market potential of a book project. To put it simply, a comp title is an already published book that has shared sales, genre, and marketing qualities to a developing manuscript that hasn’t been released yet. We use comp titles in publishing because they contextualize the future of an acquired manuscript by giving us information on how similar books performed, and they also help us strategize our marketing efforts as a project goes through the publishing process. But what makes a good comp title?
Start with genre: The first step to finding a solid comp title is finding books that are directly related to your book by genre. A YA book like The Ocean in My Ears should be compared with other young adult titles, and not, say, a science fiction or fantasy novel. For example, a book like The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock works well as a comp title, because it has similar genre attributes to Macvie’s book.
Understand your book’s themes: The next step to evaluating a manuscript is looking at its content. If you were working on a coming-of-age YA novel like The Ocean in My Ears, you would want to find a title with similar themes, much like you would with your genre. Again, The Smell of Other People’s Houses is a good marketing comp for The Ocean in My Ears because it takes place in Alaska, and also has coming-of-age themes that echo those in Macvie’s book
Pay attention to release dates: The general rule here is to find a comp title that’s three to five years older than the release of your book. Using a comp title published ten years ago won’t tell you much about how your book project will do today. Comping a recently released book with your own project will provide you with tons of information on how to market your book going forward. The Smell of Other People’s Houses continues to be a good comp title for The Ocean in My Ears because both books were released a little over a year from each other.
Look at what reviewers are saying about your genre: Reviewers writing about similar books to yours will tell you a lot about positioning. Journalists writing about The Smell of Other People’s Houses might be interested in books like The Ocean in My Ears because those two books share similar themes. Looking at reviews also forecasts critical reception for your book project, which tells you about current critical trends.
Making a comp list of fifteen to twenty books that are similar to your project provides information on book pricing, formatting, and sales potential, contextualizes publicity efforts, and provides excellent marketing information on how to brand a book holistically. Once you’ve found a list of books you can compare your title with, use that list to inform your book project’s future.