Looking for comparative or comp titles for your manuscript can sometimes seem counterproductive. Editors are looking for unique books and if you are able to provide a list of books just like yours, then how can you argue that your book is original?
If you can find piles of books just like yours in tone, character, plot, theme and narrative quality then perhaps your manuscript lacks that special original spark. The hunt for comp titles can help you assess the originality of your work. No sense wasting time and energy revising and submitting a manuscript that will fall short of publication because editors will say it already sits on the shelf.
But, beware. Readers will always crave books on certain topics and if you have added your own twist and voice to the manuscript, then your manuscript will be unique. See my blog http://www.24carrotwriting.com/-blog/find-your-own-bear for a discussion on originality. The trick with creating fresh manuscripts and finding comp titles is to locate books that share one common thread with your manuscript rather than the entire knitted fabric.
When searching for comp titles consider the following hunting tactics:
- Character: Look for books that have a main character that would be best friends with your main character or for whom your MC shares major traits or flaws. For example, it could be argued that Katniss Everdeen would be best friends with Han Solo, and that Bruce from Ryan Higgins’ Mother Bruce and Mike from Michelle Knudsen’s Big Mean Mike would be best buddies. However Star Wars and The Hunger Games, while comparable, are very different stories. And while both Bruce and Mike share similar qualities and themes that make them comparable, the plot and humor found in those stories are original.
- Theme: Is your story about perseverance, confidence or bullies? Look for books that handle the same topic explored in your manuscript but with a different tone, delivery, and plot. For example, The Book of Mistakes and Tyrannosaurus Rex vs. Edna both present themes of confidence, however one uses lyrical language and a gentle plot while the other uses humor and an active plot. Similarly, The Big Bed and In Your Hands are both stories that revolve around the child/parent relationship. However, The Big Bed uses humor and a spunky main character while In Your Hands uses lyrical language and heartstring tugging text. These manuscripts are thematically similar and, as a result, are comparable titles, but they are still unique.
- Style: Perhaps your manuscript uses rhyme, humor, or Meta to deliver the story. Josh Funk’s Albie Newton uses a fun rhyme and a capable and determined main character to present a science-centered theme about imagination and creation, while Ashley Spires’ The Most Magnificent Thing presents an imagination themed main character using a narrative style. Both share similar themes and Albie and Spires’ main characters would be pals, but Funk and Spires use totally different writing techniques. Clearly the two books are both comparable and unique.
It is important to know what you are looking for when you set out to find comp titles, but it is also helpful to know where to look. The best spots to find those elusive comp titles include:
- Advice from Crit Partners: Sometimes a reader who can take a step back from your manuscript is a fabulous resource when searching out comp titles. Take advantage of the reading knowledge your writing buddies can offer and share your own suggestions on their manuscripts
- Librarians & Booksellers: These folks are trained to offer advice on finding titles that match a reader’s taste and topic desire. Ask “Do you have any picture books with a quiet character searching for confidence?” or even more simply “Do you have any humorous picture books about trucks?”.
- Internet Searches: Type in searches like “picture books about sharks” and you will be amazed at the lists that pop-up. Amazon, to Goodreads, to wonderful blog posts titled “25 Best Kid Books About Sharks” will have you running to the bookstore or library finding great comp titles.
- You!: Read and read heavily in your genre. You will accumulate, in the most fun way, the best catalog of comp titles when you keep track of the books you have read and enjoyed. I like to manage my own reading list in Goodreads (see my blog post use-goodreads-to-build-your-virtual-library.html). Whether in Goodreads, in a spreadsheet, or on notecards, build your own comp library with shelves and topic headers that read “picture books about snow”, “picture books about confidence”, or “picture books about girl power”. Those personal lists become gold mines when searching for comp titles.
You’ll be glad you did!