Every author’s work is unique. And yet, early in the publishing process, authors are often asked by agents or publishers to provide comparison (“comp”) titles. We asked Penguin Random House editorial, sales, and analytics teams why comp titles are important, what makes for a meaningful comp, and how to find them if you are asked.
What Are Comp Titles and Why Are They Useful?
Comparison (“comp”) titles are books that are similar to yours in one of two ways: Either the content is comparable or the sales trends are expected to be similar. For your publishing team, comp titles are extremely important. The comps help editors making acquisition decisions to figure out who and how big the audience might be for a specific title. Editors also look at the sales trajectories of comp titles: Will Book X be the type of book to backlist forever, like Book Y, or go strong out of the gate and then fade fast when the publicity dies down, like Book Z? Marketing teams also find comps useful when putting together marketing plans for individual titles.
Additionally, comp titles are essential for the sales group: They give the sales reps a good shorthand when selling in to retailers. Reps have only thirty seconds to pitch each book with some accounts. Being able to say “It’s like x and y” can be one of the most effective ways to get attention from the buyer and to set expectations about audience and ballpark sales potential.
While our publishing teams often add additional comp titles during the publishing process, it is immensely valuable for them to understand what comp titles you suggest, so you can align your expectations about framing and positioning early in the process.
What Makes a Good Comp Title?
Here are a few things to ask yourself when determining if your selection is a good one:
1. Is the title recent? (Within the last two or three years is ideal.)
2. Is the title the same format? (If your forthcoming book is hardcover, don’t use a trade paperback original as a comp.)
3. Will your book have the same target audience in terms of genre? (This is relatively easy to do if the book fits neatly into a category: literary fiction, commercial women’s fiction, mystery, thriller, or science fiction. It can be more complicated if a book does not fit neatly into one category: for example, if the book is both very literary and science fiction. In that case, it is ideal to find previous books that have straddled both audiences.)
4. Does your book have the same target audience in terms of demographics? (Don’t include a young adult title if the audience for your book is clearly on the adult side, for example.)
5. Is your comp realistic and believable? (Although it’s tempting to compare your work to a breakout bestseller, it’s more credible to choose a title with a typical sales path.)
6. Has your comp been successful . . . to a certain degree? (The book doesn’t have to—and usually shouldn’t—be a phenomenon, but it should at least be on the radar of accounts or on category bestseller lists. If a comp title is a perfect editorial match but a sales failure, it may set the expectations for your book too low.)
How to Find Comp Titles
There are a few different ways to find comp titles—reaching out locally, using online tools, and using bestseller lists are good places to start.
Reach Out to Your Local Bookseller or Librarian
If you don’t already have some clear comp titles in mind, consider asking your local independent booksellers or librarians for their advice. They could be helpful in identifying books in your category that are just below your radar—not household names but ones with reliable, solid appeal and recognition value from retailers. If your title straddles a few different categories or genres, booksellers or librarians could be a particularly valuable resource.
Online tools are ideal when you already have one good comp and are looking for others, or when you have an idea for a comp but want to improve on it.
Amazon and Barnes & Noble display a lot of sales data that can be useful for comps. Because people often buy similar items, especially when it comes to books, you can enter one title on their sites and look for the recommendations that appear under the following headers:
- “Customers who bought this also bought . . .” (Amazon and Barnes & Noble)
- “Frequently bought together” (Amazon)
- “What customers bought after viewing this” (Amazon)
Goodreads also has a discovery tool that you can use to find comps.You can create a new reading list using a few existing comps and ask the site to generate recommendations based on that, or you can request a recommendation by describing the features of the book you are looking for. (This can also be a good start if you don’t have any existing comps.)
Bestseller lists can come from media outlets like The New York Times and USA Today or from retailers (both larger chains and independent bookstores). Online retailers’ bestseller lists are often split by category—which will give you a lot more choices than national printed bestseller lists.
Books that appear for a week or a few weeks in hardcover and then return for a few weeks or longer in paperback are smarter picks than ones that stay on the lists for long periods. Good information on regional and specialty bestsellers alongside national bestsellers can be found on the American Booksellers Association website.
Andrea Bachofen is part of the Digital Publishing Development group.