Note: This is Part 2 of a two part series. See yesterday’s post for Part 1. We pick up where we left off yesterday….
Your First Comp
To find your first comp book, first find out what you’re
selling (genre and subgenre), then look at the bestseller list for that
genre. Don’t pick anything that hasn’t
been released yet. Click on a book, then
note the name of the publisher and whether they’re traditional, small press, or
indie; the publication date; the number of reviews; and the sales rank.
If you’re not sure whether the publisher is
traditional, small press, or indie, copy the publisher name and search for them
Look for a publication date of 2-3 years at
most. If you’re not sure whether the
date is the original publication date or just the date the book was uploaded to
Amazon (or whatever site you’re using), look up the same book on Goodreads,
which should list the original publication date (“first published XXXX”).
The number of reviews should be at least a
dozen, although more is better.
Indies can select books of any bestselling rank;
I would say that for people doing traditional or small press, don’t go above
the 2,000 ranking on Amazon.com (the US site)—some agents and editors get a
bajillion queries for “the next Harry Potter” and may be turned off by that,
where “the next Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris” might be perfect.
I would not pick anything under a 50,000 ranking
on Amazon.com for a comp.
I would not pick any book that is clearly on
sale; the sales rank will be temporarily skewed.
If you’re struggling, pick a bestselling book
that is somewhat close to your own and look at the “also boughts” or “sponsored
products” that are related to that book.
Anything that Amazon thinks will sell because you came to the Harry
Potter sales page may be a good comp for a book like Harry Potter. Looking at Goodreads lists with that
bestselling book in them can be helpful as well.
I would not pick anything related to a media
franchise. The marketing will be skewed
toward the movie, TV show, or video game; likewise, the sales rankings will be
artificially lifted by fans of the other media checking out the book.
Some subgenres, especially down in nonfiction book rankings,
can have lower sales ranks in general.
If your subgenre’s sales ranks don’t match the numbers I gave, I would
say that, roughly, don’t pick anything in the top 10 or under the top 50, if
Finding your first comp is the hardest! After that, you can leapfrog to other comp
books by searching for books like your first comp. Make sure your first comp is as good as you
can get it!
In our domestic suspense example, I skimmed through the
bestseller list and checked the following books:
by Emma Donoghue is a traditionally published book. The publisher is Back Bay Books, which I
googled and found was part of the Hachette Book Group (a large traditional
publisher). It has a movie out, and it
is more than 3 years old. The rank is in
the 8500s (which is fine). 5000+
reviews. Not on sale. Cannot use due to movie and age.
I Lie by Alice Feeney is a traditionally published book. The publisher is Flatiron Books, which I
googled and found was part of Macmillan Publishers (a large traditional
publisher). A TV series is in production
(which makes it multimedia). It was
published in 2018. The rank is in the
9500s. 722 reviews. Not on sale. Cannot use due to TV series.
Always the Husband by Michele Campbell is a traditionally published
book, published by a subdivision of Macmillan.
I can’t find any related multimedia. It was originally published in
2017. The rank is in the 10,000s. 527 reviews.
Not on sale. We can use this!
Scrolling down to the “also bought” section of the It’s Always the Husband page, I can see
several other titles that might work. With
some effort, I picked out:
Lies by Lucy Dawson. (Small press, no multimedia, 14,000s sales
rank, not on sale, 253 reviews, published 2018.)
Ex-Wife by Jess Rider. (Small press, no multimedia, 31,000s sales
rank, not on sale, 380 reviews, published 2018).
Me Disappear by Janelle Brown. (Trad press, movie options sold but
no movie in the works [this is okay for our purposes], 22,000s sales rank, not
on sale, 402 reviews, published 2017.)
Liar’s Wife by Samantha Hayes.
(Small press, no multimedia, 9000s sales rank, not on sale, 125 reviews,
Some notes: The
sales ranking between print and ebook will vary. If you’re aiming for traditional publishing,
look for print sales ranks; if you’re aiming for indie, go with ebook. But, really, if a book hits a decent ranking
on either print or ebook, it’s probably fine.
Some websites, Amazon especially, tries to make
everything look like it’s on sale when it’s not. If it’s $3.99 US or over on the ebook, just
assume it’s not on sale—although traditional publishers’ ebooks will usually be
$9.99 to $12.99 US.
We now have our five comps!
What to Do with Your
Now that you have comps, you have a wealth of options:
Pick out similarities between titles to use when
titling your book.
Pick out similarities between covers and use them
for your book cover, especially when sending instructions to a cover
Study their book descriptions for hints and
tricks. (But, beware: book descriptions
are often terrible, even on successful books.
Consult The Copywriter’s Handbook
for copywriting tips.)
See what categories the books are in and use for
additional sales categories for your book.
Use alternate categories as keywords.
Use comps to find ad keywords.
Look up the authors online and see how they are
marketing themselves via their websites, newsletters, and social media
accounts. (Again, caution; sometimes authors are terrible at this.)
Find out (on Goodreads, for example) who is
reading those books so you can start working out your audience.
Comps in a Query
In a query letter, you may want to only mention the top one
or two comps that you’ve chosen; however, if you are including a book marketing
plan for your book (which is beyond the scope of this article), you can include
all of your comps as data points.
Marketing is a separate skill from writing an actual book,
but it can still play into your writing.
Understanding your audience is never a bad thing.
But let me stress that you don’t need to start with your
marketing before you start writing. It
is perfectly okay to write that one weird book that doesn’t seem to fit in
anywhere. You will find comps. They won’t
be perfect, but they’ll help you get away with writing what you really want to
On the other hand, if you’re stuck for ideas, starting with a book you enjoyed is not a bad way to start brainstorming…
DeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.