Thursday, 14 March 2013

Picking the Right Comparators

Whether you're writing a query, a pitch, or a blurb, picking the right comparators for your novel can be tricky. But if you get it right, it can be really effective.

There are two reasons for this: firstly, it can it can help an agent/editor/whoever mentally place your novel in the publishing market, and shows you know your shiz. Secondly, it'll set up your story, and help whoever's reading it to know something about the content/tone before they start. An example of how each of these works...

Place in the market

"My novel will appeal to fans of THIS IS NOT A TEST by Courtney Summers and UNWIND by Neal Shusterman."

Now, one is a zombie novel about a group of teens who spend a large portion of the story trapped inside a school, trying to survive. The other is a dystopian story about three teens in very different situations who face being 'unwound' - a process by which their body parts are essentially recycled while they're alive. OK, so they're both SF (I know some will argue that zombies aren't SF, but if the reason behind the zombification is medical or a bio-weapon or some other kind of science, then I'm holding your stare and kicking you under the table) but otherwise pretty different.

So how does this help place your story?

Well, there are common themes: fight for survival, dealing with death, betrayal. There is also a similar tone, in my opinion: dark, with a frantic pace. So while these two novels may not at first glance be all that similar, they will help to give an idea of where you see your novel sitting in the bookstore, what themes you might be tackling, what the tone of your story is like. It also shows that you haven't just randomly picked 2 or 3 stories about zombies as your comparators. THIS IS NOT A TEST by Courtney Summers, ASHES by Ilsa J Bick, and THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH by Carrie Ryan are all zombie stories, but really very different in every other way. Setting, characterisation, pace, tone. Listing these as your comparators would look more like you'd googled a list of zombie stories and picked the 3 titles which stood out most.

Do your reading. Read within your genre, of course, but read outside of it too - especially the books which are really making an impact, the 'breakout' novels. If you want to stand out in the market, you need to know what you're standing up against first.

Setting up your story

"PRIDE AND PREJUDICE in space."

"ALICE IN WONDERLAND meets TANK GIRL."

"A modern retelling of GONE WITH THE WIND, set in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina."

These one-liners (awful as they may be) tell you a lot about the story in very few words, so can be really effective in a short pitch, or in the intro/summary of your query.

One more thing...

Don't just go for the big boys

"My novel will appeal to fans of HARRY POTTER, TWILIGHT and CODE NAME VERITY."

"My novel is THE HUNGER GAMES meets WARM BODIES with a side of BEAUTIFUL CREATURES."

Really? Just...really?

Again, you want to show that you know the market and your genre, so aim for the stars - but make sure they're the right stars. Do your research, and find the RIGHT books to compare yours to.



Think comparators are useful? Do you use them in your queries/pitches? Please share your thoughts :) 


10 comments:

  1. I think I may finally be succeeding in conveying what my novel "is" but still have nothing for what it's "like". I know comparisons would be valuable. I wish I had some for the YA Sci-fi I'm currently querying.

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    1. Could you compare it to a novel where you think its fans could become YOUR fans? It wouldn't even need to be strictly the same genre (although a close relation would make sense). If there's a novel you feel has the same tone, addresses similar themes, is set in a world like your novel's, then maybe you could use that?

      If you can't think of any, how about asking your betas/CPs whether they have any suggestions? They might have read a killer comparator :)

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  2. I worry about using comparisons in a query because (a) not all agents like them (b) if I choose bestselling books I worry it'll come off as bragging, and (c) what if the agent doesn't like one of the books I'm comparing mine to? Having said which, I totally see how useful they can be. So I'm a bit torn.

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    1. Excellent points :)

      (a) Yup, you're absolutely right. Not all agents like them, but that's not always something you can know before querying them. Sometimes an agent will mention this in their sub guidelines or blog, but not always. I doubt whether an agent would 'mark you down' for using them well, though.

      (b) I worried about that too when querying, and will admit that I avoided the bestsellers. I'd suggest something mid-range, if you're uncertain (something which found a big publisher, but where the author doesn't now live in a castle.) If you choose something a little out of left field, it's also going to show you've read more widely than just the top 10.

      (c) True, an agent might not like a book you've compared yours to. Or they might love it. Would NOT liking the comparator stop them reading your query and sample pages? I doubt it, although I could be wrong ;)

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  3. I have been struggling with this because the best comparators I have are all big names and it feels like bragging to include them. I will see if I can find some other names like you've suggested. Thanks for the blog on the subject!

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    1. Glad you found it useful, and good luck coming up with your comparators :)

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  4. I'm using A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass, mixes with A Wrinkle in TIme and The Goonies....for my upper MG. But more as in, readers of, will enjoy those same elements in my MS. Here's to hooking. thanks for this post, Kat.

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    1. Here's to hooking indeed! ;) Thanks Karen.

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  5. For one book I've since decided to e-publish (way too long for most current agents' taste), I listed the books that influenced me to write it or that it was similar to. For a couple of others, I might've said they were similar to some other long historicals, like The Winds of War or The Invisible Bridge.

    I know this is the one comparison everyone tells you NOT to make, but I really think it would be accurate to say my first Russian historical is like GWTW set during the Russian Civil War and 1920s Manhattan. I can also see a possible comparison to Forever Amber, though I'm not sure if any agents today would even be familiar with that book, or some of the others I've compared to.

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    1. You make a great point - listing your influences when you're self-publishing can give readers a better insight into what inspired you as a writer, and I think that's always interesting to know.

      I think if you use such a huge comparator as GWTW, you need a really interesting slant to it - and it sounds like you have that!

      Thanks for commenting, Carrie-Ann :)

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