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."
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 :)