Comps are about organization. Not yours, but the publishing company’s and the book store’s. It answers the practical question: Where am I going to put this book in my store? Under thrillers? Christian fiction? Literary fiction? Dystopian fiction? Fantasy? Sci-Fi? Historical? And the publisher needs to know how to pitch it to the retailers so the retailers have an idea of how they will market it.
Finding your book’s home – not an easy proposition
What if your Christian fiction is a thriller, like Frank Peretti’s novels with real demons? Would it live in the Christian book section or the thriller section?
Or what if, instead of man against demons, you prefer man against man (or governments)? I’m a huge fan of Joel C. Rosenberg and am currently reading the Kremlin Conspiracy. I would call Rosenberg a Christian writer because there a thread of faith that runs through his work, but it does not drive the novel. An Israeli citizen and a Messianic Jew himself, he is an expert in mid-east affairs and hobnobs with government officials. His novels are page turning thrillers set in the mid-east and based on his extensive knowledge of current events. But his characters are strongly developed to the degree the book leans into the literary category. (I attribute my current insomnia to his cliff-hanging chapters.)
Or what if your Amish heroine falls in love with a tall, dark, handsome Baptist? Christian novel or romance?
Have you ever read a book description that reads something like, “Stephen King meets Jerry Jenkins”? The statement is meant to give the potential reader an idea of the kind of writing they can expect, especially if you are a fan of either writer. As far as I’m concerned, “________ meets __________” has become a cliché. Yet the concept is unavoidable because the buyers (publishers and retailers) are not going to do the work for you. The author must be able to identify his/her book’s category and pitch it appropriately. In a letter to pitch my book to a publishing house, I would need to have some version of _______meets________ at the very beginning, and that is called “comps. To what other books is mine comparable to? At first, we authors want to reply, “Comparable to nothing ever written! That’s why it’s such a one of a kind work of art!” (A guaranteed way to be sure your manuscript lands in the circular file.)
Finding books that are comparable to yours is really a fun assignment. It mandates you do your favorite thing—read a bunch of books in your genre. “Bunch” means enough so you could list several books like yours (without the “meeting” cliché) in your letter to the agent or publisher.
I found the easiest way is to use Amazon’s Advanced Search on the left of its home page. Enter keywords (what is your book about? Divine Meddler has many elements, but redemption is a key one.) Scrolling down to the “subject” box I selected Religion and Spirituality. After making a list of potential comps by reading the blurbs of the books in that category, I then re-entered “redemption” under Literature and Fiction and selected a list from those.
I scrolled through my local library’s catalogue for the books on my list and read the (quite a few) that the library has. Out of those, I got a handful that I thought met the “comp” bill for my purposes. (Actually, my closest comp was not a book, but the movie, Shawshank Redemption)
Writers are Readers
Since this process takes more than a minute, it’s best to start reading potential comps long before you are ready to submit your manuscript. It’s like saying, “I’m sorry, but you must eat this cake now.” I don’t think that’s a burden for authors. Good writers are avid readers. We unconsciously absorb more and more about style and plot elements with every book we read.
One of my goals, besides completing Sheol Rising— the sequel to The Divine Meddler— blogging, and doing some editing, is to write more short stories. Until now, I’ve preferred reading novels. Since I want to expand into writing short stories as well, I am going to steep myself in the art of short story writing, mainly by reading excellent examples.
As I write this, UPS is bringing me How to Write Short Stories and Use them to Further Your Writing Career, by James Scott Bell, The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, and More Twisted by Jeffery Deaver. All three were recommended by James L. Rubart, a prolific novelist whom I recently heard on a podcast for writers. I’m looking forward to learning from the best of the best and discovering what my future short stories will be comparable to.
I swear I could live to be 100 and still not learn all there is to the business and art of writing. But I’m going to have a joy ride trying!
Reading as a method to improve your writing craft? Hey, I’d vote for that!
My favorite prescription!