In the Trenches: Stalking Comps Elusive, Rare, and Maddening

I’m exhausted. I have been stalking comps (aka. comparables) through the trenches.

You would think that writing the book would be the hard part of being a writer. I have a line of writers willing to say that you were wrong. There are many more moving parts to this beastie than you might suspect: the manuscript, the plot summary, the one line pitch, the blurb, and the comps, etc.

Each of these elements plays a role in the life of a novel, or the birth of a novel, the hawking of a novel? Anyway, in traditional publishing the agents and the publishers expect you to arrive with more in your pocket than just your manuscript. Indeed, to even get in the door to speak to some of these folks you might need your manuscript, a query letter, a summary, and comps.

I don’t know of any writer who easily assembles all the bits. There could be someone out there who can dash off a plot summary without a single bead of sweat or formulate a query letter as easily as breathing. I haven’t met them, yet.

Each member of the larger author-verse seems to have a particular aspect, or more, of the querying package that strikes fear into their ink-stained little heart. For some the task of condensing 70-150K words down to a single page is a Herculean task. Some would rather face a walk across the Sahara than sit down and formulate that query letter.

My Achilles’ heel? The comps.

The purpose of the comparables is to help the agent/publisher see where your book might fit in with the other books on the shelf. They don’t take kindly to my suggestion – between ‘R’ and ‘T’. It seems that alphabetizing is not what they are talking about.

Then wha-??

Oh, marketing.


Yeah, a walk across the Gobi sounds pretty good about now.

I have a very hard time, putting myself ‘out there’. So querying is in itself an enormous challenge for me, but now there’s marketing. Marketing: the activity or business of promoting and selling products or services. In the publishing world, that product is your book, and these days, thank you internet and social media, yourself.

YIKES! Well that’s exactly what an introvert with some interesting inner topography does not want to hear.

But, we’re talking comps. You know where your book would fit in with other books, so that bookish folks, who want to read booky things like your book, can look among similarly booky things and find your book.

At this, I suck.

I realize that sounds whiney – here’s why – Over the last few years I’ve been heavily reading Russian history, politics, sociology, and mental health related material. My ‘goto’ enjoy a book has been a history or code more often than not.

Yes, I’m a nerd, but we already knew that.

So when the question of comps comes up – which appears to do a lot – I got, not much.

Most of my fantasy reading was <mumble> years ago, well outside the five-year limit I’ve seen batted around.

Second problem – I don’t know of a single fictional character with CPTSD. Although a lovely person has steered me to a list over at GoodReads that is specifically filled with books featuring mental health in a fantasy setting. I’ll report back on that one, later.

I’m trying to ‘catch up’ with the reading

What I have done so far is asked my Beta readers what they would compare my work to… and yes I explain all of this at the appropriate opportunity. At the moment, I am trying to plough my way through all the books I have heard of from my Beta readers. Do I agree? Would I choose the book as a comp?

Another lovely person let me in a bit of knowledge that will certainly help. You don’t have to compare your work with another book exactly like it.

Good thing that. Mainly because I hope there aren’t many books like the one I have written.

So, when looking for comps you can compare facets of your story to aspects of other stories. “Lush, complex world building like ___. The political machinations of pre-unification 19th century Germany. (Though that might be too far. Have to walk that one back a bit.) The political machinations of Machiavelli-nope, wrong direction. I’ll have to work on that.

Most agents I have seen wanting comps, like to see works within the last decade. Also a problem for me. What? You didn’t sit down and read Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot” for fun?

On the other hand, you can compare your work to other works with similar themes. A (failed) coming of age story. A story of survival in spite of family.

Yeah, I still have to work on that.

In addition, don’t compare yourself to a ‘classic’. Novels about regency manners with sharp social commentary don’t comp to “Pride and Prejudice”. So I hear.

So, where does that leave me? I have no idea. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

‘Til then, send cookies. And have some fun with the Literature-Map

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