Don’t Go Crazy with Your Comps

Comps, or comparable titles, are a valuable way to help slush readers immediately situate your work in the marketplace. Find one or two solid comps for your query letter. Maybe three. More than that, and you’ve over-salted your stew.

I am currently seeking representation for the first book of my Middle Grade fantasy Awesome Book Title, 50,000 words.

First, don’t capitalize genres. Middle Grade should be middle grade. Moving on.

I am hopeful this series will interest you due to its unique fantasy hooks and quick pace, its mystery plot and comical, underrepresented characters, and its always-current themes of the environment, pre-adolescent romance, and juvenile bullying. If you enjoy stories with a timeless quality and vibrant characters, this series should be just right for your list.

You’re telling me what you think is good and exciting about your book. What you should be doing is pitching your story. Pitch. Your. Story. Character. Goal. Motivation. Conflict. Moving on.

The charming tale is a whimsical throwback to Author One’s Comp Title One, Author Two’s Comp Title Two, and more recently, Author Three’s Comp Title Three, all still popular today.  Much like the spirit of Title of Timeless Classic, it is a timeless tale, yet renewed so that it can resonate in our current, fast-paced technological world.  Likewise, I have already plotted an additional three more books to the serialized story.

That was four—count ’em, four—comps. Yet still no pitch. I’m dying here.

Consistent with other environmental works of this nature, most recently Comp Title Five by Author Five, published by Publisher, and Comp Title Six by Author Six, published by Publisher, what is unique about my series is that the stories hang together as a continuous testament to the sanctity and majesty of the wilderness and the hope and heroism of youth in the face of adult domination, dishonesty, and greed. The story is offered as a model to our youth for the need to preserve our fading woodlands and countryside. It is a theme our children are daily tested by in our evolving global world where the line between ethics and profit is fast dissolving.

And now I’m lying on the floor killed dead. Did you count along? We are now up to six comps. SIX. COMPS. Followed by a laundry list of themes and reasons “our youth need” this book. But still no fluffernutting story pitch.

Giving a slush reader a veritable avalanche of comps and expecting us to cobble your story together in our own imaginations is like telling us you don’t have a story at all. And that’s the last message you want to send.

By all means, do your market research and support your pitch with a meaningful comp or two. But don’t forget that your story pitch is the whole reason your query letter exists. Put it front and center.

The Deep-Thoughts Query

Sometimes authors feel the need to wrap their pitch inside pretty philosophical paper. Consider:

Like a butterfly, we all undergo change. Not as extreme as metamorphosis like the butterfly, but change of physical maturity, mental maturity, and spiritual thinking. Jane and her friends…

What’s all this deep-thoughts stuff about butterflies and metamorphosis? Is there a story pitch in our future? The appearance of “Jane and her friends” gives me hope, so I’ll keep reading.

…have graduated from one milestone of elementary school, as stage one of their completion. The second stage of change will be starting middle school…

Whoa. This is a book about middle-schoolers? Here’s the ten-dollar question: How confident would you be—given the vague, new-agey phrasing here—that the manuscript is written in a style that will capture the hearts, minds, and imaginations of middle-school-aged readers?

Me? Not very. But I’ll keep reading to see if this query gets a little more grounded.

…a stage of uncertainty, and independence of having more control over their educational and social involvements. This new experience spurs Jane’s thinking, and will test she and her friends in all that they know and don’t. After will be high school, and then the real journey of life into the world to find who she is, what her purpose is and try out her wings to fly like never before.

OK. There’s no story here. I. Need. To. Know. What. Your. Story. Is. Turns out, this is a pitch for a series of twelve books about Jane and her friends; in each book, the girls are in a different grade.

This query doesn’t work. Two reasons why:

  1. If you have a series (complete or planned), limit your query pitch to your first book. Readers (like publishers!) won’t buy all twelve books in your series at one time. They buy your first book. Book one is your audition. Nail your audition.
  2. Ditch the deep thoughts and philosophical framework. If you want to write commercial fiction, then keep your query grounded in story:

Character wants (goal) because (motivation). When (inciting incident), Character realizes s/he can’t have (goal) because (conflict). Now, if Character doesn’t overcome (conflict), then (big, tension-packed stakes!).

See you next time!