Competition in the publishing industry is a good thing, if you use it to your advantage. You’d never launch a product without first identifying the competition and how they’re reaching their (aka, your) target audience. Likewise, you should never launch a book without a thorough understanding of your competing titles.
I actually cringe every time an author says, “My book is totally unique! There’s nothing else like it on the market!” Here’s a hard (but helpful) truth: If you think your story is wholly original, you are either not consuming enough narrative media (books, plays, films, TV shows), or you’re deliberately ignoring similarities between your ideas and every other story that exists. What’s worse, you’re actively obstructing your own book marketing and sales.
Competing titles (also called comparative titles, or “comp titles,”) are one of the most powerful sales and marketing strategies you can use for your book. Competing titles help you sell your work to readers and book industry insiders. Let me explain.
What are “comp titles?”
Comp titles are books (or other forms of media) that are similar in content and/or style to your book. Comp titles are often, but not always, in the same genre as yours. Comparative titles can occasionally encompass media like popular TV shows or films, but the term most typically refers to books that resemble yours in one or more ways (plot, characters, setting, tone, etc.).
- Why are competing titles important?
Competing titles are important because they help readers and publishing industry professionals instantly:
Understand what your book is about and why it’s appealing, by identifying which popular stories your work resembles
- Identify who the target audience is for your book (and by extension, how to reach them) by understanding the already-established market for similar, popular titles
- Recognize your work as unique. It may sound counterintuitive, but blending two or more comp titles can both help people understand what your book is like (“Hey, I like [Comp Title 1] and [Comp Title 2]!”) while also appealing to their sense of novelty (“And this new book combines the best of both! I haven’t seen that done before!”).
How do you identify “good” comparative titles for your book?
- Select competitive titles that have been released in the last two years. The entertainment and publishing industries are flooded with new releases each year. If the property you’re comparing yourself to is more than two years old, it’s no longer considered “current” — and if it’s not “current,” it’s no longer guaranteed to be marketable to your target audience. While there’s some leeway to the two-year rule, this is the best practice to follow to make sure your comparison is as strong as possible.
- Choose comp titles that are recognizable — but not too popular. If you’re a debut or relatively unknown author, comparing yourself to Stephen King, Elizabeth Gilbert, or J.K. Rowling will get you nowhere: These are established “franchise” authors with countless marketing dollars, fans and fame at their disposal. Sure, they had to start somewhere — but the publishing world they started in is not the one you’re starting in. Shoot for properties that were recognizable successes without being billion-dollar blockbusters. If you’re a YA debut author, select a fellow YA debut in the same genre, with similar themes, that became a bestseller. If you’re writing your third book in your WWII thriller series, select a recent, successful (more reviews, sales, popularity, etc.) WWII / war series to compare yourself to.
- Use comparative titles that are as similar as possible to your work. You can combine genres and titles, but there should be distinct, easy-to-identify similarities between your book and your comp titles, whether in terms of genre, themes, characters, plot, tone, style, and even author background.
A former award-winning journalist with national exposure, Marissa now oversees the day-to-day operation of the Books Forward author branding and book marketing firm, along with our indie publishing support sister company Books Fluent.
Born and bred in Louisiana, currently living in New Orleans, she has lived and developed a strong base for our company and authors in Chicago and Nashville. Her journalism work has appeared in USA Today, National Geographic and other major publications. She is now interviewed by media on best practices for book marketing.