I’m probably the only writer in the world to think developing comp titles is a fun prospect. When else do you get to read a bunch of books that are just like yours and call it “for work?” Lounging on the couch for hours reading space battle salvager books? I’m totally in!
It might feel a little strange when you’re done with your book to have to compare it to others—after all, isn’t it your book? Isn’t it something new and special? (Holy imposter syndrome, Batman.) But comp titles help book people figure out where your particular novel fits in the publishing ecosystem—and how to market it best so it sells and makes you the mad money. What kind of cover does it need? Where does it go? What kind of reviewer wants to see it? What kind of reader would be most interested in picking it up? Comp titles are even more important for debuts, who usually have little to no name recognition. I mean, nobody but my crit group understands what a “Karen Osborne” novel is. Comp titles help fix that.
There are really two rules I know of to a good comp—there might be more, but this is what I was taught:
A) it’s recent — within the last couple years, and
B) both comps aren’t *gangbusters* popular (choose just one popular property — keeping it realistic helps position the book for success).
When it came down to choosing those comp titles, I chose LEVIATHAN WAKES by James S.A. Corey, a book with similar themes of encountering alien technology and working-class characters on a small starship. Other comp titles I’ve used in varying places include Becky Chambers’ Wayfarer series, Alex White’s BIG SHIP AT THE END OF THE UNIVERSE, and Elizabeth Bear’s ANCESTRAL NIGHT, all of which have similar themes and character relationships. I’ve also used the TV show FIREFLY. Is my book as good as those properties? I guess we’ll see!
There are other books that count — some C.J. Cherryh, for example — but those books belong to a different bookselling ecosystem, back when Waldenbooks was everywhere and Amazon wasn’t even a dream in a young Jeff Bezos’ eye, so they aren’t useful in helping position your book in the modern world. If you have to pick an older property, pair it with something extremely new (“it’s like STAR WARS crossed with V.E. Schwab’s VICIOUS. [Okay, I’d read that.]”)
So sit back, relax, pick up some novels, and have fun comping!