I know you’ll all be shocked when I announce that I did not use comp titles in my query. I did not.
I don’t think I was taking any particular stance in this; it’s just that I had a very hard time to come up with any, and very few agents actually required them. I described my book and sent my query off without them, and that seemed to work fine. I still got requests.
There was one time, when an agent I coveted had writers fill in one of those online forms, and I had to come up with a comp because I didn’t know how she would take it if I left the section blank. I chose The Kept by James Scott, a recent literary debut that I admired. Here’s the thing—my book is a literary/historical work with a tinge of magic realism, while The Kept is more of a literary revenge western. And while my own book is not exactly cheery, I think it’s safe to say that The Kept was one of 2014’s darkest reads. But I couldn’t help thinking that Scott’s writing was much like what I aspire to do, and the setting was undeniably similar: a small town in the late nineteenth century, bitter cold winter, just as in my own book’s opening. I know this wasn’t a whole lot to go on. Let’s just say I always hoped that agents didn’t really rely on the comps of authors to pique their interest.
I think part of the difficulty of comps is that they need to be quite recent to be of any use. And when you haven’t really read anything that recently became a huge hit that reminds you strongly of your own book, it can be a bit tough to come up with something. You find yourself browsing desperately in the fiction aisles of your local indie, picking up a book called The Kept because it looks cool and has a nice winter scene on the cover, and reading the entire thing based on a fabulous first page, praying the whole time that you can use it.
My agent, however, probably loves coming up with comps. Since L. M. Montgomery’s books provided my original inspiration, and the book falls easily into the magical realism basket, my agent pitched it as an idea from L. M. Montgomery realized by Alice Hoffman.
The first time she called me, actually, she mentioned the Alice Hoffman connection, which I hadn’t really considered. I was stunned and flattered to be compared with someone whose literary success is far beyond my wildest dreams. I had recently read The Dovekeepers on my mother’s recommendation and thought it was beautiful, so I went back and read a few others. I definitely see some connections there, especially with a dreamy, thoughtful sort of book like The Drowning Season, but at the same time, I wonder if fans of Practical Magic would really fall for a book like mine. I guess we’ll have to see!