By Alexandra O’Connell of Your Resident Wordsmith
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We compare things all the time. And, let’s face it, as readers, we’re always comparing books. So why do we get so shy when it comes to comparing the book we’re writing to the rest of the literary environment?
One of my editing colleagues comments on how many of her authors come to her claiming that there’s “nothing else like” their book. Which is not actually true. None of us writes in a vacuum.
And anyway, literary comparisons have been a staple of publishing for a long, long time. In traditional publishing, these are known as “comps,” and they’re pretty handy.
What comps are and why you should like them
“Comps” is short for comparative titles, or authors. In other words, what other books or writers does this work resemble?
Providing comps is a requirement when you pitch your book to a traditional publisher. The publisher uses this information to make sales projections and craft sales strategy.
The people selling books think about comps, readers are constantly comparing your books to other books…and so should you. Not just as part of your sales strategy. But also to help as you write and revise. Comparing helps you make informed writing choices.
For example, if you are writing in a particular genre and want to set yourself apart, you can take a look at what other books in your genre are doing, and change an important detail.
You can also emulate what other books in your genre are doing well.
How to compare your book effectively
Compare apples to apples, oranges to oranges. Looking at what a history book does when you are writing self-help doesn’t tell you much. Checking out the latest literary fiction bestseller when you’re writing SciFi won’t, either.
What other books out there are like yours? By this, I mean books that are in your genre, dealing with a topic related to yours, or those that share a certain theme you also address or illuminate. If you want to be funny, look at books you think are funny. If you are writing true crime, look at true crime, and so on.
It’s a good idea to think about what readers of the genre you are writing want and expect. In general, you want to deliver on these expectations. If you prefer to be a rule breaker, you’ll be most successful if you know what rules you are breaking—and why.
You can compare at any point during the writing process, including before you begin. What books out there are like the book you want to write?
What specifically do you admire about those books, or that author? Their style? Their use of dialogue? Their encyclopedic detail?
Finally, and this should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Look for books that are successful. Perhaps they’ve sold well, or are known in their particular field or genre (which is your field or genre!). Maybe they’ve won awards. You want to emulate what works.
Comparing your book to others gives you a lot of great information. Yes, no one else is writing precisely the book you are writing; but the fact is, you’re not writing in a vacuum, either. And that’s a good thing. Use it.
About Alexandra –
Alexandra O’Connell is Your Resident Wordsmith, an award-winning book editor and writing coach. Find her at www.alexoconnell.com.
The views expressed herein are not those of Colorado Independent Publishers Association, its officers or directors. They are solely and completely those of the author. The Colorado Independent Publishers Association will not be held liable for any legal action resulting from information published in this newsletter, and the organization’s insurance will not cover any such action.