I don’t usually do publishing hot takes, but I do wonder what everyone else’s opinion on this is. I’ve seen people agree that comp titles (comparative titles) are necessary, and I don’t think they see the other side.
Comp titles are popular in queries, and in some places, they are required. I’ve been in Q&As where some literary agents (for adult mainly) say they will automatically reject a writer if they don’t list two good comps in their query.
However, are comps really necessary?
Comps do come from a good place. Knowing where your book would fit on a bookshelf is helpful—not just for the agent but for you too. It shows that you understand the industry of what’s selling at the moment.
But comps are also mixed with a lot of rules. No books older than ten years. (Some agents want no books older than five or three years.) Can’t do a book with a movie deal or one too popular. Can’t do an indie book, even if it’s on the bookshelves. Have to pick one in your genre and age range. Etc.
Yet some people don’t fit into the boxes publishing has created. Even though books are getting more diverse, it’s still a small (probably still in single digits) percentage of books overall.
Most traditional books still follow the white gaze in a heterosexual world. If a book has LGBTQIA+ characters, it’s mostly gay men. It’s hard to get any other representation when agents ask writers to change their characters to be more “relatable.” Or when agents check writers’ relationship status online to see if they’re bisexual “enough.” (True story.) Or told that their character with a mental disorder is too much and needs to tone down. That their disabled character isn’t relatable enough. The list could go on.
So, if we’re to write books—the diverse books publishing is asking for—why are we asked to compare those books to books that aren’t diverse?
They ask for unique and fresh books but only unique and fresh books that compare to the unique and fresh books they’ve already approved.
Some say that if you can’t find a comp, there’s not a market for your book. Which is not true. Readers—now more than ever—want and ask for diverse books. They’re out there fighting for them. They’re always tons of threads and articles and lists to find some. More reviews ask for stories to not repeat the same formulas that trad publishing has been doing. The ones who are stopping these diverse books are the agents and acquiring editors—not the market.
This is not to say that all agents are auto rejecting if a writer doesn’t have comp titles. Some say that if you’re a diverse writer, you don’t need comps at all, which is great.
But to auto reject if someone doesn’t have comps, especially if they’re a diverse creator? That just seems like another gate.
What are your thoughts on comp titles?