For the uninitiated, “comp titles,” or “comparison titles” are titles of books that you or your publisher think are similar to your manuscript in some way. For a couple of great posts on comp titles, check out this post on Pimp My Novel and this post on Taryn Albright’s blog.
I’m always on the lookout for comp titles–partially because I like to read what I like to write, but also because I don’t want to suffer the agony of finding an already-published book just like mine out there after putting all the effort into it. I recently read two great comp titles. They couldn’t be more different from each other, but that’s fine because they’e for two different manuscripts. One is a comp for my completed ms I’m shopping (see Currently Querying) and the other is a comp for my current WIP (see this blog post).
The idea of the first book, a YA novel called RADIANT DAYS by Elizabeth Hand, captured my attention before I even read it. An art student in the 1970s whose life intersects with 19th Century poet Arthur Rimbaud? Yes, please!
Once I began reading, I was swept away. Told in alternating POV chapters (1st person for the art student Merle, and 3rd for Rimbaud), the reader is immediately drawn into each character’s passion to create art. I particularly loved the lyrical voice Hand uses to bring the two worlds of these characters together through their art:
I closed my eyes, and for the first time realized how a poem might be like a painting, each word a brushstroke, a color or flash of motion: words combined the way I mixed pigments, or slashed a sun across a wall in arcs of neon below.
Another brilliant character in the manuscript is the vagrant fishing at the edge of the river on both character’s worlds–an Orpheus-like character whose presence brings Merle and Rimbaud together. Merle, who’s lost her home, her girlfriend, and her collection of sketches, doesn’t know where to begin again since she’s lost everything. The vagrant’s response?
“Screw that, Little Fly. You lost everything? Big fucking deal. Boo hoo. You said you were an artist, right? Well, this is where it starts to get interesting.”
The second didn’t really end up being a comp title after all, but I had to read it to find out–and I’m glad I did. VOICES by Arnaldur Indridason is a police thriller for adults set in Iceland. Basically, a thriller set in Iceland? My kind of book.
It was a total page-turner, but was set in a hotel in Reykjavík and didn’t have the MC getting out all that much. However, it was pretty cool to see all the awesome Icelandic names and drool over the buffet meals.
He walked past the table and admired the herring, smoked lamb, cold ham, ox tongue and all the trimmings, and the delicious desserts, ice cream, cream cakes and chocolate mousse, or whatever it was.
While it didn’t turn out to be a comp title for me, it’s always great to read a master at setting up mystery and suspense. We weren’t sure until the end who had committed the murder in the first chapter–tons of twists and red herrings. And lots of cool woolen sweaters.
6 thoughts on “Twofer Tuesday: Comp Titles”
Cool post, Kip. It’s always really hard finding good comp titles, but those books do sound really good. 🙂
It is hard! But it’s definitely fun reading something that *might* be a comp, even if it doesn’t turn out to be one in the end.
I swear it seems that some titles or themes have a flashlight shone on them at times, or there’s a mysterious synchronicity out there. Wise thing that you can’t copyright titles.
As to similar books, stories have been told and told again. I wonder if it’s small mindedness or real life experience that marketing will turn down a story because it’s been done ad nauseam. Great stories just are.
Good points! I agree that great stories just are.
It’s totally scary to think that someone else has written your book first! I swear it keeps happening to me when I’m just in idea stage, not even WIP. Though I guess that’s a silly time to be worried, since final products are so wildly different from ideas.
It can be scarier at the idea stage! It’s hard to know what your own ms will be like in the end when it’s not yet written. But you’re right that some things that sound so similar could be drastically different on paper.