How do I use Comparative Titles in my Proposal?
May 30, 2012 | Written by admin
Someone wrote to ask, “Why are you calling it a ‘competitive titles’ works section, when we used to call it a ‘comparative works’ section?” My answer: Either works. The goal is simply that the author is trying to help the publisher see that MY book is like HIS book, or that MY book appeals to the same audience as HER book. So you’re comparing titles, in order to give your proposal some context in the mind of the acquisitions editor.
With that in mind, let me suggest some traps to avoid:
Don’t pick a book that has sold more than 250,000 copies. Ifyou’ve writing a juvie book and compare it to Harry Potter, you’re going to look stupid (“Rowling sold a bazillion copies, so I can too!”). Anything that has sold that many copies isn’t a competitor, it’s a conqueror. Ignore it and use something else.
Don’t pick a book that has sold twelve copies. That suggests to the editor that “nobody cares about this topic.” Hey, Solomon once told us the writing of books is endless. So if there has never been a successful book on the United States Parrot Importation Act, there’s probably a reason.
Don’t ignore the obvious successes. If you’re doing a military historical novel on the Battle of Gettysburg, it would be pretty dumb to leave off Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels. That sends the message to the editor that you don’t really know your field.
Don’t make snarky comments about other books. I often see that, and it’s annoying to have some unpublished wannabe send me something that says, “THIS book was successful, but it’s not nearly as good as mine,” or “THIS book sold 100,000 copies, but the author does a poor job with dialogue.” A comparative analysis section isn’t a review of everything on the market — it’s simply a vehicle for helping the editor know how to position your particular title.
Don’t guess about facts if you use one of the publisher’s own books. In other words, if you’re going to send something to Little, Brown, and you want to use Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian as a comparable title, make sure you have all your facts correct. Because you’ll look like a bonehead if you state the book came out in 2002, the author’s name was “Kosovo,” and sales were 50,000. (All of those facts are wrong.)
Don’t be afraid to use a publisher’s own titles. If you have a suspense novel that you’re trying to sell to Thomas & Mercer, by all means reference their Vince Zandri titles. (Vince writes in the genre and has sold more than a boatload of e-books to thriller readers.) It will immediately help them understand the audience for your project.
Again, the goal here is to help a publisher get a frame of reference for your book. It’s a way of stating, “My book is similar to these five titles, that have all seen success in the marketplace. There is clearly interest in this type of book, and your house has done well with this genre in the past.” You’re basically making the editor’s job easy for him or her. It won’t be the deciding factor in whether or not they publish your book (for that I suggest you come up with a good story and some great writing), but it helps move your proposal along. One less reason for them to say no.
And let me finish this with a true story: A young writer sends me a fairly well done YA fantasy proposal, and his competitive titles are The Lord of the Rings and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. When I suggest to him that he might want to change to something a little less iconic, he replies, “Actually, my books are MUCH BETTER than those two titles — but they’re the only ones that come close to my work.” Gag.