Chip MacGregor

June 1, 2012

Why should I list comparable titles in my proposal?


Evelyn wrote to say she is working on her novel proposal, and wants to know, “Is it really essential to list comparable books in my proposal? How do I find out if there are similar books in print? Do I look by content? By topic? And do I actually compare them?”

In your proposal, it’s important you have a section offering comparable titles. As I said earlier in the week, it gives the editorial team that is reviewing your proposal some context. The purpose for the section is NOT to show how your apocalyptic novel is better than Left Behind, but instead to help the publisher know how to categorize your proposed book. (“Oh! THIS book is similar to THAT book!”) That means spending some time doing some research.

First, you should know your genre by having read widely, so some obvious titles will come to mind. Second, you can find comparable titles by going into Barnes & Noble or any good bookstore and hunting up other projects that are similar. (If you look in the right genre section, you’ll probably find some good comparables.) Third, you can talk to other writers and editors, in order to solicit their suggestions. And fourth, you can go onto and wander through the titles by keywords or genre or author. (I don’t find that as effective, but most of us still do that.) For that matter, you can do some other general searches on the web by content, though you may not find that as helpful.

A couple reminders as you look at comp titles: Don’t select Catcher in the Rye, or Purpose Driven Life, or some other book that has sold a bajillion copies. You end up looking silly when you compare your unpublished work to a huge hit. At the same time, don’t select some completely unknown book that bombed — it leaves the publisher with the impression “this other book bombed, and mine is just like it!” Instead, choose books in the middle, and focus most on the audience you intend to reach (“the readers who like THAT will like THIS”). The key to success here is to find nice comparables, that offer context to your proposal, and make some sort of connection to your editor.

So again, if you’re going to, say, HarperCollins, it’s always nice to use a successful HarperCollins title in your comparables — it isn’t essential, but it offers a positive reinforcement to the editor. And by all means, don’t spend time explaining what’s wrong with those other books. I see that quite a bit (sometimes with really stupid comments like “My book is much better than Huckleberry Finn, since it doesn’t have all those ugly racial overtones”). This isn’t a competition — it’s a way to give the publisher an advance organizer while considering your work.

The Dark File: I just got in a proposal in which the author sets up his story by saying he’s going to dig into the mysterious death of Michael Jackson. He’s claiming Michael faked his death in order to get out from under his debts… He’s no doubt living in Arkansas, working on a road crew, probably with Elvis. (And no, I’m not making this up.) What is it about conspiracy nuts?


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  • Lena says:

    I laughed when I read “You end up looking silly when you compare your unpublished work to a huge hit.” 😀

  • Iola says:

    We know that Elvis’ death was faked and that he is still alive in the South (from that vampire show with Sookie Stackhouse), so it makes perfect sense that Michael Jackson has joined him.

    What? True Blood isn’t reality TV?

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