Recently, I was at a writer’s conference where someone asked, “What do you do when you can’t find comp titles?”. (Comp titles are comparable titles.) Sometimes writers say, “Nothing is out there like this book.” That’s highly unlikely, especially if the book fits a category–picture book, middle grade, young adult, etc.–and it fits a genre. If it doesn’t fall in any of these, perhaps the writer needs to rethink the project–there may be a reason “nothing is out there” like it.
How I find comp titles
First, I go to Amazon and search in the category. (You could use Barnes & Noble as well.) Let’s say I’m looking for comp titles for a picture book. I start by searching by subject in picture books. For example, manners, or musical instruments, or fun in the sun. Be sure and use the check boxes on the left to help you narrow your search. I usually check hardcover. Since I mostly write fiction, I specify that as well.
Next, I search by characters. If my characters are animals, I’ll search for fiction picture books on that specific animal. E.g. How many picture books are there with a tree frog as the main character? Probably not many, which can help your book stand out. I know there are a lot of picture books with chicken, dog, or cat main characters.
If neither of those options work, try searching for the tone of the book, such as humor or sweet, whatever fits your manuscript best. Or search for the theme of your book.
You can also go to a local bookstore and ask someone in the children’s section to show you recent books on a specific topic, character, or written in a specific tone.
And, of course, I read the books I find to see if they really are a good comparable title. I also do a lot of reading of picture books and may find comp titles that way as well.
Using multiple comp titles
Sometimes it takes two or three titles to express your book, so your pitch or query letter could say, “My book is like Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code meets Mo Willems’ The Thank You Book. (Note these are recent titles, which make the best comps.) You can also use movies or TV shows as one of your comps. “My YA manuscript is like The Truman Show meets M.T. Anderson’s Feed.” (These aren’t recent, but would give the editor or agent an instant picture of your manuscript.)
Usually you don’t want to use the blockbuster books, such as Harry Potter or Hunger Games as comparison titles. Although, if you were comparing it to some aspect of the book, that might work too. “My book has a main character who doesn’t fit in like Luna Lovegood in HP, but the story is more reminiscent of Laurel Gale’s Dead Boy.”
Agents and editors I’ve heard speak agree that comp titles will be out there. You just have to do the research to find them.