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By Mark Gottlieb, literary agent at Trident Media group

It's important for authors to hold themselves in high esteem, by making comparisons of their writing to success stories. That is why I like to sit down with the writers I work with and nail down what the comparative or competitive book titles to their manuscript might be, before making a submission to editors at publishing houses. We in the industry casually refer to this as asking what the "comps" are (short for comparative or competitive book titles). These are books in the current publishing marketplace that are similar and successful. It's not just about simply saying that a book or author is not unique—it's about celebrating how great a potential publication could be...

Why are comp titles important?

A literary agency receiving a query letter or submission from an author, or an editor at a publishing house receiving a pitch and manuscript from a literary agent, will need to know what the comps are. The literary agent and the editor will be trying to figure out where that particular book/author would fit within their list of authors: is it commercial fiction, literary fiction, or upmarket fiction? If it's nonfiction, then which category of nonfiction? A literary agent or book editor will ask themselves where the book/author would be shelved in a bookstore: is it mystery/crime, romance, science fiction & fantasy, or something else? Most important of all, an agent or editor will be asking themselves how well that book/author would perform in the marketplace: will this book go on the become a mega bestseller or garner highly prestigious awards?

In fully comparing apples to apples, a book editor at a publishing house will try to base their potential offer to publish, on the sales performance of the comp titles. They do this by running a profit & loss statement, or what we in the publishing industry call a "P&L" or "P&L sheet." Plugged into the P&L, which also accounts for the costs associated with printing and publishing a book, will be the sales numbers on the comp titles. A publisher can look up the sales numbers of a given comp title on Nielsen BookScan, where some of the most accurate reporting of sales numbers are given, so there's no lack of transparency there. That's why an author is a in a far better position by having their literary agent offer the author's successful comps to the publisher, over allowing the book publisher to come up with accurate comps of their own. This is especially the case if the publisher's comps haven't been all that successful. Then the publisher might not want to publish the book, or they might make a smaller offer.

An author that has assembled a good list of two to three comp titles will be miles ahead in the publishing process. When a book publisher is in the stage of getting their salesforce to place copies of the book among retailers, guess what question the publisher will be asked by the retailer: What are the similar books to this one? Having the comps handy can therefore help the book publisher in the actual publication process, by raising a book retailer's expectations. Maybe the book retailer decides to order more copies of a book for their stores, or they decide to recommend and prominently display the book, if they think the book will be a success.

 

What's a good comp title?

As much as possible, an author should make literary agents and editors think that their book has a good-looking, smart and athletic "twin" in each of its comps. A good comp title is a bestselling or major award-winning book. It's easy to know if the comp title is one of those two things by simply looking at the cover of a comp. If the cover states, "New York Times bestseller" or "National bestseller" then you know you probably have a bestseller on your hands. The same goes for major awards featured on the cover. If it says, "National Book Award-winner" or "Man Booker Prize-winner," then the same would be true. Looking at the number of reviews on Amazon (hundreds or thousands is impressive), and the overall Amazon sales ranking (the closer to the Top 100 the better), are other ways to know how well the comp title has been performing.

The comps should have been published within the last five years. Outside of five years, book publishing will have been a different industry, with books written and published in different ways. What is popular reading among book lovers also changes quite a bit over the years. Those are a few of the reasons why classic novel comps are not good comparisons, and will often garner eye rolls from editors. When a fantasy author tries to comp to J.R.R. Tolkien, or a mystery/crime writer tries to comp to Edgar Allen Poe, it also begins to look self-aggrandizing.

It's important to keep the comps accurate. We are comparing apples to apples here, rather than apples to oranges. So a comp title should also be of the reading age range and of the book genre. If an author wrote a young adult novel, then they shouldn't go and compare it to an adult romance novel; or if an author of wrote a nonfiction work of history/politics/current affairs then they obviously shouldn't refer to it a science/technology book. At the same time, only books make for good comparisons, since we're trying to figure out where a book belongs in a bookstore, rather than where a movie or a TV show fits on the shelf.

The process of assembling comp titles may seem small or insignificant at first glance, but it is actually a huge part of the publishing process and a key player in a book's success. The comp process ultimately helps readers find their way to an author's book.

 

Mark Gottlieb has ranked #1 among Literary Agents on Publishers Marketplace in Overall Deals and other individual categories. Using that same initiative and insight for identifying talented writers, he is actively building his own client list of authors of fiction and nonfiction. Mark is excited to work directly with authors, helping to manage and grow their careers with all of the unique resources that are available at book publishing’s leading literary agency, Trident Media Group. Since his time at Trident, he has represented numerous New York Times bestselling authors, as well as award-winning authors, and has optioned and sold numerous books to film and TV production companies. Mark is actively seeking submissions in all categories and genres.

 

By Mark Gottlieb, literary agent at Trident Media group

It's important for authors to hold themselves in high esteem, by making comparisons of their writing to success stories. That is why I like to sit down with the writers I work with and nail down what the comparative or competitive book titles to their manuscript might be, before making a submission to editors at publishing houses. We in the industry casually refer to this as asking what the "comps" are (short for comparative or competitive book titles). These are books in the current publishing marketplace that are similar and successful. It's not just about simply saying that a book or author is not unique—it's about celebrating how great a potential publication could be...

Why are comp titles important?

A literary agency receiving a query letter or submission from an author, or an editor at a publishing house receiving a pitch and manuscript from a literary agent, will need to know what the comps are. The literary agent and the editor will be trying to figure out where that particular book/author would fit within their list of authors: is it commercial fiction, literary fiction, or upmarket fiction? If it's nonfiction, then which category of nonfiction? A literary agent or book editor will ask themselves where the book/author would be shelved in a bookstore: is it mystery/crime, romance, science fiction & fantasy, or something else? Most important of all, an agent or editor will be asking themselves how well that book/author would perform in the marketplace: will this book go on the become a mega bestseller or garner highly prestigious awards?

In fully comparing apples to apples, a book editor at a publishing house will try to base their potential offer to publish, on the sales performance of the comp titles. They do this by running a profit & loss statement, or what we in the publishing industry call a "P&L" or "P&L sheet." Plugged into the P&L, which also accounts for the costs associated with printing and publishing a book, will be the sales numbers on the comp titles. A publisher can look up the sales numbers of a given comp title on Nielsen BookScan, where some of the most accurate reporting of sales numbers are given, so there's no lack of transparency there. That's why an author is a in a far better position by having their literary agent offer the author's successful comps to the publisher, over allowing the book publisher to come up with accurate comps of their own. This is especially the case if the publisher's comps haven't been all that successful. Then the publisher might not want to publish the book, or they might make a smaller offer.

An author that has assembled a good list of two to three comp titles will be miles ahead in the publishing process. When a book publisher is in the stage of getting their salesforce to place copies of the book among retailers, guess what question the publisher will be asked by the retailer: What are the similar books to this one? Having the comps handy can therefore help the book publisher in the actual publication process, by raising a book retailer's expectations. Maybe the book retailer decides to order more copies of a book for their stores, or they decide to recommend and prominently display the book, if they think the book will be a success.

 

What's a good comp title?

As much as possible, an author should make literary agents and editors think that their book has a good-looking, smart and athletic "twin" in each of its comps. A good comp title is a bestselling or major award-winning book. It's easy to know if the comp title is one of those two things by simply looking at the cover of a comp. If the cover states, "New York Times bestseller" or "National bestseller" then you know you probably have a bestseller on your hands. The same goes for major awards featured on the cover. If it says, "National Book Award-winner" or "Man Booker Prize-winner," then the same would be true. Looking at the number of reviews on Amazon (hundreds or thousands is impressive), and the overall Amazon sales ranking (the closer to the Top 100 the better), are other ways to know how well the comp title has been performing.

The comps should have been published within the last five years. Outside of five years, book publishing will have been a different industry, with books written and published in different ways. What is popular reading among book lovers also changes quite a bit over the years. Those are a few of the reasons why classic novel comps are not good comparisons, and will often garner eye rolls from editors. When a fantasy author tries to comp to J.R.R. Tolkien, or a mystery/crime writer tries to comp to Edgar Allen Poe, it also begins to look self-aggrandizing.

It's important to keep the comps accurate. We are comparing apples to apples here, rather than apples to oranges. So a comp title should also be of the reading age range and of the book genre. If an author wrote a young adult novel, then they shouldn't go and compare it to an adult romance novel; or if an author of wrote a nonfiction work of history/politics/current affairs then they obviously shouldn't refer to it a science/technology book. At the same time, only books make for good comparisons, since we're trying to figure out where a book belongs in a bookstore, rather than where a movie or a TV show fits on the shelf.

The process of assembling comp titles may seem small or insignificant at first glance, but it is actually a huge part of the publishing process and a key player in a book's success. The comp process ultimately helps readers find their way to an author's book.

 

Mark Gottlieb has ranked #1 among Literary Agents on Publishers Marketplace in Overall Deals and other individual categories. Using that same initiative and insight for identifying talented writers, he is actively building his own client list of authors of fiction and nonfiction. Mark is excited to work directly with authors, helping to manage and grow their careers with all of the unique resources that are available at book publishing’s leading literary agency, Trident Media Group. Since his time at Trident, he has represented numerous New York Times bestselling authors, as well as award-winning authors, and has optioned and sold numerous books to film and TV production companies. Mark is actively seeking submissions in all categories and genres.

 

An Annoyed Librarian's Rebuttal

A public librarian explains why some titles don’t make the cut

By Linda May | Mar 01, 2019 - Originally Published in Publishers Weekly March 4, 2019

 

As the director of a small public library, I read the “Frustrated Patron” Soapbox—in which an author described his attempts to get his local libraries to order his book—in Publishers Weekly’s February 18 issue with a mixture of disbelief and irritation. As someone who ran marketing departments for reference, academic, and adult nonfiction publishers for over 30 years, my eyes rolled to the back of my head. This broadside epitomized the attitude of almost every academic monograph author I have ever met.

Public libraries serve their communities. That means that they always try to provide resources—both print and electronic—that residents of their towns want and need to enrich their lives. In addition to serving as gateways to the largest collections of e-books they can manage, libraries try to keep as many print books on their shelves as possible to meet demand. That last word is important: libraries respond to demand.

We librarians track circulation and interlibrary loan statistics to monitor trends and see what our patrons are calling for most. We read reviews and revisit what we already own to keep up with the best of what is out there, as well as to continue popular series and provide balance to the collection. We do all of this with no personal bias and only from a motive of service.

Just like bookstores, public libraries need to stock the latest bestsellers in fiction and nonfiction; reference books in gardening, cooking, crafts, and history; biographies; autobiographies; graphic novels; YA literature and children’s titles; and on and on. In addition, as much as possible, we try to always have the classics on hand, as well as the titles supporting the curriculum of the local schools. We curate our collections so that even as we acquire new titles from the huge number of books published each year, we retain older books that are of value to our patrons. We do all of this while constrained by budgets that have at best remained flat for years or in too many cases have been cut.

Libraries act as community centers offering makerspaces, educational programs, instruction, computer centers, speakers, and author signings. They subscribe to electronic databases as well as print periodicals. Librarians answer thousands of reference questions of all types each year.

So when an author who wrote a book titled Behind the Front: British Soldiers and French Civilians, 1914–1918 and priced at $107 drops in and tries to sell us his book, we may be courteous (librarians are always courteous), but we will have little interest.

The minute the author’s publisher put that title on his book, it was doomed to sales of no more than 150 copies to college libraries with a special interest in that very narrow topic. The publisher backed up that decision by pricing it at over $75, putting it out of reach of all but the biggest, most research-centric public libraries. Face it: this book—regardless of how well written it might be—is an academic monograph.

Further evidence of this can be found in the fact that it wasn’t reviewed by PW, Booklist, Library Journal, or any of the other review magazines serving bookstores and public libraries. It would be a waste for the publisher to even mail review copies to any publications save for academic journals and Choice, which serve college libraries.

For years, my marketing colleagues and I tried to beat this thought into the heads of academics who believed that they had created masterpieces that should be available everywhere and land them interviews on morning talk shows. Now that I am on the other side of the fence, in a public library, I have only confirmed the belief I held as a marketer: no way.

The author of Behind the Front, Craig Gibson, brings up the fact that he is a taxpayer and voter. Instead, he should be satisfied that his manuscript was published in the first place, by a company as distinguished as Cambridge University Press. He should be grateful that the publisher sent enough review copies out for it to get the reviews it got from Choice and the other fine academic review journals. And he should be happy that it is available in paperback for college classes and as an e-book for any interested scholars or researchers.

Maybe Gibson should give his local library a copy of his book. And keep paying those taxes so that it can keep meeting the needs of him and his fellow citizens in the many ways it is already.

Linda May, a former publishing executive, is director of the Alexander Hamilton Memorial Free Library in Waynesboro, Pa.

About

Texas Authors, Inc. is an organization designed to help Texas Authors learn how to better market and sell their books.

We work closely with our partners DEAR Texas, Inc., and Texas Authors Institute of History, Inc., both nonprofits that have created additional programs and events for Authors.

Texas Authors is a subsidiary of Bourgeois Media & Consulting