Finding Comps: Daunting, Yet Doable
I’m super excited to Zoom into today’s SCBWI Winter Conference!
Looking forward to interacting on Twitter with the fine minds in attendance, I noticed that literary agent Alison Weiss generously offered to answer questions about publishing books for kids.
I, of course, had to ask the question that literally (pun intended) keeps me up at night: Is there a tried and true formula for finding comps to a manuscript?
She said, “Miserable, daunting research. And I feel the pain. I have to do this every time I want to bring a book to acquisition with the added pressure that the books I pull can't have sold too many or too few copies. #askkidlit”
Sadly, the answer was not encouraging in terms of an easy solution, but it did confirm that putting in the effort will yield results.
I’ve asked this question before in a MG author group, and there are some tips & tricks to make the process less daunting. (Answers have been paraphrased; names have been changed just for fun.)
STRATEGIES FOR FINDING MANUSCRIPT COMPS
“If kids like book x, they would like my book.”
Red Panda: I searched Amazon for books that were multi-POV and in the fantasy category and read the blurbs, sometimes the books.
Seahorse: Search #MGbookchat on Twitter to find comps. Join this group on Monday evenings at 6pm Pacific Time. The first Monday of the month is always open conversation. Other Mondays are specific topics.
You can check the Archive for #MGbookchat by messaging the woman who runs it, Lori, on Twitter @lhnatiuk and @MGBookVillage.
Mongoose: I identify what I believe would be the BISAC categories for my book—those are similar to the categories you might find on Amazon (e.g., action and adventure, folk tales and myth, science fiction and fantasy, etc.).
BISAC, which stands for Book Industry Standards And Communications, is a globally accepted system for categorizing books.
I ask my local librarian to recommend books in those categories that are really well written and/or popular with that age group.
Next, I search Amazon (the best search engine and cross-section identifier of any tool on the web) to find the top 100 in those categories. I pick up about 10 books this way and start reading.
Mongoose’s Pro Tips
I also check the books I read on Amazon for “related products” and ask:
Does the blurb focus on similar themes to my book?
Do the reviews ever mention comparable books? Often a reviewer might say, if you liked X then you’ll like this book.
I read the LOOK INSIDE pages—what is the perspective? Is it primarily dialog or more narrative? What is the pacing and the age of the target audience, etc.
As you can see, we’re not alone in finding the comp search daunting. Just don’t forget: perseverance pays off.