Book Appraisals: Picking Comps – Part 2

Note: This is Part 2 of a two part series. See yesterday’s post for Part 1. We pick up where we left off yesterday….

Your First Comp

To find your first comp book, first find out what you’re selling (genre and subgenre), then look at the bestseller list for that genre.  Don’t pick anything that hasn’t been released yet.  Click on a book, then note the name of the publisher and whether they’re traditional, small press, or indie; the publication date; the number of reviews; and the sales rank.

Finding your first comp is the hardest. Make sure it is the best.
  • If you’re not sure whether the publisher is traditional, small press, or indie, copy the publisher name and search for them in Google.
  • Look for a publication date of 2-3 years at most.  If you’re not sure whether the date is the original publication date or just the date the book was uploaded to Amazon (or whatever site you’re using), look up the same book on Goodreads, which should list the original publication date (“first published XXXX”).
  • The number of reviews should be at least a dozen, although more is better.
  • Indies can select books of any bestselling rank; I would say that for people doing traditional or small press, don’t go above the 2,000 ranking on Amazon.com (the US site)—some agents and editors get a bajillion queries for “the next Harry Potter” and may be turned off by that, where “the next Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris” might be perfect.
  • I would not pick anything under a 50,000 ranking on Amazon.com for a comp.
  • I would not pick any book that is clearly on sale; the sales rank will be temporarily skewed.
  • If you’re struggling, pick a bestselling book that is somewhat close to your own and look at the “also boughts” or “sponsored products” that are related to that book.  Anything that Amazon thinks will sell because you came to the Harry Potter sales page may be a good comp for a book like Harry Potter.  Looking at Goodreads lists with that bestselling book in them can be helpful as well.
  • I would not pick anything related to a media franchise.  The marketing will be skewed toward the movie, TV show, or video game; likewise, the sales rankings will be artificially lifted by fans of the other media checking out the book. 

Subgenres

Some subgenres, especially down in nonfiction book rankings, can have lower sales ranks in general.  If your subgenre’s sales ranks don’t match the numbers I gave, I would say that, roughly, don’t pick anything in the top 10 or under the top 50, if possible.

Finding your first comp is the hardest!  After that, you can leapfrog to other comp books by searching for books like your first comp.  Make sure your first comp is as good as you can get it!

Example Comps

In our domestic suspense example, I skimmed through the bestseller list and checked the following books:

  • Room by Emma Donoghue is a traditionally published book.  The publisher is Back Bay Books, which I googled and found was part of the Hachette Book Group (a large traditional publisher).  It has a movie out, and it is more than 3 years old.  The rank is in the 8500s (which is fine).  5000+ reviews.  Not on sale.  Cannot use due to movie and age.
  • Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney is a traditionally published book.  The publisher is Flatiron Books, which I googled and found was part of Macmillan Publishers (a large traditional publisher).  A TV series is in production (which makes it multimedia).  It was published in 2018.  The rank is in the 9500s.  722 reviews.  Not on sale.  Cannot use due to TV series.
  • It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell is a traditionally published book, published by a subdivision of Macmillan.  I can’t find any related multimedia. It was originally published in 2017.  The rank is in the 10,000s.  527 reviews.  Not on sale.  We can use this!

Also Bought

Scrolling down to the “also bought” section of the It’s Always the Husband page, I can see several other titles that might work.  With some effort, I picked out:

  • White Lies by Lucy Dawson. (Small press, no multimedia, 14,000s sales rank, not on sale, 253 reviews, published 2018.)
  • The Ex-Wife by Jess Rider. (Small press, no multimedia, 31,000s sales rank, not on sale, 380 reviews, published 2018).
  • Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown. (Trad press, movie options sold but no movie in the works [this is okay for our purposes], 22,000s sales rank, not on sale, 402 reviews, published 2017.)
  • The Liar’s Wife by Samantha Hayes.  (Small press, no multimedia, 9000s sales rank, not on sale, 125 reviews, published 2018.)

Some notes:  The sales ranking between print and ebook will vary.  If you’re aiming for traditional publishing, look for print sales ranks; if you’re aiming for indie, go with ebook.  But, really, if a book hits a decent ranking on either print or ebook, it’s probably fine.

Some websites, Amazon especially, tries to make everything look like it’s on sale when it’s not.  If it’s $3.99 US or over on the ebook, just assume it’s not on sale—although traditional publishers’ ebooks will usually be $9.99 to $12.99 US. 

We now have our five comps!

What to Do with Your Comps

Now that you have comps, you have a wealth of options:

  • Pick out similarities between titles to use when titling your book.
  • Pick out similarities between covers and use them for your book cover, especially when sending instructions to a cover artist/designer.
  • Study their book descriptions for hints and tricks.  (But, beware: book descriptions are often terrible, even on successful books.  Consult The Copywriter’s Handbook for copywriting tips.)
  • See what categories the books are in and use for additional sales categories for your book.
  • Use alternate categories as keywords.
  • Use comps to find ad keywords.
  • Look up the authors online and see how they are marketing themselves via their websites, newsletters, and social media accounts. (Again, caution; sometimes authors are terrible at this.)
  • Find out (on Goodreads, for example) who is reading those books so you can start working out your audience.

And more.

Comps in a Query

In a query letter, you may want to only mention the top one or two comps that you’ve chosen; however, if you are including a book marketing plan for your book (which is beyond the scope of this article), you can include all of your comps as data points.

Marketing is a separate skill from writing an actual book, but it can still play into your writing.  Understanding your audience is never a bad thing. 

But let me stress that you don’t need to start with your marketing before you start writing.  It is perfectly okay to write that one weird book that doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere.  You will find comps.  They won’t be perfect, but they’ll help you get away with writing what you really want to write.

On the other hand, if you’re stuck for ideas, starting with a book you enjoyed is not a bad way to start brainstorming…


DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.