Friday, 19 July 2013

Comp titles

After reading blog post after blog post about how to write a successful query letter, one thing I’m still not sure about is comp titles.

Don’t know what a comp title is? Well, it’s a book or a film whose title gives an idea of the tone of your project. Often the comparison is given in the “X meets Y” format. So Alien might be Jaws meets 2001: A Space Odyssey, Avatar might be Fern Gully meets Dances with Wolves, and Chronicle might be Akira meets… Akira.

Two comp titles seems like a good number. Only one, and the agent might wonder why they need your book: if they want to read something like Oliver Twist, they can go read Oliver Twist. But if they’re intrigued to read a cross between Oliver Twist and Blade Runner, they’ll have to wait till your manuscript hits their desk. Just to be clear, I am not advising you to write Oliver Twist meets Blade Runner. Not even Spielberg should try that. Have you seen A.I.? *Shudder*


Anyway, right now I’m juggling with three comp titles. Guy Delisle’s Pyongyang, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, and Neil McKenna’s The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde. Why did I choose these titles? First of all, every agent has heard of them. There’s no point comparing your project to something no agent will know. But you don’t want to claim kinship with mega-bestsellers, either. No project can compare with Harry Potter or Fifty Shades of Grey.


The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde is the one Wilde biography every bookshop carries. It’s also one of the most exciting. There’s quite a bit of speculation, no references, and it focuses on Wilde’s sexuality: just like OWCA. Books about Wilde’s American tour do exist, but they’re tonally nowhere near my project, so it wouldn’t be right to mention them.


Pyongyang is about Guy Delisle’s stint in North Korea’s animation industry. Like OWCA, it’s the story of a man in complete culture shock as he strives to navigate the customs of a strange country far from home. It also skillfully evokes the loneliness of ex-pat life, a loneliness shared by Wilde towards the end of his American tour.


Fun Home is Alison Bechdel’s prize-winning memoir about her closeted gay father, and how his death is tied up with her own coming out. It might not be sensible to compare OWCA to Fun Home, as Bechdel’s book is one of the most successful graphic novels of all time. Still, the way Bechdel and her father slowly stumble towards acceptance of their shared sexuality is breathtaking: if OWCA comes within a mile of that achievement, I’ll be ecstatic.

If you’re working on a writing project, how did you settle on your comp titles? And do you think three comp titles is too many?

Discover more about Oscar Wilde's American lecture tour, and our comic about it, at oscarwildecomics.com