Comps (short for comparative titles) are a crucial part of your query letter. They’re a great way to draw an agent in, unless an agent hates the book(s) you comp to, which you would have no way of knowing. Comps should be published within the last five years, and they must be well-known. However, if they’re well-known, that’s a sign you don’t read within your genre enough, so make sure they’re somewhat obscure. Also, if they are “classics,” they can have been published any time, not just the last five years, but don’t comp to classics. You can also use other media (TV shows, movies) but at least one must be a book, unless neither is a book.
Comps can be used to demonstrate your book’s theme, voice, plot, etc. For example, you could pitch a book as the dark mystery of WILDER GIRLS meets the intricate heist plot of SIX OF CROWS. However, taking the time to parse out this nuance adds unnecessary length; it’s strongest to simply pitch comps as BOOK X meets BOOK Y. Also, you must have read your comp books cover to cover, but it’s not necessary to read your comp books. You can get enough of a sense of the story from their summary.
The importance of comps cannot be overstated; they are how agents will know your book is marketable and how editors will be able to estimate future book sales. However, if your comps aren’t a thousand percent spot on, you shouldn’t bother to include them. Finally, only two comps should be used, unless you’re using one or three.
Next up: personalization. It’s very important to personalize query letters so the agent knows why you chose them in particular. You can find information on what agents are looking for on their agency website, #MSWL, Twitter, and/or writing blogs. However, agents already know what they’re looking for, so if you repeat their wishes verbatim—or paraphrase—they will find you unoriginal. You must be wholly original while also staying true to the heart of what the agent has stated they are seeking.
Finally, the best way to personalize a query letter is if you have a real-life connection with the agent. Given that, for safety reasons, in-person conferences didn’t happen during 2020, this may be quite difficult. But there are other ways to connect! For example, if you have a friend who is agented, you may want to reach out and ask for a referral; however, asking for a referral may make your friend uncomfortable, so it’s best not to ask.
And that’s it! I hope you see now that comps and personalizations don’t have to be intimidating! Just compare to well-known yet niche books and personalize your query to each agent’s wish list while remaining entirely unique and you’re set! Good luck!