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The Art of the Comp

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From Flickr’s TheBusyBrain

Today’s guest is Greer Macallister [2], a poet, short story writer, playwright, and novelist whose work has appeared in publications like The North American ReviewThe Missouri Review, and The Messenger. Her plays have been performed at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing.

Her debut novel, The Magician’s Lie [3]–released TODAY–has been getting tremendous buzz. It was selected as a monthly or weekly pick by Indie Next, Library Reads, She Reads, Midwest Connections, Publishers Weekly, and People magazine.

Raised in the Midwest, Greer now lives with her family on the East Coast.

You can connect with Greer on Facebook [4] and Twitter [5].

[pullquote]“Smart and intricately plotted… a richly imagined thriller.” People Magazine on The Magician’s Lie [/pullquote]

The Art of the Comp

Many authors resist having their books compared to others. Most of us are striving for originality, to write a book that no one else has written or could write. But there’s an art to coming up with the right comparison (“comp” for short) that can pique the interest of readers. And comparisons in publishing are inevitable; why not be the first out of the gate with the right one?

My book, The Magician’s Lie (out today!) is about a famous female illusionist in 1905 who comes under suspicion for murder. So yes, it’s probably the only book that fits that description, and for readers who are particularly passionate about that time period, or magicians, or murder mysteries, that pitch might be enough.

But if I’ve only got a few moments to tell someone about the book – or if there’s only room in print or online for a single sentence – I might be better off using this comp: it’s The Night Circus meets Water for Elephants. There’s good reason to think that readers who enjoyed one or both of those comp titles would enjoy The Magician’s Lie as well.

(It doesn’t hurt that both were bestsellers. The Magician’s Lie could just as accurately be described as Alias Grace meets Carter Beats the Devil, but the number of people who’ve read both of those books is probably in the thousands, not the millions. You could also throw The Usual Suspects into the mix, but books are better comps than movies.)

There are dangers, of course. You never know how readers might feel about a particular title. My Goodreads reviews often cite one or both of the comp titles, but in very different ways. A few direct quotes:

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And of course your readers aren’t limited to the comp you came up with. More Goodreads quotes:

There’s a healthy debate about whether comps should be used in query letters, and I think that’s a discussion for another day. But as a way to help potential readers connect with your book, definitely keep the idea of the comp in mind.

Do comps make you more curious to read a book? Are there some examples of particularly good comps you can share? Have you ever used comps for one of your books?

About Greer Macallister [6]

Greer Macallister's debut novel THE MAGICIAN'S LIE was an Indie Next pick, Target Book Club selection, and a USA Today bestseller, and has been optioned for film by Jessica Chastain's Freckle Films. Her novel GIRL IN DISGUISE, about pioneering private investigator Kate Warne, received a starred review from PW. Her latest novel WOMAN 99 is now out in hardcover, e-book and paperback. www.greermacallister.com