We recently started the querying process and have come across a minor dilemma: some agents ask point blank for comparable titles, aka “comps.” We’re still not really sure how to figure out what our comps are, but here’s what we’ve come up with…
Now, we weren’t completely unprepared for this question—we’d thought about it. After our beta readers had finished reading our story, we’d asked them what books they’d read that reminded them of ours.
One of our readers couldn’t come up with anything, which surprised us a bit. She did, however, have other positive feedback, like that she sat down to read and plowed through 200 pages of our story in one sitting. She said she probably would have finished it but for her pesky job. She couldn’t put it down. So, good news overall at least, even if we couldn’t get any comps out of her. Generally, this reader reads fiction, usually YA.
Another reader said a book she’d read recently, A Conspiracy of Alchemists, reminded her of our story. This reader enjoys SFF, specifically steampunk. I read COA to see what I thought.
COA shares a few similarities with our story, and we can see why she said so. In COA, machines could be run with magic, for example—it’s got a steam-punky like feeling that is more magic running machines than steam. In that sense, it is like ours, but our story has a more pre-industrial era (18th-century) feel, rather than a 19th-century Victorian feel. It’s also set in an alternate history on Earth, where our story is set in another world entirely.
Also, a theme of duality, of dark and light, is present throughout COA, which is also true for our story, but the good and bad is less black and white. And dark, or black, isn’t always bad in our story.
In many ways, of course, COA wasn’t similar. Two main protagonists took up the bulk of the story (dual POV), and the story circled around the relationship between the female protagonist and her love interest, the male protagonist. We have romances sprinkled throughout our story, but it’s more mature in many ways (not so much first loves), and not the main thread throughout the story. COA is categorized as action-adventure fantasy and romance, and fantasy-historical. Our story wouldn’t be categorized as romance or historical.
Our editor had a different point of view, which we’re starting to come around to: our writing style and its pacing is more similar to many YA fantasy novels than it is to adult fantasy novels, but the subject matter is firmly in the adult category. She offered the NYT best-sellers Truthwitch and Graceling as a comps, neither of which we’d ever read.
We pondered on this for a long while, unsure of how to take it. I also picked up Truthwitch, so we’d maybe figure out why our editor was committed to saying that she didn’t have a lot of good comps in the adult fantasy realm. So far, we kind of get it. Aspects of Truthwitch are very similar to our story: two friends, multi-POV. More power together than apart, etc. One thing that I noticed while reading, which some reviewers noticed too (see review by Emily May, my fav YA reviewer on GoodReads), was the author’s propensity for describing her characters’ dresses. She does focus on clothing quite a bit. We do not.
But many adult fantasy stories have massive amounts of information sometimes in the form of an “info-dump” right at the beginning, and frilly (possibly purple) prose. Another thing fantasy books love to do is describe lineage. The second paragraph of a book I just cracked open has the title of somebody…And it’s something like twenty words long: Crown Price [name], Palatine of [place] and [place], Priest of [place], Overlord of [place?], [place?], and [place?], heir to the [animal] Throne of the [people or place?] Empire (wait, isn’t heir to the same thing is as crown prince, and isn’t Empire/Emperor over Prince? Shouldn’t highest title go first? Shit. CONFUSED)…Phew. That’s not us, and the same can be said about Truthwitch. There is literally nothing like this in our story. Personally, my eyes glaze over when I read something like this. If yours do too, you might like our story!
Truthwitch starts right in the action with two of the protagonists (two friends!) going in for a little raid on a convoy. A convoy where there’s a *SPOILER* scary Bloodwitch—oh no! But the point is, Truthwitch just doesn’t stop. There’s a minuscule place where it stops to explain some information about the world, but generally, it’s all go. As our editor wrote in her feedback about our story, “…the plot is wonderfully paced. There wasn’t a moment where I felt it stalled or wobbled. Instead, I often found myself reading at a lightning speed as the tension and suspense urged me along.”
In one way, we can be vindicated: I read somewhere that in the UK, Truthwitch is in the adult category. Don’t beleive me? Check out Amazon UK.
Other fantasy that we’ve read that might be similar and not YA fantasy is written by Mark Lawrence. Generally, the books we’ve read that he’s written have been action from the beginning. Take Prince of Fools for example. The story doesn’t start with a description of the scenery or describing the major royal families lineage. Prince of Fools starts (ridiculously and funny enough) as the main protagonist is escaping out of the room of—if I remember right—a whore. The point isn’t that though (our characters never run from whores’ bed chambers in our story), it’s about the action. This book is actually categorized as humor in the Kindle store, which I wouldn’t have guessed either, but I can see how it pokes fun at the usual stereotypical fantasy tropes and ways of doing things. It’s also considered Norse & Viking, which it does have some of that lore/mythology sprinkled in. Always a nice touch. We’re also looking forward to one of his next books (already on pre-order), called Red Sister, which has a woman as the main character, yay!
Our editor also mentioned a couple of other books that are epic-type fantasies, often with sword and sorcery. Unfortunately, a lot of the well-known fantasy writers aren’t quite right. What else do we NOT have in our story? A lot of royalty (as main protagonists), dragons, vampires, werewolves, elves, the “fae,” dwarves, fairies, a lot of the other random human-like creatures we keep seeing in current poplit. Maybe this is bad or maybe both of us were just sick of reading about them. Human-like creatures that are better than humans aren’t as interesting as humans to us. 🙂
Of course, there are themes we specifically tried to avoid while writing our story. One was royals—especially secret, surprise royals. OMG, if I read one more YA fantasy that has a secret, surprise royal, I’m going to have a bonfire of YA in my backyard. We don’t find royalty to be interesting. Sometimes family is interesting, and where one comes from and how it affects current choices is interesting, but who the hell cares about special skills passed by genetics? It’s way more interesting to us when people make their own way, without the help of a famous name…