Mid-Month Motivator: Comparable Authors

Hello author business planners! Welcome to your mid-month motivator, a little later than usual this month, as we have a slight change in workshop schedule.

As mentioned last time, we’re moving the workshops from the last to the first Friday of the month going forward. That means this month’s workshop will take place one week later than usual, on Friday 2nd April (instead of today 26th March).

The time remains the same, 5pm UK time. That’s 9am PDT, Vancouver, 12 noon EDT New York, 6pm SAST Johannesburg, 9.30 pm IT, New Dehli.) Check this world clock to find your time.

Don’t worry if you can’t make it live; as ever, there will be a replay and you can find more information at the end of this post.

PLEASE NOTE: Workshops are small group gatherings, available only to my private planning patrons on Patreon. If you’re not already a member, you can:

What are “Comps”: Comparable Authors and Titles?

Before you start working on an MA, PhD or any important paper, the first thing you’ll do is a literature analysis. What else is out there? Where have they left gaps? Where might you fit in and fulfil an unfulfilled, perhaps even unidentified, need?

It’s similar in book publishing. When pitching a book to trade publishers, they’ll ask for a competitive analysis. And among author-publishers too conversations about “comp” authors and “comp” titles abound.

Comp is short for comparative and competitive and knowing your comp authors and books is incredibly useful from a marketing perspective, and for other reasons too (see below). Your comp  authors and books have the readership that you want.

You believe their work shares some quality that is appreciated by lots of readers, that their readers would also enjoy your books.

Comp titles also provide a shorthand that can describe your book to someone else, better than anything else. Years ago, a critic referred to one of my novels as “John McGahern meets Maeve Binchy” to describe what she saw as its mix of carefully-wrought sentences with its women’s fiction style storytelling. I immediately understood what she meant, and so would others reading the review.

Trade publishing use this kind of analysis all the time when deciding whether to licence rights to a book. For the indie author and poet, comp authors and title are all about the reader. A comp author is a book publishing writer with whom you share a readership. A comp title is a book that shares some key reading element with your books.

The information you glean about comp authors and titles will inform and improve your decisions about every aspect of marketing—cover design, titles, subtitles, pricing, back cover copy, blurbs, and testimonials. And, most of all, advertising.

Comparable Authors: Writing and Marketing

You’ve been identifying comp authors since you started to read. Certain authors have attracted you, other shelves in the library or bookshop had no allure, and you walked right past them.

When you started to read like a writer, you began to question other writers technique. You honed in Margaret Atwood’s writing craft or how Stephen King achieves suspense. “How did they DO that?” you asked, consciously or unconsciously, as you explored how they craft their words and their chapters to accomplish the effects they want the reader to experience.

It’s exactly the same when looking at an author’s platform, positioning and promotion. Every book, every author, has a purpose. Once we analyse book marketing with an eye toward that purpose, we begin to see points of comparison.

Ask yourself:

  • What promise is the author conveying to the reader?
  • How do they elicit that response? What techniques or buzzwords are being used?
  • What works well, what would you like to improve?
  • How can you apply some of these techniques to your own writing?

It’s not that you’ll do exactly what they do. You use their activities to give you ideas for your marketing and to benchmark your own metadata and reader response.

Comparable Authors: Points of Comparison

Comp authors and titles aren’t necessarily those you choose to read yourself, though they may be. They will likely be in your genre and category, but your point of comparison might be genre or niche (lesbian romance, YA, inspirational poetry, spiritual self-help, suspense thriller, literary criticism, university textbook) style (e.g. literary, educational, lyrical, fast-paced, masterful metaphor, surreal, etc), setting (e.g. Irish fiction, cosy village, international sweep, historical period, Amazon rainforest etc) structure (exceptionally short or long, time-slip, alternate viewpoint, includes exercises and activities, twist plot, essays, journal, letters, haiku, sonnets, etc) theme or trope (e.g. fiction: family drama, dragons or goblins, moral dilemma, biographical novel, end-of-the-world, dark horror etc in fiction; non-fiction: 50 greatest, tips and tools, the art of, scholarly research, confessions of etc. in non-fiction; poetry: Icelandic sagas, wellness and recovery, motivation, magic realism, empowerment, allegory).

As the examples show, there is a huge variety of comparisons you can make between works and any notable aspect of your writing can provide a point of comparison between you and other authors who are aiming at similar readers.

The job is to isolate the most important of these.

  • What do readers most like and enjoy about another author’s books?
  • What need is being met by their work?
  • Do you meet those needs in your book? How can you flag this in your marketing?

Examining their titles, cover designs, and typography. Shortlist the ones that you like best, or do not like at all and write down your reasons.

Look at all the “Marketing Ps”:
  • Platform—how do they locate themselves and their books in the marketplace? Are they strictly genre or wildly literary?
  • Positioning—how do they present their books so they can be found by readers? What categories and keywords do they use? What design elements are tailored to their market? What approach and tone do they use in their marketing copy, and why does that resonate well with readers?
  • Promotion—what promotion tools and strategies work well for them? Is their readership especially responsive to free books, 99-cent deals, background material about the books, merchandise?
  • Purchasing–Do they sell through social media? Are they Amazon only? Do they sell direct on their own websites?
  • Partnership. As you’re serving the same audience, could you join forces for events, cross-promotions in each other’s newsletters, competitions, social media campaigns?

As you read book descriptions and reviews (see below), you’ll come across words and phrases that connect with and characterize your target audience. By including these in descriptions for your book’s metadata, you can help your book be discovered by your target audience through their search queries.

This is fun, creative work that is also highly focussed and strategic. It brings you on a reading journey that you mightn’t otherwise take and also gives you vital marketing information.

Comparable Authors Workshop

Our Comparable Authors workshop takes place at 5pm UK time on Friday 2nd April. (That’s 9am PDT, Vancouver, 12 noon EDT New York, 6pm SAST Johannesburg, 9.30 pm IT, New Dehli.) Check this world clock to find your time.)
Don’t worry if you can’t make it live; there will be a replay. During the workshop you will:
  • Find six to ten new “comps” (comparable books or authors which your potential readers are already reading)
  • Document where your books overlap with theirs and what that means for your work
  • Identify 3 core categories and 10 core keywords 
  • Consider your comps in relation to your author platform and book marketing
  • Construct a creative business plan for the next quarter, based on your comps

I look forward to seeing you at the workshop, if you’re free to attend live. If you’re not a member, you can sign up here (places permitting)

We’ll send reminders again next week and your planners will be with you, as usual, on or before the first day of the month, 1st of April–and as this month is the start of a new quarter, they’ll include a quarterly review and forecast planner.

Until then, happy writing and publishing!