14.17: It’s Like “Car Talk” meets “Welcome To Nightvale”

Your Hosts: Howard, Mary Robinette, Dan, and DongWon

This episode is about comp titles (comparative titles), which are those things you use to describe your project in terms of other works. We discuss the ones we’ve used (both successfully and unsuccessfully), and the criteria we use to come up with good ones.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Bert Grimm, and mastered by Alex Jackson


Come up with six comp titles—three for existing projects, and three for projects you may want to write. May, in fact, need to write…

A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine

11 thoughts on “14.17: It’s Like “Car Talk” meets “Welcome To Nightvale””

  1. This is… hard.

    I get a lot of push back on this statement whenever I make it, but for stories they just don’t click this way for me, it’s never “this meets that” or “where A and B overlap”. Right now there’s no example I can think of where I can describe something like this, unless it’s so derivative that it would turn me off anyway (see, almost anything written paint-by-numbers to fit “The Monomyth”), and then it’s just that one thing.

    1. That’s fair. I’ve been turned all the way off by comp titles which seemed more like coattail grabs than actual descriptors. “Star Wars meets Harry Potter,” for instance.

      The point here is not that you need to make them somehow click for you. It’s that if you want to quickly describe your work to people who might be interested in it, this is a shorthand you need to be familiar with.

  2. The merry foursome, Howard, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Dongwon, were like Star Wars meets Jaws, with light sabers carving sharks, as they defined, gave examples, and showed us how to use comparative titles for work and pitches. Read all about it in the transcript available now in the archives. Listen for the vorpal swords going snicker-snack!

  3. I have been trying for about three years now to figure out the comp titles for the work currently being sent to agents. This helps a bit in clarifying what the person thinking about comp titles is looking for, but so far hasn’t managed to clarify at all what the heck to use as a comparison for an LGBT+ friendly spin on Labyrinth filled with far too many mind-games and a serial murderer sorcerer.

    Weirdly, or maybe not so much, that was the easiest book to come up with a query pitch for otherwise, but comps? I got nothin’. Okay, I have Labyrinth. But that’s more deconstruction than accurate comparison.

    1. As they used to say in English classes, compare and contrast… instead of looking for a book like yours, try doing it as contrast? I.e., if you’re looking for another straight novel of manners or a troop on a quest for the one ring, you may need to look somewhere else. But if you want an LGBT+ friendly spin on Labyrinth filled with far too many mind-games and a serial murderer sorcerer, try my book! You’ll be glad you did!

    2. I’ve been struggling with comps for three years too, and I’ve also worked in the publishing industry which has failed to shed any light on it for me. But from what I’m getting from this podcast is that you have to take a step waaaaay back from your story, forget most of the details that make your story unique, and look for archetypes and patterns. And from there, pick the two most important elements that you hope you expressed in your story and find comps for those. Like Dan’s example of a Hermione; his character might be completely from her–she might not be brilliant at potions or ancient runes, she might be athletic where the real hermione is not–but the important part to the splot is that she would stay calm and solve problems while everyone else freaks out. I’m still working through it myself.

      I have a question for Dongwong, if he can answer it. When I looked through queries working as an intern, most of the comps listed I didn’t know, and after going through so many, I would ignore them all together. When do comps become really important? Do they set up your expectations when you request more, or do you more focused on them when considering signing a client?

  4. I had really great fun messing around with the prompt this week. Some of these, I would love to write.

    Wilkie Collins’ ‘The Moonstone’ but set in Middle-Earth.
    ‘The Big Sleep’ meets ‘The Expanse’
    ‘Mistborn’ crossed with ‘Kidnapped’ by Stevenson
    It’s like ‘Master and Commander’ … but in space.

    When you start, it’s difficult to stop!

  5. You put the dinosaurs in spaceships and now it’s Star Wars meets Jurassic Park meets Calvin and Hobbes.

    And I want to read it.

  6. I’m dying to see someone do “Car Talk meets Welcome to Night Vale” now.

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