5 Steps to Find the Comparable Novels Publishers Want in Your Proposal

by | Writing | 16 comments

Include books that are similar to yours in theme, tone, style and/or genre.— Rachelle Gardner

image by rebbeccadevitt0

image by rebbeccadevitt0

I’ve noticed writers, myself included, struggling to find comparable books for publishers. Many blogs explain why publishers want Comparable Titles and how to write this proposal section. But, I found little on how to find novels comparable to mine. With hindsight modifications, here’s what I did.

Step 1 – Complete this form for your book using few words (examples provided):

  1. Genre
    1. Romantic Suspense
    2. Legal Thriller
    3. Women’s Fiction
    4. Cozy Mystery
  1. Time period
    1. Contemporary
    2. 1950s
    3. Regency
    4. Pre-Columbian
image by Bonnybbx

image by Bonnybbx

  3.  Main setting
       a.  Southern Plantation
       b.  Lake Norman, NC
       c.  Rome
       d.  Thanksgiving




  1. Plot
    1. Solving a murder using police dogs
    2. Romance between widow and widower
    3. Overcoming covered wagon journey hardships
    4. Foster child surviving and receiving permanent home
  1. Theme and/or takeaway
    1. Coming home
    2. Rising above abuse
    3. Healing a broken marriage
    4. Oddball fitting in
image by kartal8167

image by kartal8167

  1. Style/Tone/Voice
    1. Humor
    2. Clean romance
    3. Christian
    4. Military
  1. Main Audience
    1. Women
    2. Young adult males
    3. Arts & craft lovers
    4. Sports fans
  1. Authors You Write Like


image by Bonnybbxvitt0

image by Bonnybbxvitt0

Step 2 – Choose the most relevant identifiers. Perhaps these will spark a book you’ve read. Don’t be too strict; appropriate books may have only a few of your identifiers.

Example: contemporary, clean romance, humor, office professionals, overbearing father, Thanksgiving


Step 3 – Search and make a list of 5 to 10 possible titles. Using your keywords, try these sources:

image by moritz320

image by moritz320

  1. Search websites, such as Amazon, Christian Book Distributors, and Goodreads. Make sure candidates:
    1. are fairly current
    2. have lots of reviews heavily loaded toward 3-5 stars
    3. have recognizable publishing clout (well-known publisher, multi-published author, or strong sales).
  2. Send emails to reader friends and ask: Considering one or more of these keywords, what books that you enjoyed come to mind? (Unlike story summaries, relevant keywords may keep people open to more books.)
  3. Ask your critique partners and beta readers for popular titles similar to your book.
  4. Browse books in a bookstore, noting the ones in the section in which your book would be shelved.

Step 4 – Arrange your titles from the most to least promising. During the next step, you may have the needed comparable titles before you exhaust your list.

Step 5 – Starting at the top of your list, look up the title on Amazon and Goodreads.

  1. If you haven’t already done so, read the blurbs.
  2. Read many reviews. With reviews and blurbs, you should see readers mentioning your keywords or similar words. If you don’t, put that title aside.
  3. Make sure reviews with 1 – 3 stars don’t repeatedly mention an important flaw that you’d prefer your book not be compared to.
  4. Also, reading lots of reviews might reveal some common thread or belief that’s something you’d rather not have in a comparable title.
  5. Authors with multiple books satisfying your keywords is even better.

Use these 5 steps and find comparable titles for your fiction book proposal. Click to tweet.

What suggestions do you have for finding comparable fiction titles?

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  1. Robin Patchen

    Great ideas here. I find it very difficult to find comparable titles for my books, and this is a great method to go about it. Thanks!

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      You’re welcome, Robin. Fortunately, I have an author I like that my writing style is similar to. That helps.

  2. Susan J. Reinhardt

    I’ve also had a hard time finding comparable titles for my books. Thanks for the great tips, Zoe. Your posts are always so helpful.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Thanks, Susan. I’m so relieved to have a process to find comparable novels for my next proposal.

  3. Roger E. Bruner

    I can hardly wait for the next time I need to do this. Your ideas are very practical.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Hey, Roger. I hadn’t expected anyone saying they were looking forward to the task. :0)

  4. Cynthia Ruchti

    You can also check out fictionfinder.com for books in your genre, recent releases, and search by topic/issue in that unique search feature. For instance, if the book includes issues related to abuse, divorce, blended families, aging, end of life or any number of other topics, you can search by topic and find a list of (in some cases) dozens or hundreds of books that touch on or spotlight those concerns.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Thanks, Cynthia, for reminding us of this excellent resource, especially for inspirational books.

  5. Patti Shene

    Very helpful article! I’m going to bookmark this one for future reference! Thanks for sharing!

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      You’re welcome, Patti. I hope it makes the task easier.

  6. marilyn leach

    Zoe, this is so timely. I love that it’s in a simple step by step format that’s easy to follow. How innovative you are. Thank you. Cheers, Marilyn

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Thanks, Marilyn. Sometimes when we take hours to complete a task and can see what worked and what didn’t, it’s refreshing to share with others so they don’t have to take as much time for the task. I’m always thankful for the bloggers I turn to for research.

  7. Jane Foard Thompson

    As always, you have supplied valuable information, and saved the rest of us hours, and lots of trial and error. I recall the first proposal I drafted for my historical WIP. Since I’d been inspired by Michner’s novels, I used his for my comps! Little wonder I didn’t sell it to that editor. Thank you, Zoe. Great stuff.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Thanks, Jane. I heard someone say, that we don’t have to compare our book to a bestseller, but we could say, “Those who enjoy novels like Mr. Bestseller’s novel will enjoy my novel.”

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