How (not) to Pick Stellar Comps
Hello Fox Family! How are y'all doing? Today's ramble is about comps. Which I'm going to to talk about in relation to my latest WIP, Harpy Girls.
Full Discloser: I am THE WOORRRRRRRRRSSSSSSSSSSSST at picking out comps that make agents or readers go I NEED THAT NOW. And I've found that when I see comps for books I'm going to read, I get super excited, only to read the book and realize that what I was expecting based on the comp was nothing like what the book actually delivered. While I fully understand the purpose behind comps, they aren't generally something that works for me.
Case in point, Graceling. The first time I read this, I was told it was a book about a badass female assassin. If you know me, you know that BADASS FEMALE ASSASSINS are my jam. I had just finished a book wherein I had been promised a badass assassin who did not actually end up assassin-ing anyone and I was disappointed. So, I eagerly started reading Graceling. And again, I was disappointed. I was beyond disappointed. The book didn't deliver to me what I BELIEVED the premise to be. I wanted dead bodies. I wanted blood. I wanted cutthroat badassery.
The truth is, that yes, Katsa is badass and amazing, but the description set me up for disappointment on my first read. I recently reread it and OMG THIS BOOK IS AMAZING AND EVERYONE SHOULD READ IT. My disappointment in it--based on it not living up to how it was pitched to me--blocked me from seeing its awesomeness. Cashore is brilliant. I would like to workshop with her and would sell the tattered remnants of my soul to be mentored by her amazingness. I went into it purposefully and with an open mind. And it helped me realize that the less I know about a book, the more likely I am to like it. Otherwise I have expectations set up and I am almost always disappointed.
(side note, this is clearly a "how my brain functions" realization and now that I'm aware of it I can develop a work around)
All this to explain why I dislike comps. So for Tarnished Hearts, my latest query flop, I comped it to Ladyhawk and Snow White. The Ladyhawk bit was entirely because one of the characters turns into a fox each night after being cursed, just like Isabeau and Etienne do (I mean, they turn into a hawk and a wolf respectively, but you get the picture). That's it. That's the extent of the reference. Snow White comes in because one of the other characters is a Huntress for a Queen who eats hearts. That's it. End of comparison. To me, they're brilliant. But I'm sure that for other people they were like, HOW IS THIS A COMP? I DON'T SEE IT. Or they might just want it to be *more* like either one of those.
Comps are tricky beasts and I have very little advice on the topic, but it's become a bit of a running joke with me for Harpy Girls. So every time I add an element or a line that reminds *me* of a specific book, tv show or movie, I'm like I HAVE A NEW COMP. So, prepare for the GIF-stravaganza that is my comparative titles. (tbh, I should just send this blog post as my query, I mean, it's way better and more entertaining)
Harpy Girls is...
Burn Notice: First and foremost, its an homage to this amazing show. Just like Michael Weston, Valen is a spy who has been unjustly kicked out of her organization and she will stop at nothing to get back in. (Edria=Sam, Ryper=Fiona, also, in my version, the romantic pairings are different!)
Booksmart: Valen & Edria have the same intimate, no questions asked, always there for each other, do or die friendship as Amy & Molly.
The Heat: It's not on page, but Valen & Edria's start is similar to how Ashburn & Mullins join forces. By the end of this movie though, they are 100% Valen & Edria. Mullins captures Edria's crass and aggressive behavior as perfectly as Ashburn captures Valen's precision and determination to always be right. Not to mention the way they defend each other. IT'S BEAUTIFUL.
Romeo & Juliet: There is no Juliet in Harpy Girls, but Edria is 100% a Romeo. She is constantly falling in and out of love, has a weakness for pretty faces, and tends to be emotionally dramatic about both being in and out of love.
Sleepy Hollow: CARNIVEROUS TREES. If you know me, you know that I always have dangerous, human eating trees in my books. ALWAYS. This all harkens back to this delightful tree right here, the Tree of the Dead from Sleepy Hollow. So obviously, this is the ideal comp for Harpy Girls because there is indeed a predatory, carnivorous tree in the story.
Boardwalk Empire: This is another show that I absolutely adore. Not only is the leader of the crime syndicate in Harpy Girls just like Nucky Thompson, but the actor who places Jimmy Darmody (pictured in GIF) is my face cast for another important character in the book. Not to mention that the the 1920s is the adjacent era for my second world fantasy. So watching this show helps me get a good sense of the world technology and fashion wise (but instead of dresses for my girls, imagine them all wearing suits with ties and suspenders...)
Hot Fuzz: Okay, so I have NEVER seen this movie. I just happened upon this GIF while searching for swan GIFs one day, but like, this perfectly captures the girl squad aesthetic of Harpy Girls and swans are an important world building thing, so now it's a comp. Edria is the driver, Ryper is the one with the gun, and Valen is the swan in the backseat. Trust me. It works.
Jupiter Ascending: If only the plot or characters matched up a bit better, this would be an AMAZING comp to actually use in my query. But alas. In Harpy Girls, the Harpies are an elite squad of winged thieves, assassins, and spies. Caine's wings are EXACTLY how I imagine their wings to look (especially since they tuck in so tidily when not in use) and, tbh, Caine being kicked out of his military group and having to earn his way back in is PERFECT for Valen's story arc, however, this is one of those comps where if I used it, it would only lead to disappointment. (fyi, I have a future blog planned on why Jupiter Ascending is amazing, because I do love this movie with all my heart)
Pirates of the Caribbean: I have a pirate character. Who shows up on page 200-something and is present in the periphery of the story for a whole chapter. This obviously means I should be allowed to comp to Pirates of the Caribbean.
Avatar the Last Airbender: THE COMP THAT IS USED TOO MUCH. I have ONE scene in Harpy Girls that is my shout out to the "my cabbages" dude in AtLA. Since the scene exist, it is officially a comp.
That my friends, is Harpy Girls in a nutshell. In case you're curious as to what Harpy Girls *actually* is after that confusing montage, here's my pitch:
Harpy Girls is a dual POV YA fantasy that is Booksmart meets Burn Notice. It will appeal to fans of The Shadow Games Trilogy and Gunslinger Girl.
Valen and Edria only have two rules for their friendship—Don't lie and don’t get killed. Sixteen year-old Valen has a mind for strategy and is an adept liar--making her a perfect spy. Seventeen year-old Edria has a reputation for punching first and asking questions second. Both girls have promising futures as Harpies--an elite team of winged thieves, spies, and assassins.
As their city picks up the pieces after a devastating war, crime syndicates have worked to rebuild the city and bring financial stability. The most powerful employ Harpies to maintain order and control over their empire. While completing the mission that should earn Valen her wings, their plan is derailed when they discover a coup that would not only undermine the economic progress of the city, but start a new war . Caught in the crossfire, Valen and Edria are branded traitors and exiled from the city.
Determined to prove their innocence, the girls go in search of a legendary demigod. Bringing him back to the city will not only clear their names and earn Valen the wings she so desperately desires, but will tip the scales of power back to those who should have it. However, the forces working against them are masters of manipulation and their deception will test the strength of their friendship and push them to break its rules.
Where is my 8 figure deal? Right? Right? This is the most amazing thing you've ever heard of, RIGHT???? Honestly though, I love it. I wrote it for me and I will, of course, be devastated when it fails to catch anyone's attention, but that won't change my love for these girls and their friendship.
Just to circle back to the point of this post (How NOT to choose comps), you can see that I had some fairly valid and some invalid comp choices. And how each one is very specific in how it comps to Harpy Girls. When choosing comps, try to be as specific as possible and choose the ones that ring the most true on the bigger scale. I'm going with Booksmart and Burn Notice because they are the most obvious comparisons and I think they do accurately set up the characterization and the plot of the story. But who knows, I'm also weird. So this could be WAY off. Hopefully it helps you and if not, you have at least been amused by me describing my manuscript using ten very different texts (texts=movies and TV shows because I used ZERO books as comps, I told you I was bad at this...)
HAPPY WRITING Y'ALL!