Our second webinar in the 2022 Query Grind webinar series is coming up on February 24 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time. We’ll have Feiwel & Friends Assistant Editor Rachel Diebel telling us all about comp titles! To get ready for this webinar, our Assistant Regional Advisor and Webinar Coordinator, Kristen Strocchia, had a chat with Rachel at our virtual EasternPennPoints Café. Check it out!
Kristen: Welcome, Rachel! It’s so good to “e-see” you. I noticed on your Manuscript Wish List (MSWL) that you enjoy hockey and women’s soccer, so I thought you might like to try out our virtual sports café (pets and pet books allowed for the dog lover in you). Plus, we can watch any matchup of any two sports teams in history. Which pair would you like to see?
Rachel: I’d love to see today’s USA women’s hockey team take on the 2019 World Cup–winning US Women’s soccer team—I genuinely don’t know who would win, but it sure would be a fun time watching!
Kristen: That does sound like an exciting game! And a snack to go with that?
Rachel: Give me an enormous bag of gummy candy and I’m happy!
Kristen: One Goliath-sized bag of gummies it is. And I think I’m feeling a gargantuan need for guac—with a chip or two.
So, while we wait for our order, let me ask you—As a writer, I’ve heard so much advice about comps, some of it conflicting. Like are they comparative titles or competitive titles?
Rachel: Comp titles is short for comparative titles—authors and agents will use them while querying and submitting to editors to both give a shorthand as to what their book is like (“it has the dazzling setting of THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS and the burning romance of THE SHADOWS BETWEEN US,” for example) and to show that they have an audience for their book in mind—that they know what’s working in their genre. In a publishing house, we use comps slightly differently, in a more sales-driven way, but I always encourage authors to be creative with their comps! As long as they satisfy the three Rs: recent, realistic, and relevant.
Kristen: Looks like the game is about to start. Can’t help a few sports analogies while we’re here. Let’s talk about “reading the play”: In recent years, I’ve seen graphic novels created from already-existing successful novels. But is there ever a time when a querying author should consider pivoting from a traditional MG/YA manuscript to a graphic novel script?
Rachel: I think this is definitely on a book-by-book basis, and you really have to consider your content and your skillset. Is the content/plot of your book something that you’re seeing a lot of in graphic novels right now? Do you have comp titles you could use? Do you know how to write a graphic novel script? It’s a very different, specific skillset from writing a novel! Ultimately I think you should only make the switch if you’re confident in your ability to write a graphic novel script and you have a strong sense of where your project fits in with graphic novels that are already working in the market.
Kristen: The gummies and guac have finally arrived. Perfect timing. As someone who acquires MG, YA and MG/YA graphic novels, how do you feel about upper MG and young YA manuscripts?
Rachel: I think, as YA in particular trends upwards in age, there’s definitely still a place for younger YA/upper middle grade. It can be very tricky to position, as ultimately your book is going to end up on either the YA or MG shelf in a bookstore, but it can be done. The most important thing is having a really solid book, and then your agent and editor can help you position it in a way that will serve you and your story best! I’ve seen sales ask for projects to change age category during the acquisitions process, so even if you go on submission as a YA novel, there’s a chance you may end up with a middle grade book on sale! It’s all about making sure your book has the best chance possible to find the right audience.
Kristen: Next up, publishing penalty box: Hypothetically, let’s say you receive a manuscript that has several components you love—dogs, cats, soccer, hockey, great comp titles, a rural Pacific Northwest setting—what issues might cause you to pass on the project?
Rachel: Those are all elements that I love and will make me more interested in reading further into a book or submission, but if the voice doesn’t pull me in right away, I’m unlikely to want to keep reading. Also, characters. If I don’t fall in love with your characters and want to root for them, then it doesn’t matter how many dogs or cats are in your book!
Kristen: To extend that, how important is it that a writer has personal experience with any setting, sport, or other subject in their novel? And when is it okay to write from research?
Rachel: There are a zillion things you can research effectively and become expert in enough to write about—sports, settings, locations, etc. It will just always read and feel more authentic if you have a personal connection or experience with what you’re writing about. Think about it—you can decide you want to write a soccer book, do a ton of research, and get all of your facts correct, but it’s just not going to read as powerfully if you can’t describe what it feels like to score a game-winning goal from having done it yourself! Research goes a long way in these things, but firsthand experience is always best if possible.
Kristen: Looks like the soccer game is all tied up. How about a little overtime of our own? Five questions. Answer in a sentence or less:
- Name a character-turned-BFF from one of your favorite reads: This is cheating, since it’s from a book I edited, but I think I’d love to be IRL friends with Ophelia from OPHELIA AFTER ALL by Racquel Marie!
- Dogs vs cats in soccer—Who wins? I’m not sure it counts as a “win,” since I think the cats would just straight up walk away without trying, but, dogs!
- Tea or coffee? Tea, no question. English breakfast!
- Some comp titles you’d love to see in your inbox: I’d love to see something with an incredible setting like THE SCORPIO RACES, a super-fun mystery like THE INHERITANCE GAMES, or a packed-full-of-action middle grade that features history/mythology we traditionally haven’t seen centered in middle grade stories, like PAOLA SANTIAGO AND THE RIVER OF TEARS.
- Thing you miss most from the Pacific Northwest: The mountains! East coast mountains just don’t compete.
Kristen: Thank you so much, Rachel! It’s been great to chat publishing in front of this incredible soccer matchup.
Rachel Diebel is an assistant editor at Feiwel & Friends, where she works on celebrity picture books like Natalie Portman’s Fables and Cleo Wade’s What the Road Said for her boss and acquires voicey, heartfelt middle grade, young adult, and graphic novels for herself. She holds a masters in publishing from Pace University. Rachel is originally from the Pacific Northwest and now lives in Brooklyn.
Rachel Diebel’s webinar, “No Stress Comp Titles – Choosing the Right Comparison Titles for Your Book,” will be held on Thursday, February 24 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time. There’s still time to register for this webinar as well as the remaining webinars in the 2022 Query Grind series. Visit our registration page for all the details: https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-series-query-grind-2022/.