Chances are, whether you’re submitting to agents or self-publishing, you’ll be asked at some point what books are similar to yours. If you’re not prepared to rattle off three or four similar titles or authors, then you’re going to have a much harder time attracting people who want to read your book. Why? Ppeople don’t want to have to guess if your book is for them or not. They want to know that they have found the next Michael Chabon or Barbara Kingsolver or Gillian Flynn.
Make a list of themes in your book. Loss. First love. Illness. Music. Magic. Family drama. Unrequited love. Obsession. Come up with a list of about 20 themes. That way you have plenty to choose from. Then whittle it down to 5 recurring ones. What are the major events pushing your book forward? These are the ones to focus since they’ll make it easier to stock your comp title list.
Look at Amazon or Goodreads for titles using your themes list. I used to only use Amazon for this list when I was an agent, but with the sharp upswing in self-published titles I need to get reliable search results. Why don’t I use self-published titles for this list? Mainly because they’re not well known enough to mean much to an agent, an editor, or a reader. They’re still building their audience (unless they’re Seth Godin). Get about 15 or 20 titles (use your list of themes for your searches) that may be similar to your book published by major or independent houses. Choose 2-3 recently published books (published less than five years ago) for your list.
Look at the NY Times and USA Today for similar authors. Are there authors who are writing in similar genres? Create a list of 4-5. While you may not use all of their names, it’s always good to have 1-2 bigger authors to compare your writing to.
Read a chapter or two of each book you listed. This is to get a feel for the author and they’re writing. You don’t want to make the mistake of comparing your book to a writer, only to discover that they write nothing like you. Refine your list based on your reading.
Create your top 3 picks. If an agent or reader wants more comp titles, have 3-5 more ready. But chances are you’ll have given them a good idea of what the story is about with the 3 you’ve chosen.