Finding The Perfect Comp Title: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Finding a suitable comp title for my novel has been a slow journey. I expected that. There’s this whole process of finding the books and then reading them – and reading them consciously so I actually notice the similarities instead of just, you know, enjoying the book. Case in point, here is the next update on my comp title journey.

This post is part of a series where I look at potential comparative titles for my dark fantasy A Path Of Roots. Here’s the full list:

What is The Hazel Wood about?

The Hazel Wood is a New York Times best-seller published in 2018. It follows seventeen-year-old Alice who has been on the run with her mother from the supernatural bad luck that chases them from place to place. When Alice’s mother goes missing, the culprit is none other than the fairy tale creatures that her grandmother used to write about. If she ever hopes to see her mother again, Alice must journey to her grandmother’s estate The Hazel Wood and discover the truth behind her grandmother’s infamous fairy tales.

Why am I considering this as a comp title?

I am not 100% sure this will be included in the pitch. As you would have seen from my last update on comp titles, this journey has been more than a little frustrating. There have been loud twitter controversies, writer insecurities, fears and hopes, etc… but a lot of the frustration is about finding something that works.

When I started my hunt, I told myself I would limit my comp titles to ones that were similar in plot to my own novel-in-progress. I’d heard that choosing books based around theme, while tempting, is a bad idea so I was very strict with my choices. THE STOLEN and IMAGINARY FRIEND have similar plot lines to my book: i.e. child goes missing thanks to supernatural intervention, leaving behind a distressed single mother, so I saw potential there.

In terms of plot, there is only a little in common between A PATH OF ROOTS and THE HAZEL WOOD. In fact it’s a reverse scenario: it’s the mother who is snatched in this book, not the child.

Does that mean it’s automatically disqualified as a comp title?

Well…

To only focus on similar plot lines might have been a bit of an oversight on my part. These comp titles are tricky and I’m mostly on my own in this search, so it’s a constant learning curve. I’ve done a little extra reading and found that comp titles don’t need to be so specific. They simply need to share one or two elements with my book. Being too similar can also be a detriment.

You can get away with book comps that aren’t really similar to your book, except for an element or two. But what if your comp titles are too similar? This is a fine line. […] you’re maybe calling too much attention to the fact that your idea already exists. And then you may have to justify how yours is different or better. It’s a better idea to pick books that are similar but not eerily so.

Comp Titles in a Query and Other Questions About Book Comps, Mary Kole

If not PLOT then what?

Okay let’s take it a little away from plot and focus on something else. On it’s own, genre is a little too vague. If genre was the only qualifier then I could pick any old contemporary fantasy, pin the comp title badge to it and call it a day.

I’m still avoiding thematic comparisons because themes aren’t marketable. They apply to pretty much any book anywhere, regardless of content. However, tropes are marketable and are more specific than theme.

What is a trope?

A trope is an element of plot. Plot is what happens, a trope is how it happens.

The pitfall here is getting too… loose. For example, my book has fae and fairy folklore so I could well compare it to The Darkest Part Of The Forest by Holly Black (which I love and would absolutely be honoured to compare any of my projects too). But that’s where the similarities end, so using that as a comp title would give the wrong impression. There’s nothing else in common, not in plot, tone, genre or any other tropes.

When looking at tropes, pick a book that has more than one trope in common.

For example, here’s the comparison points between The Hazel Wood and A Path Of Roots:

  • Genre: Mystery fairy tale with horror/portal fantasy.
  • Tropes: Malicious supernatural entities, a magical land in which time behaves differently, characters who cross dimensions, a contemporary setting meets a fantasy one, mother-daughter relationship.

Here’s the TV Tropes page for THE HAZEL WOOD, just for interest.

One last pitfall…

Oh boy, I do like pointing out the negative, don’t I? Seriously though, this is important. One thing I’ve learnt recently is to not use two books that are too similar to each other. For example, The Hazel Wood is a fantasy with fairy tale entities and characters journeying to another realm, and Imaginary Friend is a fantasy horror with supernatural entities and characters journeying to another realm. If I want to use either of these in my query, I have to choose one otherwise I’m just repeating myself without expressing what makes my book unique.

If you’re using a comp title with books that are really similar genre-wise to each other, it’s not really going to communicate the story because those titles are not different enough to pick out the unique elements that translate into your book.

Comp Titles: The Key to Pitching Your Book

So far, I’ve been exclusively looking at horror and supernatural kidnapping stories. Looking at this, it seems I need to expand my search. It’s time to review my WIP’s tropes and go on another hunt. I have no idea what book I’ll find next, but at least that’s the fun part.

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