A Literary Agent’s Guide to Publishing Terms Authors Should Know
“As a literary agent in major trade publishing at the Trident Media Group literary agency, I often have to explain many of these key publishing terms and phrases to new clients.
This serves as a light glossary of key terms, to new authors unfamiliar with the phrases and abbreviations casually tossed around in the book-publishing world.
1. ‘It’s all about the comps’
When a literary agent or editor speaks about ‘comps’, they are not referring to computers, nor anything that may be complementary.
In book publishing, comps generally stands for competitive or comparative titles/authors. A literary agent will often request two to three of these from an author to work into the literary agent’s pitch to publishers. None of this is ever to merely compare an author’s manuscript to similar works, but rather to hold an author’s manuscript in high esteem.
A good comp is usually a similar book genre/age group, published within the last three to five years, that was an award-winner or bestseller. Best to compare to success.
Obviously, if an author had written a fantasy, they don’t go and compare themselves to classics and masters such as J.R.R. Tolkien—that just gets eye rolls from literary agents and editors.In the eyes of an editor, comps help to place the manuscript under consideration in its proper place on a publishing list and answers any questions for a publisher on where a book would fit in at a bookstore.This is also an important way of selling the book to readers.
2. ‘This is a hurry up and wait sort of business’
An impatient author may want to hear back on their submission quickly, but publishing is generally a slow-moving business, as it takes time to read.
Three to four months is usually a reasonable amount of time to expect to hear from editors, once they’ve received a manuscript submission from a literary agent.It’s more than reasonable to expect a literary agent to follow-up with editors still considering along a submission, especially after that three to four-month period.
We as literary agents of course wish that editors could read much faster, too. Apart from the submission process of book publishing, other functions can sometimes be slow as a result of this ‘mañana’ attitude among some book publishers.”