Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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July 24, 2023

Subgenres and Comp Books. Find Ones that Sell Books Better

By Kris Maze

You’ve written your book, edited it, collected beta reader feedback, and now you want to shop it around to editors and publishers.  First off, congratulations! You have finished a book. But now you will need to know how it fits in the world of book stores and online sales, and one step to categorize your book is by using comp books.

Comparison books, comp books for short, do the work of giving the agent, publisher, and ultimately your readers an idea about the content, style, and story promise of your book. Finding books that are similar to yours can be tough and confusing, since each story has its own unique imprint on the world. Choosing books that are closely aligned to your story in multiple ways can help you sell your books and connect to more readers who want your type of story.  Read on to see key ways that your comp book choices should reflect the essence of your story.

Why do authors need to find comp books or stories that are like their own?

  • Helps with cover design
  • Helps align accurate metadata (categories, keywords, descriptions
  • Helps with marketing your target readers
  • Helps you identify your ideal audience for your book.  

And it shows agents and publishers that you understand the market and which readers your book will appeal to.

What things does your work have in common with them?

Be specific when using a comp book to solicit a publisher or agent. How does your comp book reflect these aspects of your novel?

  • Similar protagonist
    • Same genre
    • Main conflicts align
    • Address the same theme
    • Have a similar style or tone

Choosing books that are truly representative of what you have written also shows that you understand your book’s connection to readers. Giving book comp information to an agent or publisher shows a close relationship to a book with a proven audience base--and that your book can appeal to those readers as well.

How can you decide on and refine your Genre?

Genre Classifications

You may first want to read this article by our own Jenny Hanson about ow important it is to choose your genre carefully. But there is a slight art to picking the labels for your story.

It's problematic since there isn’t a definitive list. There are also major players, publishing houses, agencies, etc that use slightly different definitions. There are many, many stories that overlap in genre forming hybrid stories, complicating the process even more.

Here’s a little tool to help you in your research: Book Genre Finder - Book Genres (book-genres.com)

Another good place to look for genres and subgenres is to find your comp books in the places where they are sold.  A main one is Amazon.com and they have a very detailed collection of categories to choose from. There is more strategizing when it comes to which subgenres are best for your book, but looking at books similar to yours could help you germinate your ideas on which subgenres best describe your novel.

Genre Practice and a Game

Figuring out the genre of you writing can be tricky.  Let’s look at some well-selling books and see how close you choose the main category and subgenres.

Ready to practice your genre identification skills?  Here is a question-based game to get your genre juices flowing!

Each question slide will include a description of a novel that was popular and considered in the “Best of” genres according to Amazon during the last 7 years.  There will be 3 main categories to choose from, worth 1 point for each correct answer. There are extra points if you can guess the title of the novel from the description too!


  1. Grab something to keep track of your answers.
  2. Start the slideshow or read the descriptions from the stills included in this post below.
  3. For each question slide, read the description, and write down the genre you choose.
  4. Write down any titles you can identify.
  5. Check your scores and brag incessantly in the comments at the end of this post.  😊

Start the slideshow HERE or read on.

Question 1

Question 1 of the genre game

Question 1- What Best of Genre is this popular book based on the description below?

  1. Best Science Fiction & Fantasy b. Best Literature & Fiction c. Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

           France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever—and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of our protagonist, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.

Question 2

Question 2 of the genre game

Question 2- What Best of Genre is this popular book based on the description below?

  1. Best Science Fiction & Fantasy b. Best Literature & Fiction c. Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

           The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it's not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it's everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape.

The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters' storylines intersect?

Question 3

Question 3 of the genre game

Question 3- What Best of Genre is this popular book based on the description below?

  1. Best Science Fiction & Fantasy b. Best Literature & Fiction c. Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

           A girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaks into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeps with rock stars, and dreams of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock ’n’ roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is a band led by the brooding Billy. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road. The two cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

Question 4

Question 4 of the genre game

Question 4- What Best of Genre is this popular book based on the description below?

  1. Best Science Fiction & Fantasy b. Best Literature & Fiction c. Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

           A slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia is an outcast even among her fellow Africans. She is on the cusp of womanhood—where greater pain awaits. And so when another slave who has recently arrived from Virginia urges her to join him on the Underground Railroad, she seizes the opportunity and escapes with him.

Question 5

Question 5 of the genre game

Question 5- What Best of Genre is this popular book based on the description below?

  1. Best Science Fiction & Fantasy b. Best Literature & Fiction c. Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

           Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town—and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Question 6

Question 6 of the genre game

Question 6- What Best of Genre is this popular book based on the description below?

  1. Best Science Fiction & Fantasy b. Best Literature & Fiction c. Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

           The alcoholic narrator catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens.

She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only she could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed.

Question 7

Question 7 of the genre game

Question 7 - What Best of Genre is this popular book based on the description below?7

  1. Best Science Fiction & Fantasy b. Best Literature & Fiction c. Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

           Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose.

Question 8

Question 8 of the genre game

Question 8 - What Best of Genre is this popular book based on the description below?7

  1. Best Science Fiction & Fantasy b. Best Literature & Fiction c. Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

           Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

Subgenres of these best sellers

In this game you saw book descriptions for novels that hit the Best of Genre categories according to Amazon.  As you will see the Best Literature & Fiction category is very wide in definition.  Colton Whitehead’s Underground Railroad is a completely different story than Reid’s Daisy Jones and the Six. Here is how these descriptions topped the charts:

Best Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V.E. Schwab

  • Historical Fantasy (Books)
    • Romance Literary Fiction
    • Contemporary Literary Fiction

The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig

  • Time Travel Science Fiction (Kindle Store)
  • Time Travel Fiction
  • Romance Literary Fiction

Best Literature & Fiction

              The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett

  • Historical Literary Fiction
  • Women's Literary Fiction
  • Mothers & Children Fiction

              Daisy Jones & The Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

  • Literary Sagas
  • Women's Literary Fiction
  • Saga Fiction

              The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

  • Books (See Top 100 in Books)
    • Black & African American Historical Fiction (Books)
    • Literary Fiction (Books)

              Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng

  • Asian American Literature (Kindle Store)
    • American Literature (Books)
    • Contemporary Fiction (Kindle Store)

              Circe, by Madeline Miller

  • Military Historical Fiction
  • Classic Literary Fiction
  • Classic American Literature

Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

              The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

  • Psychological Thrillers (Books)
    • Women Sleuths (Books)
    • Literary Fiction (Books)

Take a look at your correct answers. At 1 point for each correct category and an additional point for any correct titles, how many points did you get? Check the scoring chart and see how you did!

scoring points of the genre game

Final Thoughts

Genre is a tricky, slippery beast, and lets take the example of Outlander for a moment. Although historical fiction seems appropriate, the story has time travel (which we said is a subgenre). It fits in other categories.

According to the almighty-Bing search engine (hee hee),

"Outlander is a drama series adapted from the best-selling books by Diana Gabaldon. The series combines multiple genres, such as time travel fantasyromancehistorical fiction, and adventure1"

But also, according to the author, "Outlander is a genre unto itself, which is predominately historical fiction, but also features science fiction, romance, mystery and fantasy1The author, Diana Gabaldon, conceives the time travel in the book as science fiction, and understands how it works within the fictional world2."

So, genre may just be in the eye of the beholder and a useful tool for marketing one's book to their targeted readers.

But one thing is certain, I should be handled with care as it connects your book to the readers who want your story.

Take a look at that list again and check out the Amazon subgenres listed.  Are any surprising to you? Would you have expected something different?  Share your thoughts below (and your scores if you really want to!)

About Kris

Kris Maze

Kris Maze is an author, writing coach, and teacher. She has worked in education for many years and writes for various publications, including Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish and the award-winning blog Writers in the Storm where she is also a host.

You can find her horror stories and young adult writing on her website. Keep up with future projects and events by subscribing to her newsletter. And other writing work HERE, including author coaching and critiques.

A recovering grammarian and hopeless wanderer, Kris enjoys reading, playing violin and piano, and spending time outdoors.

And occasionally, she takes hikes in the woods with her dog.

8 comments on “Subgenres and Comp Books. Find Ones that Sell Books Better”

  1. Hi Kris,

    Thank you for the helpful links!

    My WIP is magical realism with a sci-fi glaze in the form of time travel. Finding comps for this one shouldn't be too difficult.

    Comps for my children's chapter book series is a different story. What does one do when the closest books are The Berenstain Bears?

  2. Hi, Kris. Thanks for the book genre finder. That helpfully lists some titles that I can use as comps for my Science Fiction/Alternate History series. The genre guessing game was interesting. I got "Not bad." I am terrible at remembering titles. lol.

    1. Hi Lynette,
      Thanks for playing. Not Bad seems pretty to me.

      And having the genre resources can help clarify which genres most closely represent our work. Im glad that data base will be helpful.

      🙂 Kris

  3. If you read what you write, then finding comps shouldn't be hard.

    Some writers have even intentionally picked rogue subgenres in order to hit a number one on the category on Amazon. I consider it manipulation, others call it clever.

    1. Hi Denise,
      You make an important distinction here about the use of genres and categories.

      When using genre with your book's metadata, in my opinion, it's more important to aptly say what the broad genre of your book. What's in it for the reader? That should be clear.

      In a marketing situation, it can be smart to match up categories to who is the ideal market for your book.

      Writers can be more granular about a main character's journey here. Tell the reader more about what they can expect from your book with categories.

      Is the MC of your book a Pacific Islander, or grew up in a home with same-sex parents, or is a historical fiction that highlights the achievements of women scientists of the 1800s? Whatever the content of your story, we can use genre to help buyers find books they'll enjoy and appreciate.

      This is where authors can tap into specific interests readers may have and align their books to existing catagories. This can be a strategic way to sell more books.


  4. Hi Ellen,

    Choosing comps for picture books may take some extra finesse, especially when looking at a popular and perennial series like Berenstain Bears.

    It may take more deconstruction to find books that accomplish what your books provide for kids.

    Do your books teach social skills? Or have themes like enpathy or overcoming differences?

    Find common themes and content and say how your books are similar, but also share how they stand out on their own.

  5. This was fun and I was happy to score 11. However I’m not getting how Circe could possibly not be fantasy. I have added to my to be read pile the Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.

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