Typically, a writer includes one or two recent titles that are similar in some fashion to the story they are telling, in their query letter.
I'd like any advice for finding good comparative titles.
Specifically: Is it best to focus on theme, or story structure, or character types, some other item? Would it be all right (or a bad idea) to reference an old title 'brought up to the 21st century' sort of thing?
(a) I've browsed titles at the book store but it seems hard to really know if the books are good comps without reading them cover to cover. (b) I've not been trying to emulate popular works. (c) I've heard that critique groups may be able to provide ideas about comparative titles.
Imagine comping The Martian. What does that mean? Will the agent expect something like Castaway? Or something like Lost in Space? Or something like MacGyver? Castaway and MacGyver are very different, both are similar to The Martian, and neither is set on a another planet.
To ask another way: What is the key feature of story that one should hold in mind, when identifying comparative titles?
Any suggestions appreciated, I believe this is on topic, because finding an agent is part of the path between writing and publishing.
Edit: I found my comparative titles by literally picking up every new title in the genre at the library and identifying aspects of new stories that are present in my own. I recommend this approach to anyone struggling with comps. It takes less than an hour.