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All Posts in Category: competitive analysis

Checking out the Competition

A great way to check out the competition to your book is to spend some time on and Goodreads — along with other online book retailers. They provide information about books related to your subject and offer rankings and customer reviews that will help you see what you need to do to shape your idea into an appealing, marketable message.

Specifically, guide your research in these ways:

  • Review the criticisms readers voice about related books. Use that information as an angle to sell yours. (“Readers of Competing Title complain that the language is hard to follow. My book will be written in a friendly, accessible voice.”)
  • Gather detailed information — number of pages, types of illustrations, publisher name, publication date. Books released by self-publishing authors or tiny publishers don’t belong on your competitive analysis. Neither do books that are old or outdated — with the exception of titles that are still top sellers. For older books that still sell well, you can make the case that your book will include updated informaton that readers will want to know. Length and illustrations can help you decide the specs of your book — should it be shorter or longer or about the same?
    • Discover the top-sellers in your category by searching under “bestseller.” Not all of these titles are necessarily on bookstore shelves, so now’s your chance to find out about them even if they’re sold out at the bookstore down the street.
    • Identify your strongest competition and note their sales rank.
    • Type in keywords related to your subject matter. What titles pop up when you do so?

Unique Ideas Are Overrated

I often get anxious emails from authors who want to write about a certain subject but find that many books on the matter have already been published. I always tell such authors to take a deep breath and remember that your book idea doesn’t have to be unique. There is plenty of room in the world for new voices, contrary ideas, different approaches, and fresh angles on a well-known subject.

Many proposals that start with the line, “No one has ever written a book on this subject until now,” are immediately rejected. Why? Because the editor assumes that you haven’t done your homework, or there’s no audience for your book, or the idea isn’t big enough for a book – it’s actually a magazine article.

The key is in distinguishing your book from others like it. What makes your book different and better? And how does this benefit your audience?

7 Steps for Getting the Nitty-Gritty on the Competition

How do you make your book stand out from others like it? First, you have to identify what other authors have done right with their books. Then, you need to make sure your book shares the positives — but has a unique approach, information that competition doesn’t have, or other benefits that are missing in the competition.

1. Study best-sellers or top-selling books in your subject matter. How is each book written? How is the content arranged? What is the tone, design, audience, length?
2. Read reviews and reader comments about the books. What are people identifying as the strengths and weaknesses? Use this in your own process.
3. Ask your friends and colleagues what they read–and why.
4. For each book you plan to use in your competitive analysis, jot down notes describing each competing title in just a few sentences. Think in terms of how you’ll make your book better than the competing title.
5. Make it clear why your book will appeal to readers, even if they have a similar title already on their shelves.
6. Ask colleagues for feedback. Show them your competitive analysis and ask them if they can identify how your book will be different from the competition–and if they can say why your book will appeal to its audience.
7. Most important, use the information you unearth. Don’t have a preconceived notion of what you think your book should look like.

Writing the Competitive Analysis

One of the most difficult parts of writing a nonfiction book proposal is putting together the competitive analysis (this goes by various names but is basically the section where you compare your book to others like it). People often make several common mistakes.

  1. They write the competitive analysis after they’ve written the rest of the proposal — the chapter outline and summaries, the marketing/promotion section, the about the author material — which means that if, during their research, they discover that someone else has already published a book almost exactly like the one they’re proposing, they have to rewrite the whole proposal. Or they pretend the competing book doesn’t exist. Or they shelve their proposal and go on to something else. I’ve always found the best way to tackle the competitive analysis is to write a draft of my overview (the overview covers what my book is about, who the audience is, and why I’m the right person to write it), then, with that information in mind, start my research on competing books. Very often what I learn helps me shape my book to be better and more helpful to readers than what is already on the market.
  2. Another common mistake is to claim there is no other book like yours. This is not the impressive feat you may think it is. When you say something like that, editors/agents think either you haven’t done your homework, or else there is a good reason there’s no other book like yours, and that’s because there’s no market for it.
  3. They badmouth the competition. It’s true that you want your proposed book to come out looking like a winner, but you don’t accomplish this by denigrating the other books out there. Keep in mind that someone thought those books were worth publishing (possibly the very same editor who is about to read your proposal). There’s nothing wrong with using objective information:  “This book doesn’t include the results of recent studies.” “That book is intended for scholars, not a general audience.” “This other book doesn’t include exercises and resources for readers.” But saying things like “This book sucks” is a no-no. That’s not just because you don’t want come across like a jerk; it’s also because “this book sucks” doesn’t tell the reader anything about why the book doesn’t accomplish what it’s supposed to accomplish.
  4. They forget to clearly explain how their book will be different and/or better. You have to connect the dots for your reader. If Competing Title doesn’t include the results of the most recent research, it isn’t enough just to point that out. You have to also specify that My Planned Book will include that information. Don’t forget to explain the benefit to the reader. In sales, they talk about the difference between features (an index) and benefits (the ability to quickly turn to the page that has the information sought). Keep that distinction in mind as you write about your competition.
  5. They dig up and include every obscure title ever printed on the topic. In the interest of thoroughness, some people include everything every done on the subject, which can be overwhelming and doesn’t give an agent/editor a clear picture of what the market for your book may be. If the only books on your topic were published twenty years ago, agents/editors are going to wonder what audience you think your book will have now. If the only books on your topic have been published by tiny presses or self publishers, agents/editors are going to wonder if you have a large enough audience to warrant their investing in your book. If you include everything but the kitchen sink, you’re forcing your readers to wade through a lot of information to find the useful bits. Instead, choose more recently published books put out by major publishers which have sold well. (It can be difficult to figure out how well a book has sold, but Amazon rankings can help, as can extended best seller lists. Google is your friend; if the book in question turns up three hits, it’s probably not a great success.)