Know Your Competition
In your publication journey, there’s a good chance you’ll be asked, at some point, to provide some “comps” for your book.
Why do we ask this? Why do we care? What are the advantages of writing a comprehensive “Competition” section in your book proposal, or being able to talk intelligently about other books in the same category as yours?
• If you’re writing non-fiction, it shows you whether there is a hole in the market that your book can fill, or whether the topic has already been done to death (in which case, you go back to the drawing board and tweak your idea so that it takes a different approach or says something different than what everyone else is saying; or say it in a totally different way).
• If you’re writing fiction, it gives you the opportunity to make sure you’re not inadvertantly writing a plot that’s too similar to something else that’s well-known.
• It shows the publisher that you know your genre or category well.
• It alerts your publisher to any possible sales issues regarding competition.
• It helps everyone at the publisher (editors, marketing, sales, design) to capture a vision for your book; to understand it a little better; to know which section of the bookstore it goes in.
• It forces you, the writer, to become familiar with what’s already been written along the same lines as your book.
If you’re asked to write a “Competition” section for a book proposal:
Non-fiction: Include books on the same topic as yours. Explain in one sentence what that book is about or its strengths; then one or two sentences about how yours is different, better, or a good complement to it.
Fiction: Instead of calling it a competition section, I recommend you call it “Comparable Books.” Include books that are similar to yours in theme, tone, style and/or genre. If you know of another book with a similar plot, you should address that. Briefly explain why readers of those books will want to read your book, too.
→ Include only books with strong sales (not flops and not huge bestsellers) and only books released in the last few years.
→ Search for possible competitive or comparable books using a variety of means; don’t limit yourself to one particular search term or one method. Go deeper than the titles to make sure you’re not missing anything. Search on various websites besides Amazon. If you’re writing a Christian book, use Christianbook.com.
→ Be sure to include: title, author, publisher, year released, a one-sentence description of the book and its strengths, and a one or two sentence explanation of why someone would buy your book instead of the other one, or in addition to the other one.
→ Don’t criticize the other book or say it’s terrible (even if you think it is). Just highlight the differences.
→ Sometimes it works to open your competition section with an overview of the competition before going into the details on specific books. For example, in a proposal for a book about teaching life-skills to kids, I opened the competition section with the following: “There are many books offering lists of things your kids should learn before they leave home, showing there is a market for user-friendly resources packing a lot of information into an easy-to-read format. However, most of the books focus on attitudes and character-building issues, while my book is centered on practical life skills.”
→ Be thorough with this section, since it tells the publisher whether you have done your homework.
When I’m intrigued by a non-fiction proposal, one of my first thoughts is always, “Hmm, I wonder what other books are out there on this topic.” If the competition section says something like “There are no other books like mine,” I’d immediately go online and do some quick research. In ten minutes I could get a pretty good feel for the competition, and it’s almost always apparent that the writer is either delusional, or trying to fool me, or simply has no clue about the market for their own book. Their stock just went down in my eyes, because now I don’t know if they’ve really researched their topic at all. At that point, I’m likely to move on to the next proposal.
Know your competition!
How are you at assessing other books similar to yours? Are you prepared to provide comps for your book?
For further reading on competition, read this: “Utterly Original“