The following post has been excerpted and adapted from The Author Training Manual by Nina Amir, recently released by Writer’s Digest Books.
If you’re embarking on a nonfiction book project, your analysis of the competitive landscape is critical, whether you self-publish or traditionally publish. You need to understand and be able to explain how your book stacks up against all the others.
If you pitch your book to editors and agents, one component of your book proposal [see Jane’s 101 post on book proposals] is the competitive title analysis. The goal is to evaluate how unique and necessary your book is in the marketplace, or how to make it so.
1. Determine the book’s category.
Where in a bookstore will you find your book shelved? (Examples: Religion, History, Business, Self-Help.) If you don’t know, ask a bookstore clerk or a librarian. Tell them about your book, and ask where it would be located or how it would be categorized. Then focus your competitive title search on this particular category.
2. Compile a list of competitive and complementary titles.
Look for competing titles in bricks-and-mortar bookstores, libraries, online bookstores, and online community sites—including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, LibraryThing, Goodreads, Redroom, BookDepository.com, and NetGalley. Don’t forget to Google your topic and see what comes up as well.
Come up with a list of 10–15 books you consider competitive or complementary to yours—books that cover the same type of information or that tell the same type of story. Then narrow the list down to 5–10 that are closest in subject matter or storyline. List these by bestseller status or by date of publication. Keep track of the following data:
- title and subtitle
- copyright year
- number of pages
- format (paperback, hardcover, etc—along with notes about any special packaging)
If you have trouble discerning whether a title belongs on this list, consider the following criteria:
- If a reader buys your book instead of another book, that other book is your competition.
- If a reader is interested in buying your book, what other books might he buy to gain different information? These are complementary titles.
You can also go to Amazon and look at the section on a particular book’s page that says: “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought.” These may be complementary or competing books.
3. Closely study the competition (and learn from it).
For each competitive title, study the table of contents, the promises they make on their back covers, the introductions and forewords, the author’s bio, special features (quotations, a workbook element, case studies, tips, or tools), the style or tone, and so on.
Consider these factors about the competing books you have identified:
- How it is different from the book you want to write?
- How it is similar to the book you want to write?
- Is the scope of the book different? How so?
- Does it have different benefits? What are they?
- What are its pros and cons?
- How would you improve it?
- What do you like about it? Dislike?
- What promises does the author make to readers? What promises does the author fail to make that he could or should (or that you can)?
- What are the author’s credentials (or lack of credentials)?
Also study the reviews of bestselling books in your category. You can learn a lot about a book by what others say about it—and what readers think is good, bad, or missing. Look at your project and ask yourself how you can make sure your book improves on these issues—or addresses the issues in a positive manner.
In your final competitive title analysis, describe each competing book’s standout qualities, and the ways in which it is similar to your idea or how it helps readers. Then add a brief paragraph about how your book is unique or different in comparison. Don’t forget to include the basic data (publisher, copyright year, format, etc).
4. Closely study the competing authors.
Compare your credentials to that of the authors of the competing books you have identified. Visit their website and social media accounts. Then consider these questions:
- How do you differ from them, or how are you similar to them?
- Will it help you or hurt you to have different qualifications or similar ones?
- Do you have the experience to join the ranks of these other authors?
- What do you need to do or be to compete with them?
- What would you have to do to make yourself stand out from the other authors?
- Do you need a larger platform? In what way?
- Do you need to write a series? Why or why not?
Based on your research, you may realize you need to make changes to your concept, such as offering a different perspective or providing more comprehensive or more timely information than other competing titles. Whether pitching to a publisher or not, your book should seek to fill a clearly identified need (or gap) in the market and have a unique selling proposition that other titles cannot match.