Jane Friedman

How to Write a Competitive Title Analysis

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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:

If you have trouble discerning whether a title belongs on this list, consider the following criteria:

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:

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:

Parting advice

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.

The Author Training Manual by Nina Amir helps you develop marketable ideas, learn how to pitch publishers, and also how to effectively self-publish. Click here for a sample chapter or to learn more.