Last week here, I spelled out the reasons why a comparative title analysis is so important to a book proposal. Today, the “how to” complete your research on the competition in the marketplace of ideas will be presented. This step-by-step process involves research, reading, and a critical market assessment.
1. Identify the genre, even the sub-genre, of books you will be searching for in your analysis. If you are writing a self-help book, you won’t start searching in fiction or memoir. Non-fiction is the genre and more specifically the sub-genre is “self-help.”
2. Make a list of the subject headings you would assign to your book to help you narrow your search. These terms will be important in your online search for relevant books.
3. Generate a short list of the key words you associate with the contents of your manuscript. These are powerful search terms to identify titles that may compete for your audience.
4. Visit bookstores and libraries and identify the books you think would fit next to yours on the shelf. Pull the books off the shelves and investigate further. Who are the publishers of these titles? In the acknowledgements, does the author mention the name of their agent or the editor with whom they worked at the publisher? Add the names of agents, editors, and publishers to your list of search terms.
5. Ask friends, family, and associates about the last book they read about this subject. Ask them for book recommendations. Take their suggestions and add them to your list for research.
6. You’ve completed the pre-research stage and are ready to dive into the data available at your fingertips via the internet. Amazon.com is the search tool I recommend for identifying competitive titles. Enter your search terms, one at a time.
7. Include titles which meet the following criteria: a) publication date is within the past year b) sales rankings are less than #10,000. You are looking for the most current and bestselling books vying for the readers of your book. Amazon sales rankings are found in the Product Details section for any title. #1 is the best selling book and #1,000,000 means the sales have not been significant enough to consider the title competitive.
8. When you find a title worth inclusion on your list, scroll down on the Amazon product page to find out which books were “Frequently Bought Together” and those titles which “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought.” Your list will begin to grow.
9. For each title under consideration, you will want to record the following data:
- Publishing date
- ISBN #
- Retail list price
- Number of pages in manuscript
- Features of book (appendix, photos, etc)
- Subject headings listed
- Product description
- Sales rank
10. Analyze this list and identify a short list of 6-10 bestselling current books based on topical relevance and read them. Think about what made this a bestseller and how your book compares. Narrow your selection after reading to 4-5 of your selections.
11. For each of the titles you have selected, you will write a short paragraph which follows this basic format:
Author, A., Book Title: subtitle, publisher, year of publication, ISBN, number of pages, prices, and sales ranking. A one-paragraph comparison between your title and this bestseller. Your review should be critical but never negative. Describe what makes this book good and how yours will compare favorably (in topic, method, story, research, era, etc.). What features or assets does your book title have that goes above and beyond what this title can offer? A brief summary paragraph for each title is sufficient.
12. Ready to write up your report? Present the titles and your paragraph descriptions and then write a short (500-word) essay about how your book compares and contrasts to these other books. This essay needs to make a case that there is a niche open for your title and that there is an audience for it.
The comparative title analysis is not a review of the literature on your subject. Remember, it’s a market analysis of the products currently available and whether it makes good economic sense to introduce a new product. This is the purpose it serves in a book proposal you submit to an agent or acquisitions editor at a publishing house. They read this report from a business perspective, rather than a literary one.
Don’t wait to complete your manuscript before you begin conducting your own comparative title analysis. This exercise helps you as a writer as much as it does your publishing efforts. Your search will help you identify publishers that you may pitch your package. Go to the websites of these publishers and look at their catalogs, published authors, current titles, and the quality of their publications. You can begin to shop around for where your book might find a publishing home.
Reading the competition also helps an author identify what features or attributes of a bestselling book to include in one’s own manuscript. And as long as you have read the books, you can help build your audience platform by writing reviews. Whether you publish your reviews in a magazine, newspaper, guest blog, or on GoodReads.com, the exercise will help your writing, turn your competition into collaborators, and assist you in finding the audience for your book.
Six or seven years ago my advice to aspiring authors of nonfiction books was to build an audience platform by blogging. An example of how critical blogging could be to securing a publishing contract can be found in the case of Ann Marie Ackermann, author of Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee. After an initial assessment of her manuscript, I had recommended she start a historical true-crime blog, and she did. In fact, the editor of the ideal book series at Kent State University Press became a fan ofRead more…