You vs. the Competition

One vital aspect of any good book proposal involves a thorough analysis of your book vs. the competition. The books you designate as potential competitors to yours will help the publisher to better understand and position your book. Execute this part well and you may very well convince an editor to take a closer look at your book. However, the ahead-of-the-pack-imageopposite is true as well.  Choose a bad array of books and you can easily turn off many an editor. 

There are certain rules you should follow when compiling this important part of the proposal: 

* When identifying potential competitors, include only books that performed at least reasonably well. This is the biggest mistake authors make. The majority of authors include books that closely resemble their book in content, regardless of how well that book performed. That’s an unforced error. In these challenging times you cannot afford to include books that were dead on arrival when they hit bookstore shelves.  

* Conversely, be very careful not to select books that sold millions of copies: In the early 1980s, after In Search of Excellence was published, every book proposal that came to me claimed to be the “next In Search of Excellence.” There is no such thing. “Phenomenon books” (my term)—like Excellence, The One Minute Manager, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Good to Great, Who Moved my Cheese—are impossible to duplicate. Unless you have incredible credentials, you need to designate competitors that fall between “dead on arrival” and mega-national bestseller.

* Look for books that sold 15,000 – 30,000 copies the first year: That’s about the sweet spot for first time authors. These are typically books that you have heard of before, but are not household names. How can you find such titles? Your literary agent can help you here. If he or she knows the business category, they should have no problem helping you to finalize the books you choose to include in your packet of materials.

Last, don’t be lazy by just listing the books and their authors. Tell us in the proposal how your book will differ from the competitors, and how your book will stand out in an incredibly crowded market.


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