Monday, February 21, 2022

Do You Know Your Competition?


By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin 

Over decades, Ive reviewed thousands of book submissions (no exaggeration). Many proposals are missing the competition section. Its common for them to write, This topic is unique and has no competition. When editors and agents see such a statement, many of them will stop reading and reject the project. Others will roll their eyes in a look that says, Not again.

When someone says there is no competition, they are not considering the larger sense of the book market. Every book has competition in the marketplace. It's the responsibility of the writer to understand and describe that competition in their book proposal. It is not the responsibility of your editor or literary agent to create this competition but the authors responsibility who should intimately know their topic and area of expertise.

I often encourage authors to visualize their book inside a brick and mortar bookstore. Which section does your book appear? What other books are in tht section? Those books are your competition and competitive titles. In this section, you list the titles with a brief description and tell how your book is different. I encourage you to carefully select your words because you are not slamming or downplaying those other books. Instead you are emphasizing how your book is different.

Publishers need this information throughout the internal process within publishing houses. For one publisher, when they complete their internal paperwork to secure a book contract for an author, they are required to list the ISBNs of competitive titles.

Some of you are familiar with Book Proposals That Sell. In the final pages of this book, I include a sample of one of my book proposals which sold for a six-figure advance. This proposal is exactly what was submitted to the various publishers. The missing ingredient in my proposal (despite its success) is the lack of specific competitive titles. I wrote that proposal almost twenty years ago and in today's market it would need to have those competitive titles before it would go out into the marketplace. Hopefully Ive learned (and continue to learn) a few things about book proposal creation over the last few years.

When I started as an acquisitions editor, the president of the company (no longer there) sat down and went through the various topic areas where I would be acquiring books. One of these areas was parenting books. I raised a question about this area since within several miles of our offices was a major marketing force in this area of parenting called Focus on the FamilyOh yes, Terry, we will continue to publish parenting books, he said with passion. Marriages continue to fall apart in record numbers and children are leaving the church in droves. With my marching orders, I continued to acquire parenting books but silently I wondered whether a book can solve those two explicit issues about the family.

Each week Publishers Weekly tackles a different area of the market. Sometimes they cover parenting books which is highly competitive with loads of successful titles in print. The article gives a rundown of several forthcoming parenting books. Heres what is interesting to me (and hopefully for you): Notice the sub-categories for each title in the article: publisher, first printing, target audience, author's credentials, why the book is needed, and what distinguishes it from the competition. The final four categories are what every author needs to include in their book proposal when it is submitted to a literary agent or an editor.

The actual language for the competition section is tricky. The author needs to point out the competition and how their book takes a different slant on the subject or deeper or some improvement--without slamming the competitive title. Why? Because the publisher of that competitive title may be the perfect location for your book. You dont want to offend that publisher with how you've written about their title. Like many aspects of the publishing world, when you write your competition section, it calls for education, understanding and some sense of diplomacy because the relationship will often be the distinction.

Every author needs to create a proposal for their book--even if you self-publish because this document is your business plan for your book and has important elements for every author to understand and convene to their readers.

Do you include the my book is unique in your proposal or do you include a competition section? Let me know in the comments below.


W. Terry Whalin is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing
He has written for over 50 magazines and more than 60 books with traditional publishers.  His latest book for writers is  Book Proposals That $ell (the revised edition) released to online and brick and mortar bookstores. 
Jim Cox, Editor-in-Chief at Midwest Book Review wrote, If you only have time to read one how to guide to getting published, whether it be traditional publishing or self-publishing, Book Proposals That Sell is that one DIY instructional book. You can get a free Book Proposal Checklist on the site. He lives in Colorado and has over 190,000 twitter followers

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7 comments:

Mplcreative said...

Terry, this article is very helpful. Your example of placing your book in a certain part of a bookstore and knowing that publishers need to know the competition is very important. I appreciate the visual image.

Mindy

Terry Whalin said...

Mindy,

Thank you for this feedback and I'm glad my article was helpful.

Terry

Karen Cioffi said...

Terry, thanks for this helpful article. This will help authors know that they must be aware of their competition and let the publisher know as well. And the visualization is a helpful step.

Terry Whalin said...

Karen,

Thank you for this comment. It's one of those details easy to miss or generalize but important in the overall process.

Terry

lastpg said...

Terry, your article is helpful. One would think self-published authors don't need to know their competition, but as you point out, everyone does. Plus, reading competing books is fun!

deborah lyn said...

Outstanding article Terry, Thank you!
Knowing our competition is a very important part of the publishing journey. If we neglect this area we stumble over our ISBN designations, to say the least; and the unknown placement of our book on the shelves and digital provider sites.
Often, as my husband authors a new book, he spends our outing to the bookstore checking out the competition.
"The author needs to point out the competition and how their book takes a different slant on the subject or deeper or some improvement--without slamming the competitive title." This "calls for education, understanding and some sense of diplomacy." Well said!

Terry Whalin said...

Linda and Deborah Lyn,

Thank you for these comments and feedback.

Terry

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