Your Book Proposal: How to Write a Competitive Title Analysis

Apr 29, 2015

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When our clients are drafting book proposals, many of them tell us that the section that confounds them the most is the market competition section. After all, who enjoys staring their competition in the face? It can be daunting to consider how many other books exist in the same subject area, and which authors have been as successful as you aspire to be. We’ve worked with authors who have wanted to turn this section over to us entirely, suggesting that agents and publishers are the market experts, while writers should just be left to the business of writing great books.

We feel it’s important that authors know their market competition intimately, and we believe that a market-savvy author is in a position of strength. When authors are positioning themselves as subject matter experts, publishers expect them to know what else is on the shelf, and where their book fits in.

The process of identifying competitive titles doesn’t have to be daunting or limiting. It can often be a clarifying process, which can sharpen the book’s focus. It can also remind you what is unique about your proposal, and it can help you articulate that unique value proposition with greater confidence.

A good market competition section of a book proposal should contain a list of several books, authors, and short descriptions. Your list shouldn’t be long – you don’t want to overwhelm the publisher – but it shouldn’t be so short as to seem unrealistic. Describe each book briefly, and then explain how your book differs from it or improves on it. You can acknowledge when a book is done well – the point isn’t to criticize the other books, which could seem disingenuous – but it’s important to express how your book will do what these others don’t, or can’t.

We encourage our clients to list complementary titles as well. These are books in the same subject area that might overlap with yours in some way, but rather than directly competing, they might generate additional interest in yours. Consider, for example, the books Wheat Belly and Grain Brain. Both are successful books in the category of nutrition and health. Both aim to reveal important key impediments to health. Both are critical of wheat and gluten. Wheat Belly focused on physical health, while Grain Brain emphasized mental health. When Grain Brain was published, Wheat Belly was already a bestselling book, but rather than eclipsing the newer book, it set the stage for Grain Brain’s success. A market that had shown keen interest in the first book was primed for the second.

Don’t fear the dreaded market competition section of your proposal. Consider how it can strengthen your book’s focus and market position, and as always, contact us if you need any help along the way.