Radar O’Reilly

Author Tip: Know the Competition

I spend a good deal of time each week reading through author proposals. It’s disappointing to see a well thought-out proposal that has almost no information on the existing competition. I’m not just talking about a simple list of titles, authors and ISBNs – just about every proposal has that skeletal information covering “what” is out there. I’m more interested in the “how” and “why”, as in “how do those books stack up to what you’re proposing” and “why does the world need another book on X?”

With all the resources available today, it’s inexcusable to submit a proposal without detailed information on the competition and why your book will be different/better. Go to one of the online retailers and read the reviews. What are customers saying about each of the existing books? Are there any clues to what might be missing, an approach that might be better, etc.? What sort of overall ranking do the books have? (For what it’s worth, it’s often hard to get excited about a computer book on Amazon unless the ranking is in the hundreds rather than the thousands.) Are any existing books hitting bestseller lists? If not, is it already an overcrowded market? I’m basically looking to see if an author did their homework and has formulated an opinion about the state of the topic.

That’s all well and good if you’re proposing a book on a topic with existing competition. What if there are no books out there on the product/technology? That’s even better, but it might require a bit more research. For example, how certain are you that no books are in the works? Have you searched Amazon, and even Google? Don’t stop there. Stop by each of the major publisher’s websites and search for the topic. If you come across a book or two in the works, list them in your proposal. If the competing book is in an existing series, you can at least assume it will have a similar approach and elements to current books in that series. Use that information, as well as anything you can uncover about the author’s previous work, to explain how your book is better.

Finally, “competition” isn’t limited to books. You might be proposing the first book-length work on the topic, but what information already exists online, for example? If there’s plenty of material freely available on the web, how does your book either add to that or replace it? It’s been said that “Google is our biggest competitor.” When you write your proposal, keep in mind all the existing online resources available to your prospective reader – if you can create an approach and provide rich enough content to cause someone to pay money for your book rather than simply Googling for the solution, you’re probably on to something.


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