Competing for Readers
Blogger: Wendy Lawton
One of the parts of the proposal that often stymies writers is the competitive analysis section. That’s where the writer is asked to tell what books are similar to his, while highlighting why his offers a different approach.
For example if I were writing a multi-generational novel I might choose:
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. ISBN-13: 978-1416550549, Atria Books, 2010.
Readers of Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden would feel comfortable with my non-linear storytelling, focusing on three different generations dealing with the secrets that have kept them from fully understanding their heritage. While Morton’s characters toil against superstition and old resentments, my characters are able to discover a faith thread that eventually helps them unravel the mysteries.
What have I done there? I’ve told those reading my proposal that my storytelling is similar to Morton’s in structure and generational mystery but that mine introduces a spiritual arc as well. I’ve also said that readers of Morton may be interested in my book. This gives the decision makers a possible context for my story. I chose a successful author but not a household name. Trust me, if you compare your book to Harry Potter or John Grisham’s latest, it doesn’t do them any good. There is no context since those are rare phenomenons.
So that’s how it’s done. Simple, yes? You are just trying to help the publisher know where to find your readers. It’s much like the feature on Amazon that tells you if you like author A, you may also like author B. Or, people who bought this book also bought this other book.
The part that causes author angst is knowing what books are similar to the one you are writing. I’ve had writers come back to me and say, “I don’t read any books in my genre for fear of absorbing their ideas.” To which I say, what??? If you are not well-read in your field or in your genre you can’t possibly know how to compete for readers. Here’s the problem:
- If you are writing nonfiction, you’d better know every important book written on your subject and be able to show that yours is different and adds to the field of knowledge. No one wants a rehash of the same old same old (unless you are a big name, which is a whole ‘nuther issue ).
- You are judged by how well you know your field or genre. If, say, you are writing a book about grace and you don’t mention Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace, your potential publishing house will have the team scratching heads and wondering how you can tackle this subject if you don’t analyze what this important book is and why it continues to be successful and how you will offer something new and different.
- You need to know the very shelf in the bookstore that will house your eventual book. You should be haunting that section of the store, noticing each new book that appears on the shelves.
- I often hear CBA novelists say, “I don’t really read Christian fiction so I’m finding it really hard to come up with comparable books.” When I hear something like this, my hair stands up on end. How can you hope to compete for a reader if you don’t know what that reader reads? How can you write in a genre when you don’t eat, sleep and breathe that kind of book?
- If you are a novelist who doesn’t know your market, how can you know which plots are overused, which are passé, which have recently been bestsellers? You run the risk of a book looking like a copycat. I have a client, Camy Tang, who reads voraciously– studiously– in Christian fiction. I can call her up and ask about a certain plot and she can tell me how fresh it is and who’s recently done something like it. Camy is a Stanford grad who applies the same kind of scholarship to market analysis that she applied to biology research.
If we want to compete for readers we need to read, read, read and we need to be able to analyze the market. It’s part of our job to know what’s out there and who is reading what. Right?
So your turn. How do you keep abreast of everything in your category or genre? How do you read and yet still insure that your writing is original and fresh? Do you read systematically? How much time do you devote to reading in your field?
Writers, job one is read in your category or genre and analyze your “competition.” Click to Tweet
Writers must know their category or genre backwards and forwards. Click to Tweet
Writers should be haunting the bookshelves that will house their books. Click to Tweet