Blogger: Rachel Kent
Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.
Thanks so much for sharing your proposal styles and proposal stories yesterday! That was fun. 🙂
Today I would like to concentrate on the book comparisons or market analysis sections in proposals. These sections are most important for nonfiction proposals but are becoming increasingly important for fiction books as well. For nonfiction, the publishers use this section to get an idea of what’s out in the market within the topic you’re writing on, and they’ll evaluate how relevant your book is as well as if it offers anything new for the market. For fiction projects, this section is used by the publisher to check that your book has an audience and to see if your book offers a unique read for the genre. For fiction and nonfiction, the books you pick should be books that appeal to the same audience as your book and books that deal with similar issues.
So many proposals come to me with market analysis sections that still need work. Here are some common mistakes…
1) The author picks books for the comparisons by BIG name authors and thereby gives the publishing house the impression that no room remains on bookshelves for the author’s book.
This is usually a sign that the comparison focus is too broad. If you focus in on what your book is really about, you’ll find the right books to compare with. For example, a book on Christian parenting of children with learning disabilities could be compared with books on parenting by big name authors like Dr. James Dobson, Dennis Rainey and Kevin Leman. Instead, the book should be compared to books specifically dealing with Christian parenting of children with learning disabilities. Not only will the number of books shrink, but also you’re less likely to find big names with a specific market analysis. Through a two-second search on Amazon on this specific parenting topic, I found only two books. Both were done by Focus on the Family, but I bet you could make a strong case for why your book would offer something different to the market.
2) The author uses books in the comparisons without having read them.
This can be really obvious in a proposal, especially if the publisher is familiar with the books you’re comparing yours to. You honestly can’t know all of the specifics of a book by reading the amazon.com description or the back cover copy. If you’re writing a book in a specific genre or on a specific topic, you really should read the other books on the market to see if you are offering something or to see what kind of voice appeals to your audience. I understand this takes some time, but a well-put-together proposal is going to take less time to sell than something that was thrown together without much thought or preparation. Take the time to read! If it’s a topic you’re interested in, the books should be interesting anyway.
3) The author forgets to do the compare and contrast part of the section for each book and instead just lists a bunch of books that are similar to the one he or she is writing.
Hopefully your agent will send your proposal back to you if you do this. I would send the proposal back right away, if I saw this because only half of the work has been done. If I sent the proposal as is to the publisher, it’s much more likely to receive a rejection. The editor doesn’t want to do this work for you; a publishing house looks to the writer to explain how his or her manuscript compares to what’s already in the market.
The second really important part of the comparison section is showing the publisher what your book has to offer that is unique to the market. If you just list all of the books on the market and leave it like that, then the section makes your book look like just another in a bunch of books on the topic. You need to show how your book is different and what it does well that the other books don’t do.
4) Don’t write negative comments about the books you’re comparing yours to. You never know how someone at the publishing house might be connected to a book on the list (such has having edited the book or having created the marketing plan for it). So, for example, don’t write that a book is poorly written or has flaws in its research or is boring. Tell, in neutral terms, what the book is about.
5) Don’t just lift out of Amazon the description of the book. The descriptions are written by the marketing/publicity folks at the publishing house. So, of course, the book is spoken of in glowing terms. Using this copy makes your manuscript’s competition sound really good–which isn’t exactly your purpose in doing the comparison.
As you can see, the comparison section of your proposal is an important tool that you can use to convince a publisher to produce your book, or if not done well, can be used by the publisher as a reason to turn down your project.
This was extremely helpful. Thanks!!!
Very helpful! This is the section that gives me the most trouble in putting together a proposal, but what you’ve said gives me a much better handle on how to approach it. Thanks!
I love the information you provide here, Rachel. Question: How old of a book can you use in this section? I’m tempted to compare my current manuscript to a series that is currently being published – the first one was published last year. I also want to compare my manuscript to a book that I think is two to three years old by a debut author and won a big award that has kept it poplular. How old is too old to use in your opinion?
I find it difficult to compare my books to those already out there. I have needed to find some similar to mine in order to give the agent an idea of my work but how much does the agent and publisher really look at the books we choose to compare ours to? I mean, when I think of comparing my book to another that is already out there it seems like I am pretty much saying…this has already been done, when actually mine is unique in it’s own way….
Heather, you can use older books as long as they’re still in print, but be sure to include new books too.
The book you mention here sounds like something you would want to include.
Salena, that’s the point of the comparison section. You need to show that there are other books out there similar to yours (proving that your book has a market), but then you make a strong point about why your book is unique and how it offers something more to the market than those other books.
This post is loaded with great information! I’m just getting into looking at the details of a proposal, and this marketing analysis section always baffled me a bit. Thank you for these tips!
Thank you. I see now that I misunderstood what was meant and expected by book comparisons/market analysis. These insights were very helpful. Of course, now I find that my proposal isn’t as ready for submission as I thought. But it’s also nice to know that I already had a chunk of the research done and didn’t know it!
I’m looking forward to your next installment.
I’m late to the party this week, but boy, these posts are so helpful! Thanks for sharing these detailed tips. I appreciate it!
Oh boy, am I in trouble! I wish I had known all this before; the proposal I sent you has very little, if not none, of these things! I hate being so new to all of this, I’ve got so much to learn!!
Andrea, don’t feel bad. Looking back I see all the mistakes I have been making lately too. Just chalk it up to a learning experiance. Some day we will be pros at this. 🙂 Or at least we can hope!