Blogger: Rachel Zurakowski
Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.
Because we receive so many proposals at our office, I see a number of projects that look pretty much the same–and I don’t mean style-wise. As I read the chapters, I’m often surprised at how similar the books can be. They’re not plagiarized, but the authors haven’t considered what strengths they bring to a topic that could help to create a unique project.
Certain topics are especially susceptible to this duplication: parenting, marriage, diet & fitness, dating, and prayer come to mind. A huge market exists for books on these topics, but a manuscript, no matter what the topic, has to be unique to have a chance at publication. Before you make the mistake of writing what’s already been written, do some research and create your project to showcase the unique qualifications you bring to the topic.
To show how your book is unique in the market, you’re going to need to include a market research and comparison section in your proposal. In this section, you should find projects that are similar to your book, give a short description of the competing project, and then show how your book is different. You want the difference to be as strong as it can be.
I’ve heard from writers that they’ve tried to find books to compare their project to at the local bookstore, and they’re always surprised by how few they find. I’ve found the best way to track down comparisons is through amazon.com. There’s no need to buy and read every book you compare yours to (though it is a good idea to read one or two of the most similar), but you can find out just about all the information you need on amazon. They have a brief summary of the book, and you can use that to create your own description and then formulate the differences between your project and the one you are comparing your book to. And you often can look inside a book to read the table of contents, which will clue you into how the book is developed and its emphasis.
Be sure to look for the books that are the most similar so your comparisons are the strongest. Because so many books exist in broad categories like parenting, you’ll want to hone in on only the ones that really will compete with your book for shelf space.
Google book ideas too. You can often find a list of books on a topic this way. Try it for “Marriage Books.” In the first ten results at least two lists recommend books on marriage. That’s a place to look for your competition.
As agents, we’re very good at checking comparisons, so be sure to put some time into this part of your proposal. If you find a lot of books with a similar approach to yours, consider revising your project. Ask yourself what experiences you have that bring something unique to your writing. Your personal experiences help to create an interesting angle for a book. Or, if you’re a journalist, interviewing and incorporating others’ experiences in your book can help to set it apart from other books.
If you are writing a book on one of the BIG topics, like parenting, you want to show how YOU are the author who is qualified to write a new, unique book on the popular topic. What do you bring to the table? How are you an expert on the topic? Do you frequently speak to parents? Do you have 27 children? Have you taken in foster children? Do you have a degree in child development? Think about how you are especially qualified to write what is on your heart. Approach the topic from that unique angle.
Fiction proposals are different. The comparisons aren’t as important because your story is uniquely yours. Although publishers do like to know what known authors your voice is similar to. (That’s always a tough one.)
It is still important to consider the strengths that you personally bring to your writing. Each of us brings something different, so when you write your fiction project, work your strengths into the story. If you work as a forest ranger or a conservationist, you know a lot about animals and plants. You can work beautiful and informative descriptions of plants or animals into your story. If you have a hobby, like studying the Civil War or interviewing veterans, your deeper knowledge can create a more layered story for your readers.
Take a moment to jot down some of your unique gifts and qualities on a Post-it and put it by your computer. Next time you’re writing, your Post-it will be there to remind you to take your one-of-a-kind approach.