by Janet Kobobel Grant
After a client submits his nonfiction proposal to me, I suspect he thinks I’ll have that baby in the hands of an editor within the hour. Not exactly. Before that big event occurs, I’ll take a hard look at the proposal, seeing it through the eyes of both the editor and the publishing committee. I’ll ask myself:
- What parts of the proposal need to be shored up?
- What sections could showcase the project’s hook more eloquently?
- Do we tell the reader over and over again what makes the manuscript unique?
- How can the author best be presented as the right person to write this book?
It can take me several days to comb through the material and make sure our presentation is as strong as possible. After all, we only have one chance to obtain a thumbs up.
The part that requires the most of my time? Often that’s the Competition Section.
What makes this section so challenging? First, it takes a lot of time to do the job well.
I suspect many writers take a quick glance at what they can find on Amazon. Amazon is a great resource since we aren’t left trying to recall every book we know about on the topic of our manuscript. But, as with any tool, it’s only as good as the person using it.
Make Your Search Specific
If, for example, you’re writing a book on prayer, typing the word “prayer” in the search bar will lead to a crazy number of books. So many, you’ll never be able to sift through them all. But if your manuscript is actually a book of prayers, you’ll have a realistic number of titles to check out. Or the book might be about praying through the grieving process or a challenge to pray for your husband. Be specific when you do your search.
Often the Competition Section lacks real thought. If the topic isn’t narrowed down enough, the writer will just list some of the major titles, which often leads the publishing committee to wonder why we need another book on this topic–by a new writer. A more thoughtful, refined search enables the writer to highlight what makes the proposed manuscript unique rather than the same-old same-old.
If you find that Lysa Terkeurst wrote something similar to your concept two years ago, you should either explore your idea on your blog or quietly set it aside, knowing you can’t compete with such a well-established author’s book.
I’ve observed writers struggle to be realistic about the competition. I guess we all want to see our idea as unique. When I ask an author I represent if she’s checked out the competition, it’s not unusual for me to hear, “Yeah, Lysa Terkeurst wrote about a similar topic, but I’m focusing my book differently.”
Potential book buyers don’t take a close enough look at both books to discern the subtly- differentiated focus. They see Lysa wrote about topic A, and now you’ve written about topic A. Book-buying decision made.
List Books That Are Written to Your Audience
Recently I worked on a proposal that was for a devotional pinpointed to appeal to women. Yet the Competition Section listed devotionals on the topic that would appeal to either men or women. I searched around and found two devotionals that focused on women as the readers. Not to list those two books was to ignore that many devotionals are written for that audience. Fortunately for my client, none of them that I located covered the same topic hers did.
Don’t Leave Out an Obvious Book
The same client who wrote the devotional for women listed among her competition Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. My client made a smart decision. To leave out this best-selling title would have raised the question: What other major competition might be missing?
No, Jesus Calling isn’t focused on the same topic as my client’s devotional, but readers will choose between Jesus Calling and this other devotional. Hopefully the specific way my client’s devotional is focused will cause the buyer to select hers.
Search for Similar Titles
A year ago one of my clients created a proposal on a subject she’s written about frequently on her blog. She had coined a fun phrase to brand her way of approaching the subject. She’s been wanting to write a book using the phrase for more than a year, and now her schedule allowed her to begin.
But, as she prepared the Competition Section of her proposal, she found a book had just released that used in the subtitle the great tagline my client thought was original with her. There’s no guessing how those words came to be on that book’s cover, and there was no sense wasting emotional energy on that question. The sad upshot was clear: Since my client still wanted to title her book using that phrase, she had to set aside the idea for at least a year.
Why? Because similarly titled books will compete very directly with each other, and both books are likely to suffer as a result since they’re dividing the potential readers in half.
Case in Point
Many years ago, I became aware of two books with the same title, The Fingerprint of God. One book was about the Creator’s design that we can see throughout the universe. The other was a poetry book about seeing God in the beauty of nature. It was a good title for both books, but often the author of either book heard from readers that they thought they were buying one book but ended up with the other.
Limit the Competition to More Recent Releases
Unless a book is considered a classic on a certain topic, or like, Jesus Calling, remains on best-selling lists despite being first published in 2004, you don’t need to list that title in your competition. Most books have pretty much moved through their active life cycle in about five years and sell few copies in their later life.
If a book did sell well initially and was published ten years ago, it might make sense to list it as competition since it shows that readers bought a title on your book’s topic and might well be ready for a new slant on that same subject.
Think about How to Make the Comparison
Ponder for a minute that another book’s success could suggest your book will be successful. How you make your comparisons with each title are part of your job to help the committee see why they should publish your book. Use the competition to reinforce the thought that it makes sense for them to offer you a contract. Of course, too many recent successful books on your subject show just the opposite–your book doesn’t need to exist.
Above everything else to consider as you create your Competition Section, be honest–with yourself, with the editor, and with the publishing committee. Don’t ignore titles that are strong competition. Don’t rationalize how different the concepts are if they really aren’t.
People in publishing houses have a good idea of what the competition is. And if they don’t, they’ll search around on Amazon. Just like you did. Or they will dig deeper than you did.
Your Competition Section needs to be thorough and forthright. If it isn’t, your credibility just took a big hit. And that won’t help you get your book published.
What’s the biggest challenge you face as you prepare the Competition Section in your proposals?
Pay special attention to the competition section of your book proposal. Read this blog post to find out why. Click to tweet.
Why the competition section of your nonfiction proposal deserves special attention. Click to tweet.
Pausch spoke of making dreams come true
when he lectured last;
for Kara life was beautiful though
the days ran out too fast.
Kate Bowler wrote lack of a reason
with tears and humour mixed
through her fatal cancer season,
death and life betwixt.
I wonder, is there room for me,
a hardass with no grace?
Whose calloused hands reach out in glee
to touch God’s gobsmacked face?
Can my life, now torn apart,
find meaning in your heart?
Yes, Andrew it can. Your life and your writings about your experience have found a place in my heart.
As a nurse, who has been present with patients and families as they passed, I have a view and experience in my 40 years from the start of my training and practice to now, January 2019 the general population doesn’t have. Exactly 40 years ago this month I began training as an LPN, and after the year to complete that began the no longer existent three year diploma school for registered nursing. Student nurses lived at the hospital, our school was attached. All we had to do was walk through a door and we could be on the hospital floor, seriously. That was the shortcut if we were late getting up for our 6:30 AM clinicals which we had every day before busing off to a university to complete our general classes.
It was quite the experience–no longer possible to be had. We touched the patients and cared for them, interacting with families and staff in a manner that schools since the end of the three year diploma school do not have. We had an abundance of time spent in clinicals in each area of the hospital. Our hands passed instruments in surgery, helped deliver babies, dressed wounds, inserted intravenous lines, compressed arteries in the emergency rooms to keep a patient from hemorrhaging to death, and we also rejoiced at the birth of babies, gave them their first baths, and learned how to get an infant to breast feed. We delivered infants who died in the womb, due to malformations, bathed and wrapped in a blanket to grieving parents. They didn’t require an abortion to terminate their precious lives. None do.
I have seen a lot of suffering and death of all ages and all types of people. Never did I withhold compassion or care from anyone. From my 61 years of age, and from my personal and professional experience, I dare say people are just as scared to face death or talk about it now as they were then, and always will be until Jesus’ sets up His eternal kingdom. Unless, it is cheering for the right to murder the unborn, as it has recently become, with more states wanting to follow suit.
Not to be brash, but I see that even in this wonderful blog.
Andrew, although people care about and love you, death and trauma are hard to speak about. Most because people have no idea what to say. Some think they do, and end up hurting others worse. I do not suggest by this that I always know what to say, I don’t, but I always try to show compassion even if only a couple words.
Know this my dear Andrew, you may not see me on this blog as much from now on. My plan is to check in once a week as I move on to learn how to vlog, and podcast. But, know this you, Barb, and your band of beloved dogs will be in my thoughts and prayers and I will stay connected via Facebook.
Many are hurting, time is limited, and I have to move forward. I can’t ignore the gifts in me, especially, as I see the demise of our country, the increase of suicides, the celebration over the killing of infants,and the struggle of people who need to know our Beloved Jesus. I am heartbroken at the response of the “church” and the Christian community in general. Many pulpits are silent. In fact, today I will be reading the most recent Decision magazine from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association on just this thing.
I am moving on, and working now on what God has called me to, and has all along. Book publishing may never come, or have to wait. I am a woman on a mission with God. I know people in the publishing world dislike hearing a writer say anything like that about their writing or anything else. Be that as it may, I have a calling and I intend to fulfill it in the power of the Holy Spirit. They can call me crazy, out of touch, or whatever, but this I know from the Word of God.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 King James Version (KJV)
3 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;
4 Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.
King James Version (KJV)
You can always reach out to me on messenger and Facebook.
Remember always, stay in the yoke with Jesus. He will never lead you astray.
Always a prayer warrior and your friend,
Betsy, thank you for this lovely, gracious affirmation. And I love your reminisces of your nursing education. So much has been lost as things have changed.
I do share your fury over the killing of the unborn, and, now, the newborn. When I wrote “Emerald Isle”, which has an abortion subplot, I didn’t know much; the research sickened me, and has made me…well, in the words of Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk, “Please don’t make me angry/ You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
And I’m so far past anger. If I have it in me, there will be writing, and my words will wound. No forgiveness or tolerance, not here.
I’m just so pleased and honoured to be a part of this community; it literally gives me a reason to keep going, on days when I would rather curl up on the floor in a foetal position. That is most days, now.
But the love and the optimism and the courage that shine through here, in this bright corner of the Internet…it’s here that hope is restoredand rebuilt, and lovingly carressed to go and face cancer for another day.
Thanks for the great post! I’m working on a nonfiction proposal and I had doubts about my competition section. This will help me to dig deeper and list just the right books.
I’m so glad you found this helpful, Robyn–and timely.
[hangs head low, then bashes it against the wall]
No, no, no. Not an intended consequence of this post. You did a great job on all the other parts of your proposal. And a good start to the competition; you just needed to finish the race. Be encouraged, not discouraged.
This post is so helpful. I might be hanging my head a little as I think about how I went about finding the competition to the book I had written the proposal for. Your insights about the competition section of the proposal helps me to see more what I should be focusing on, and what my mindset needs to be when I write a proposal again.
Question: When writing a novel, is it better to focus on one aspect of the novel (i.e. the theme or family saga, etc), or to focus on various aspects of the book?
Jeanne, for fiction, this section is more about comparisons than competition. (I’ve considered writing a separate post on the differences.) You want to think in terms of what well-known authors are your voice or your audience similar to? If you write historical, the comparisons might be Tamera Alexander, Laura Frantz, and Tracie Peterson. In what ways is your writing/setting/era like each author? In what ways is your work unique?
The publishing committee wants to see where you would fit in panoply of available fiction, and the sales/marketing teams specifically want to see whom they could mention to buyers. “If you like _________, you’ll like Jeanne Takenaka.”
Thanks, Janet. This helps a lot!
Janet, this is off-topic, but I hope you won’t mind as you’re a fellow Aussie-lover, and it’s for you.
We have a brand-new Aussie, Belle,
and she’s a real huminger,
with a personality really swell,
but count each toe and finger.
Every day is Shark Week now
because La Belle is teething,
and she’ll swipe the others’ chow
’cause it’s her growing season.
Agility is not strong suit,
she trip over her paws
with falling antics really cute
that break physical laws.
Her arrival is a lesson
that God can send a hairy blessing.
And, of course, in the second line it should have been ‘humdinger’.
Poofreeding is not my sarong suite.
Andrew. You making a grammatical error is like almost nonexistent. Me on the other hand, even in my earlier reply, well at least the message is clear I wrote to you. Thank God.
Happy for the new dog!
Betsy, thank you!
Belle thanks you, too. She’s a hoot. Toay she saw an agility dog competition on TV, and tried to emulate…by doing a somersault off the back of the sofa.
Didn’t work out too well the first time, but the second, she nailed it.
Landing, unfortunately, on Ladron the Heeler, who, like Queen Victoria, was not amused.
Your additional comment about Belle doing a backflip sounds more like an Aussie. Those dogs are decidedly agile! Murphy, as a puppy, checked out what my husband and I were making for meals by jumping up way past counter-height to take a look. It was weird to be facing the counter and to hear your dog levitate and land behind you.
I enjoyed your post Janet. It just verified what I studied before I wrote the two proposals I have sent out.
Before, I even started to write my first proposal in 2017, I studied Steve Laube and Vicki Crumpton’s blog articles, or notes I found online from classes they had given at writing conferences on proposals. I also bought books and searched out other blog articles on the craft of writing a proposal. I followed recommendations I found on a past blog post on proposals. All this investment in time, money, and effort was, to me, very worthwhile.
In the comparison or competitive analysis section as this post focuses on, I went to several bookstores and spent time talking to sales people, following them into the stacks, listening to what they had to say, and purchasing at least two of the four or five top competitors, so I could study and review them further and have them at hand when I wrote my analysis of how my book was similar and how it was different. I reviewed Amazon for sure, and other book reviews, but it was far from my total scope of research. It was vital to be able to explain what the benefits of purchasing and reading my book would be to my audience.
I worked very hard, and based on my numerous years of having to do risk and safety investigations in hospitals, I thought I did my best. Not to be braggadocios in all this, I feel it is probably the best part of my proposal other than my sample writing.
For all that, I have no idea what has happened to them. Honestly, I know publishing is difficult to get into. Self-publishing is out for me due to lack of funds, and I know that I don’t have the needed and valued experience of others required to put forth the quality book I would want.
Given all this, along with things mentioned in my reply to Andrew, I must continue on in my journey to make a difference by fulfilling my call. And that I will do, and I have the equipment now to do what is on my heart. My husband is in full support.
I am so grateful for everything I have learned from this blog, and I am planning to stop in every week, but given to what I have in hand, I may be here less. Thank you and all the others at Books and Such for the knowledge and inspiration they shared.
I will see you at the 2019 Northwestern Christian Writers Conference this July. I was the first to sign up for a one-on-one with you. I will be looking forward to sharing what will be going on by then, Lord willing.
Thanks to this blog family for being a part of my life and opening your words and hearts to me.
Betsy, we’ll miss having your regular comments here, but I understand that, with limited time, we all have to make choices about priorities.
I’ll see you in July!
Thank you Janet. Indeed the competition section of a proposal is a challenge. Glad to read your tips.
Thanks for the excellent advice, as always.