Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: Books & Such Central Valley Office, CA
Is there any part of the proposal you dread more than the competitive book analysis? I think I get more client questions about this than any other.
What is a competitive book analysis? It’s the compare and contrast section of your proposal. You are trying to:
- Give a point of reference-– another way to help the agent or editor get a handle on your book.
- Show that you know what is already out there. If, say, you are writing a young adult dystopian novel and you fail to address Hunger Games, an editor would wonder how much you know about YA and how much you know your readers. Or if you were writing a nonfiction book about relationships and communication and did not reference The Five Love Languages, wouldn’t it show a huge hole in your knowledge of what’s key in your supposed field?
- Help the editor or agent get a feel for how well your book may sell. As you list the books that are similar, you’ll give ISBN numbers for each. If your book goes to committee, sales figures will be compiled by the acquiring editor for each one of those books to give a point of reference for the scope of the potential market.
- Find another way to show the merits of your book. Here are a couple superb sample comparisons I lifted from a recent client proposal:
Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home by Richard Foster (HarperCollins Publishers, 1992, ISBN# 0-06-062846-4)
Although this book was published almost 20 years ago, I continue to hear the comment “That book changed my life!” by those gutsy enough to have read it. Foster beautifully wove tradition with instruction as he led readers through a wide array of prayer. Contemplative, authoritative, and sacramental are just a few of the types of prayer that Foster encourages the reader to examine.
I have tried to use this book in group settings and the feedback is always the same- “We love it, but it’s way over our heads!” Many men and women want to understand Foster’s framework, but can’t seem to. [Title of Author’s Book] takes the depth of Foster and makes it readable. As I explain types of prayer such as breath prayer, defining prayer, break through prayer and intercessory prayer (which I call shouldering prayer…or “Holy Piggybacks”) the reader is less intimidated, but still instructed in the richness of this treasured heritage.
Believing God by Beth Moore (Broadman and Holeman Publishers, 2004, ISBN# 0-6330-9667-9)
In the classic tradition of Beth Moore, Believing God lays a foundation for faith that demands belief. She focuses on believing God is who He says He is, and can do what He says He can do—to draw the reader to rally around faith. [Title of Author’s Book] approaches belief more from the grappling we do to get there. I delve into the “holy tension” we experience when we want to believe, but can’t.
Diminishing doubt, fear, embarrassment, and spiritual scar tissue are my landmarks that navigate a path towards belief. Believing God walks readers through a time capsule of memories regarding the growth of their belief system, while [Title of Author’s Book] approaches this growth by sharing the struggles of heroes like Peter—where doubt isn’t the point in belief, getting out of the boat is.
Do you see what this author did so brilliantly? She (1) told a little more about her own book with every comparison, (2) demonstrated that she not only read the important books on her subject but that she was able to distill the very essence of the comparable book in just a couple of sentences and (3) she treated her “competition” with respect, never denigrating the book. She used this section of the proposal to show that she understood what the publisher needed and why they needed it. In other words, she demonstrated that she was a consummate professional.
On the flip side, let me tell you what NOT to do:
Do not name blockbusters. “My book is like a combination of Heaven is for Real because it features a father and a son, Girl with a Dragon Tattoo because it includes a disquieting basement scene and Harry Potter because the characters travel via British trains.” (Can’t you just picture the editorial team rolling eyes?) Remember, your job is to capture the essence of your book and compare and contrast it to something that (1) should appeal to a similar demographic, (2) shares some thematic similarities, (3) will give the agent or editor some context for forecasting sales possibilities. When you pick a phenomenon like Harry Potter, it’s silly to offer it as a comparison. The appeal and trajectory of that series is akin to a hundred-year flood. It’s not going to come around again in our lifetimes. These kind of wild comparisons are not only useless, they indicate faulty reasoning and magical thinking. Not professional. Not helpful.
Do not say, “there’s nothing like this on the market.” To some extent that’s true of every book. You are unique and so no one has ever captured what you will capture in your book, but saying that defeats the purpose of what we are trying to do with a competitive analysis. Besides, if it were true, you’d be hard pressed to convince anyone that there’d be a place for your book on the shelf or even a market for it.
Do not treat this section lightly because it’s so difficult. If you come to this part of the proposal and throw up your hands and say, “I have no idea what’s out there,” think again about whether you should even be writing the book. It’s your job to be well read in your field. You must know what’s out there. As you do this important research, you will be shaping and reshaping your book.
I know I only touched on a small part of this confusing section, so please ask away. Do you see how powerful this section can be? Is there anyone out there who relishes this part of the proposal?