Comparative and Competitive Book Analysis, by Catherine Fowler

From: Presentation at Write On The River, Wenatchee, Washington, on May 16, 2009

It is critical that writers understand how their books stack up against the competition in the marketplace.

Any good agent will perform a cursory market analysis before presenting a new book to a publisher. In actuality, the writer should do this in advance. It gives:

  • the writer confidence that his/her product will compete well in the market for which it was developed, and it gives
  • the agent confidence that he/she is dealing with a writer who understands the publishing process and is willing to do the homework necessary to help assure a successful project.

What agents want to know:

  • what else is out there
  • that the author knows what’s out there
  • how this book compares to the competition, and
  • the key differences between his book and others, and what is unique about his book.

Comparative versus Competitive Analysis

Competitive analysis evaluates books of a similar subject and style.

Comparative analysis evaluates books of different subjects but that have a similar tone, style, format, audience, etc.

A successful title can show that there’s a market, and allows others to envision the style, format and tone that an author is striving for.

Develop an Excel spreadsheet of information. You can easily import it into a query if appropriate.

Key Resources include: bookstores, Google, Amazon.com and Publishers Marketplace.com.

  1. Bookstores
    • what section will your book fit in,
    • what other books are on the same shelf,
    • if you don’t know where your book should go, or if you can’t find the right spot ask for help at the information desk.
    • Always check the acknowledgements to agents and editors in these books – the can provide critical information for you.
  2. Google – a treasure trove of ideas regarding
    • Marketing ideas
    • Blogs and websites
    • Recent press and reviews from all media
    • Self-published?
    • Experts and resources
    • Coming events with the author
  1. Amazon.com – The Holy Grail of book information
    • Search for Title Ideas
    • Search on a variety of subjects, categories and key words
    • Explore best seller sections
    • You can cut and paste information directly from Amazon into your spreadsheet.
    • Digging Even Deeper:
      • Look at the “People who bought this book also bought” section
      • Search the inside of the book: Table of Contents, a sample chapter, cover copy, index, etc.
      • Is the publisher big or small, or is it self-published?
      • Rankings
      • Reviews
  1. Publishersmarketplace.com      $20/month
    • Searchable
    • Cross-referenced

General Comments

When querying an agent, pay keen attention to the following.

  • NEVER, but never, say there is “No Competition”. This only shows that the author hasn’t done his homework. There is always some form of competition.
  • Avoid NOT including a key title in comparative research.
  • Avoid incomplete research – be thorough.
  • Avoid NOT summarizing for the reader (i.e., agent or publisher).

Good points to make in a query include:

  • “this is the only book that _____________,”
  • this book is more comprehensive
  • speaks to a larger market
  • is the most current and up-to-date
  • provides a different viewpoint
  • makes use of the author’s credentials

NOTE:  Tell the agent or publisher concisely.  For example “There are other books out there but this is how this one is different.”

About Catherine Fowler: 

Catherine Fowler is the Founder of the Redwood Agency in Portland, Oregon. Ms. Fowler has more than 20 years of experience in book and Internet publishing, having worked for such prestigious companies as Random House, Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, Excite and WebMD.  With the inception of Redwood Agency, Fowler is focusing on the core of her expertise: the development of informative and fun products, working with talented writers and editors, and negotiating contracts. 

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