A thorough analysis of comparable or competitive titles will help sell your book to a publisher, and it will help the publisher sell your book to retailers. It is not unlike listing your home for sale. We’ve done that twice now and our realtor researched some “comps” to help establish the value of our home before we listed it for sale. He brought us listings of homes with the same square footage, similar construction, and even similar floor plans in the same neighborhood and similar neighborhoods around town so we could see how they were priced. Then we looked at the things unique to our home—curb appeal, mature trees, built-in bookcases—the “selling points” that added unique value to our home. The point was not to say, “there’s no other home out there quite like ours.” The point was to know the competition, set our value accordingly, and develop the unique selling points that would make our house sell faster than the one up the street.
Even if you believe your book is completely unique, you should still do an analysis of other books in your category. If your book is going to sell in bookstores it will have to be shelved somewhere. You should know the best sellers in your category, why they sell, as well as other books your readers are likely to read.
Amazon makes comp title research very easy through best seller lists by micro-categories and the “people who bought this book also bought these books” feature. Book descriptions, reviews, and selling points emphasized in the title, subtitle, and descriptive copy often tell you enough to compare a book to your own. Look for the best selling books similar to yours and try to determine why they sold so well. The best sellers demonstrate the size of the market’s appetite for a given subject. Show how your book is similar and the features, benefits, or content your book has that the best sellers do not. Also look at books from authors with a similar platform to yours. How many books have they published compared to you? What’s their day job? What are you or your book going to do that they or their books don’t do?
The point of comp title analysis for a book is not to show that there is nothing out there like your book. I almost immediately reject any proposal that claims, “there’s nothing out there quite like my book.” It tells me that the author is not aware of the market, let alone their own category, and has not done their homework. The wisest man who ever lived told us a few thousand years ago, “There is no new thing under the sun.” Today, R. R. Bowker reports more than 400,000 new books were published in 2007—more than 1000 new books a day. The recent surge is attributed to new print-on-demand and self-publishing technology.
Competition is stiffer than ever before, but this should be exciting, not intimidating. Technology makes it easier and more affordable to reach defined groups of people with specific interests. Reaching those people and profitably publishing content in the way they want to buy it and the format they want to read it is a very exciting challenge. As publishers and authors we need to get sharper and sharper at what we do and the benefits we provide to readers, booksellers, and each other.