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Analyze your competition like a pro.

I’ve heard it said that every book has already been written at least once, and it’s somewhat true. Don’t let that discourage you.

It doesn’t mean your book isn’t valuable to your target audience. However, it does mean that an important part of writing a successful nonfiction book is knowing what other books on the topic are already on the market.

I’m going to explain how to analyze competitive and complementary titles, how to research trends and hot topics, and how to leverage all this knowledge to make key decisions about your book—and to plan out how to address this in your book proposal.

Let’s begin by defining a couple of essential terms.

Competitive Titles: Books that directly compete for your target audience’s attention and dollars.

Complementary Titles: Books your target audience might also read that would support or complement the ideas in your book.

The difference between them can be subtle, and some books are a bit of both, but understanding these terms helps us understand how we should be viewing or analyzing the market for any book.

Let’s say you’re writing a book about how to get out of debt. Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover is definitely a competitive title. But Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad might be a complementary title.

Your target readers might want to apply the lessons in Rich Dad, Poor Dad, but to do so, they might need to get their debt under control first. Or maybe your approach to debt is aligned with another personal finance author who writes about saving for retirement.

Together, competitive titles and complementary titles are simply referred to in the publishing industry as “comp titles.”

What information should you know about your comp titles?

  • How is your book different? How is it similar?

  • When was the comp title published?

  • Was it traditionally or self-published?

  • How well did it sell?

  • What is its core message and promise?

The whole point of market research is to figure out why a reader would choose your book over another or in addition to another. This choice is based on what your book offers that other books don’t. As you look at potential comp titles, dig in on this question and make sure you have a precise answer.

If you’re creating a book proposal, this information is critical, and is usually captured in a separate section on comp titles, where you explain how your book will stand out in the market. Pick a few comps and list author, title, publisher, and publication date; explain how successful they were (here you might reference Amazon position or bestseller status), and describe how your book complements, or transcends, or builds upon each of them. Pick recent titles, published within the past five years or so. If you refer to older titles, make it clear why they are relevant: for a weight-loss book you might reference the Skinny Bitch franchise that was so popular around 2005, and point out that now is a great time to introduce the market to a new voice that is equally sassy and irreverent.

Agents and editors need to know that you have thought about these things. YOU need to know you’ve thought about these things, to sharpen your own understanding of why readers will want to read your book.

Here’s a question for you: I’m launching a new online course on writing book proposals in 2022. What are the things you want to know about writing book proposals that I can answer in the new course? Drop me a message through my website, or post a comment on social media. I’d love to hear from you.


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