Friday, December 21, 2007

Adina Kahn discusses competitive titles

One of the most important parts of any book proposal is the comparative books section. This is your opportunity to prove to that you are well acquainted with the market and convince editors that your book will stand out from all the rest. Of course, it is the agent’s job as well as the writer’s to be aware of all competition, but every author should approach an agent already intimately familiar with other titles in their category.

A few tips:

  1. Take a Trip To the Bookstore

The easiest way to start your search is on Amazon, and this is an excellent start to obtaining a comprehensive overview of competing books and their sales. But do not stop there. The next step should be a trip to the bookstore, where you can observe which titles are more prominently displayed on the shelves, and see in person just how much competition you will have.

  1. Check the Publication Date

Unless the book stands out as one of the classic books in its genre, it will suffice to list books that have been published within the past five years. Listing a book from the 80’s that is out of print is going to be of little interest to an editor. A good rule of thumb is to come up with about 5-6 books.

  1. Update Your List

A proposal can end up going through a few edits, so before you hand in the final product, make sure to check one last time and see if any books were recently published that might compete with yours. If you omit a new bestseller, it will make the proposal look dated and the author will appear unfamiliar with the competition.

  1. Explain How Your Book Differs

Some writers feel they have to badmouth their competition, but that is not the case. If you feel that another book is lacking in some respect you may say so, but your main focus should be describing how your book is different.

  1. Know the Competition for Fiction

Fiction authors are not usually asked to submit a list to editors of comparative titles, but that does not mean they should not be doing this for themselves. You should be aware of what category of fiction your material falls under, how other books have performed in that category, and which books yours will most likely be compared to. Also, be knowledgeable about which trends are no longer working.

Of course, if you’re a big enough name you don’t have to concern yourself as much with the competition. Jessica Seinfeld, wife of Jerry, recently made bestseller lists with her cookbook Deceptively Delicious, even though it was very similar to another recently published title The Sneaky Chef by Missy Chase Lapine. Ultimately, the press from the authors’ quarrel ended up causing both books to rise in sales. It didn’t hurt that Jessica Seinfeld was also backed by an appearance on Oprah and the fact that Jerry gave her recipes his seal of approval.

Mrs. Seinfeld ended up with a successful book, but many authors may not have been as lucky. My advice is to make sure your book stands out as an original and take the time to prove it in your proposal.


  1. Most writers learn very quickly that writing, though very important, is only part of what they must do in order to publish and make sure that their work sells.

    I have visited our local bookstores so often that most of the indifferent, multi-pierced, gum-chewing staff seem a little wary of me: I make them order new stuff and feel their YA section could be a little larger, given how busy it is. I try to keep track of what is popular, frequently borrow my kids' books, and make changes in my own manuscript based on what is happening in the world.

    Sadly, becoming famous is out of my reach, so I will just have to keep plugging away at the writing.

  2. Thanks for the great advice. :D My bookstore doesn't carry the books I desire and I end up ordering too. That's what happens in a small town. I've joined author loops to make up for it.


  3. Hi, this is not so related to your page, but it is the site you asked me 1 month ago about the abs diet. I tried it, worked well. Well here is the site

  4. thanks for explaining this so succinctly.

    One of the things I notice in writing groups is often they don't read current fiction, and they end up referencing the classics, even often bemoaning new stuff.

    It's a real struggle to keep up with reading. I try to keep up, and have a growing pile of stuff to read. Though truthfully, if I find I don't like something, then I've given myself permission to not waste a lot of time on it and will quit it.

    I end up ordering most of what I read off the web --even if it's used.

  5. I think that book proposals are the most important part, I think you put in here one of the main points it is: "Explain How Your Book Differs" because we should to know why those books are important and check them out and taking a trip to the Bookstore.m10m