How to Fill a “Hole” on the Bookstore Shelf

by Joel Friedlander on April 2, 2014 · 14 comments

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By Nina Amir

Maybe you’ve heard the adage that if you’ve been searching for a particular book and haven’t found it, that’s the book you should write. Or if you’ve been wishing someone would tell a particular story, that’s the tale you should tell. And, if there’s a hole on the bookstore shelf waiting for a book readers want and need but that hasn’t yet been published—that’s the hole you should fill.

All of these statements describe books that are unique and necessary in their category. You may think your fiction or nonfiction book idea is just that—unique and necessary, but are you sure? Can you say this with complete certainty?

When you decide to write and publish a book, you want to be confident you will bring a book to market that has never before been written—or read—and that your target readers want and need.

To write that book, tell that tale or fill that hole, do some work before you start your manuscript. As part of your initial planning process, study other previously published books and use this research to help you develop the confidence to write and publish a singular book.

The Competitive Analysis

The research to which I am referring is most-often called a competitive analysis. It’s an essential part of a business plan for your book. It’s also an important step in conceptualizing and producing a unique and necessary book, which is why you want to take this step first—before you write.

As an indie author, it’s up to you to determine if your book, once finished, will be better than those already on the market as well as if it’s a product that will sell. Take the time, therefore, to go through this analysis in the early stages of planning your book and honing your idea. Also, include this research in your book’s business plan.

To complete a competitive analysis:

  • Study other books on the same topic, in the same category, or in the same genre.
  • Compare them to your project.
  • Evaluate how they are better, worse or different.

A book that competes with the book you want to write is one that, given the choice, your ideal reader might purchase instead of yours. It is not one this same reader might purchase in addition to yours; that would be a complementary book.

To locate competitive books:

  • Spend time browsing Amazon.com.
  • Search by new and popular titles, relevance and publication date.
  • Check out the bestseller lists—the Amazon Top 100 in your book’s genre or category.

Identify five to ten competing books. These should be bestsellers in your book’s category or genre or the ones you feel most-closely resemble the content you plan to include.

Compiling the Data You Need

Once you have created a list of competitive titles, search inside each book, studying:

  • The front cover
  • The back cover
  • The table of contents
  • The foreword and introduction
  • As much content as possible

Also make note of each books’ page count and price as well as if it is available in hardcover, paperback and/or ebook. Categorize your competition by self-published and traditionally published works. (If you are planning to traditionally publish, you only focus on traditionally published works.)

Then make a trip to your local bookstore. Take a closer look at the books you feel are your book’s top competition. (Order any books you can’t find in the bookstore, such as self-published titles, to study further.) Spend time reading them. Look for special features the authors’ included or anything else that makes them special, different, or excellent, as well as how the author’s have failed in any way.

How to Use the Data

Once you’ve accumulated this data, it’s time to put it to use. As you look over the information about the competitive books you’ve researched, keep one important question in mind:

How can I write a better book?

  • Did one of the authors cover a broad range of material or create characters with extremely interesting and complex back stories?
  • Have several authors chosen to focus on one solution or on one time period?
  • Have none of the authors provided the particular viewpoint you have to offer or created a story that takes places in a particular location you know well?
  • Have the other authors done a superb job that you can’t surpass? Be honest.

Also answer these questions as you compare your project to these published works:

  • Will I approach the subject from a different angle?
  • Will I provide new information?
  • Will I solve heretofore unsolved problems (or provide new solutions)?
  • Will I provide new or different benefits?
  • Will I tell a previously untold story?
  • Will I taken readers on a different journey?
  • Will I cover different themes or issues or do so in a unique manner?
  • Will I offer readers a unique experience?
  • Will I show readers a place or a life they’ve never seen before?

The answers to these questions, and others like them, determine if you need to change how you approach writing your manuscript. With all your research and answers, reexamine your idea and find ways to incorporate the best in these other books (in different ways), improve on what the others lack and, by so doing, produce the most unique and necessary book in the category.

This exercise is easier for nonfiction writers, and can be completed without reading every competitive book. Novelists, on the other hand, have to spend more time reading, or at least skimming, the top books on their list of competing titles and breaking down the stories to find the data they need and answer many of these questions.

Don’t forget to make determinations about:

  • the most appropriate page length
  • price
  • book size
  • and cover design

based on the information gleaned during your competitive analysis. You don’t want your book to be too different from others in your category. It typically doesn’t work to your advantage to have a book be half the length of all the other books on the shelf or literally half the size let alone twice as expensive.

One Last Comparison

Although some people like to write by the seat of their pants, I suggest a bit of mapping, or planning, before you begin to write. This helps you complete a final stage in your competitive analysis.

It’s possible that before you began your competitive analysis you had a table of contents for your project. You also might have had a synopsis or chapter summaries. But maybe you didn’t . In either case, at this point you definitely want to have both. (I suggest novelists produce chapter summaries in addition to a synopsis.)

Once you’ve created your table of contents for your book and you have your chapter summaries written, take this detailed outline for your book and compare it to the top three to five books on your list of competitive titles. Ask yourself three final questions:

  1. Will my book improve upon the competition?
  2. Is my book unique?
  3. Is my book necessary—do my target readers need or want it?

If you can answer “yes” to all three questions, you’ve accomplished your goal. You’ve created a book idea that will fill a hole on the bookstore shelf.

Nina AmirNina Amir, is a Contributing Writer for TheBookDesigner.com. She is also the author of How to Blog a Book and The Author Training Manual, transforms writers into inspired, successful authors, authorpreneurs and blogpreneurs.

You can learn more about Nina here.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com Amazon links contain my affiliate code.

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    { 12 comments… read them below or add one }

    Thomas W Devine April 3, 2014 at 11:58 am

    Great advice, I’m sure. But it would rather take the joy out of writing, for me.

    Reply

    Nina Amir April 2, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    Joanne,

    I’m so glad this piece let you know you were on the right track! That the best thing a competitive analysis can do! Good luck with your book.

    Reply

    Joanne Bush April 2, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    Great article…and very comforting. For a long time I did not write my book (this is my first ever) because there seemed to be so many written on the subject. My advantage was pretty much what you outlined…and I did not even know it. It was from a different perspective and addressed a particular facet of the subject not addressed in any of the books I have or have researched…and one thing not mentioned, I was surprised to find that there was not another book with my title…not even remotely. I found that a plus, making it easier to find.

    Thanks for the heads up for this is the place from which I write. What questions are being asked, yet there seems to be no answers. My work provides answers, especially to the controversial questions. You have helped me realize that unintentionally I was filling a hole. Now I can do it intentionally.

    Reply

    Nina Amir April 2, 2014 at 10:40 am

    Victor,

    Thanks for your comment and for sharing that tool. There are so many different aspects of a book you could compare to your own.

    There really is no true competition. The more books in a category selling really well, the better. That’s how an acquisitions editor at a publishing company sees it.

    Reply

    Victor Olade April 2, 2014 at 11:21 am

    You’re right. Maybe “friendly” competition is a better way of framing it when referring to the need for authors to differentiate their book from similar ones. This type of competition is good because it causes authors to come with their best. The great thing about indie publishing is that its not a zero-sum game. There’s room for everyone to be a winner if they have a quality product that people want and implement the right strategies to reach those people.

    Reply

    Nina Amir April 2, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    Victor,

    Yes, friendly competition is a good word for it.

    Here’s the thing: If there are bestsellers in your category, and lots of them, that means readers want books on the topic. That’s a good thing!

    Reply

    Michael Kelberer April 3, 2014 at 7:16 am

    In fact, I’d say that “competitive” authors make for the best allies. Just do the math: if a reader reads even 2 books a month, that’s 24 a year. You’ll probably only produce one, maybe two. That means you could share your readers with 10+ other authors and never lose a sale. And, of course, the same is true of them!

    Reply

    Victor Olade April 2, 2014 at 9:01 am

    Not too many indie authors like to think of themselves as competing with other authors but it’s the reality. I like your business like approach to doing a competitive analysis before even beginning to write your book.

    I think determining the best angle to come from or the best way to position the book in prospective reader’s mind is the first biggest marketing challenge authors have to overcome. Those 17 questions you provided here are a great way to get started on the right track.

    Once the unique positioning and angle for one’s book is figured out it has to be clearly communicated through the cover design, which I think becomes the most essential marketing tool for differentiating the book from other similar books. This is why studying the competition’s front cover is an essential part of a good competitive analysis, which you also suggested here.

    Here’s an example of how I like to do it. Anyone is free to use this as a template if they like it:

    http://bit.ly/1gLQNoJ

    Reply

    Trisha Cupra April 2, 2014 at 5:05 am

    Wow – I wonder how many non-fiction authors do a business plan for their book idea, and a competitive analysis? I’m sure authors who do this give themselves an instant edge over the competition.

    Reply

    Nina Amir April 2, 2014 at 10:12 am

    Trisha,

    Nonfiction authors who traditionally publish must do a competitive analysis for their book proposal, which is a business plan for a book. Indie nonfiction authors in many cases do not bother with either a competitive analysis or a business plan.

    Fiction authors who bother to do both, a competitive analysis and a business plan, benefit as well. Most do not bother. They don’t this this is “for” them. They are wrong.

    In all cases, you are right, these steps give ALL writers an edge over the competition.

    Reply

    Victor Olade April 2, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Nina,

    Good point! I think the main purpose of writing a business plan or doing a competitive analysis is generally misunderstood my most people. One of my business advisers once told me that even if potential investors never ask for a business plan I should still go through the hassle of writing one for my own personal use. He was right. The process of writing the plan itself is very beneficial. It really helps me think through my vision and HOW best to execute it. It’s one of the most self-empowering exercises anyone in a entrepreneurial venture (self-publishing included) can do.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Reply

    Nina Amir April 2, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    Victor,

    That’s exactly why I wrote The Author Training Manual! Writers don’t realize the power in writing a business plan for their books prior to writing a word. Indie authors, in particular, must have one, since they are opening a publishing company.

    Reply

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