Understanding and Researching Book Competition
As we discussed in the first blog of our research series, the research stage of your publishing process will aim to strike a delicate balance between finding an area of the book market that is in demand, and one that is not completely saturated with competition. You’ll also be able to plan your clearest path to publishing success by researching book competition that is out there.
Once you’ve figured out what genre or genres your book falls into, and have an idea of the content of your book, you’ll want to begin taking a detailed look at other books that fall into the same categories – especially the successful ones.
Researching book competition
You can start with Amazon.com – the bestseller list is a great place to start. The best time to do this is before you’ve even written your first draft, so even if you haven’t chosen a final set of keywords yet, get some ideas and search them on Amazon. You can search within a broader genre like self-help or romance.
Going beyond the internet can help you discover competing books you never would otherwise. Try asking around at local bookstores. Owners and even clerks will have a good idea what is popular at any given time, and having a real-life conversation with a knowledgeable human may lead you to discover books and long-term trends you might miss on an internet search.
What to look for
Researching book competition means keeping track of which authors are publishing books that directly compete with yours. The important question is what can your book offer that these other books don’t? Primarily, you’ll want to make sure you offer unique subject matter and content, for which demand exists. But you also may find other authors have covered similar subject matter, without as high-quality writing or appealing design. This is one way to stand out without changing your content.
To figure out who you’re really competing with, pay attention to which books have the most reviews and the highest ratings, as well as overall sales ranking on Amazon. Offline (and perhaps among online communities of readers), consider which books seem to be earning the most word-of-mouth buzz.
What publishing practices have been successful for books similar to yours? For authors offering similar content, what is missing from their work that you could include in yours? Note all the decisions these authors have made, and whether or not they seem to be working, including content, design, and promotional strategies.
If the market seems truly saturated, you’ll want to figure out how to offer something unique, and perhaps narrow your focus down to something more specific. For example, let’s say you’re interested in writing a historical fiction book set in a certain time period. You would want to see if there is a lot of competition for historical fiction in that period.
If there are very few competing books, it could be a sign that this kind of writing isn’t really trending right now – check out our first blog in the series for advice on tracking these trends. But it could also mean you have found a niche to be filled. This is where talking to bookstore owners could come in handy. Are there few books because those types of books don’t sell, or have customers been asking for books on the topic and not enough are available?
Responding to the market
If there is a lot of competition, you’ll need to study these books in more detail.
If you’re interested in writing historical fiction set in a certain period, but the market is flooded with competition, perhaps you could narrow your focus to write a historical mystery or romance in the same era and location. If you have some great, motivational ideas for a self-help book, perhaps you could narrow your focus to career advice rather than writing a general self-help book. This is a great way to stand out from the competing books while holding on to your goals as a writer, and capitalizing on current trends as well. You may even find this strategy helps to refine your ideas.
The bottom line is that in such a saturated market, in which almost anyone can publish a book, it pays to be adaptable. While your first instinct might be to write your book, put it out there, and hope for the best, it will pay off to find your niche by researching book competition early on.
Remember, your book is an investment – certainly in terms of time, but also in terms of a financial investment in the publishing process later on. There may be aspects of your vision on which you don’t want to compromise – and that’s ok. But there may be other areas where you can tweak your plan to stand out from the competition.
It’s better to adapt, and reach a larger audience then to have few readers find your book to begin with. And you may find that narrowing your focus helps to polish your own ideas, making you a better writer in the end. Researching book competition is the first step.