After reading dozens of book proposals and having dozens of client book proposals accepted by agents and publishers, I’ve noticed that the competing books section of a book proposal is just hard for people and they often need help with it before they get it right.
One common error is comparing your book to books that didn’t do very well. Another is comparing your book to bestsellers and finding flaws with the bestsellers. Another is saying lots about the competitive or complementary books without comparing to your own.
Here is what you want to keep in mind: the agent or publisher reading your proposal is most interested in 1 thing: will your book sell well? Sure, they also want it to be a book they feel passionate about and will enjoy working on, but ultimately they are most concerned with book sales. Numbers, of course, are relative. For certain publishers “sells well” means over 100,000 books and for a smaller publisher it may mean 10,000 books.
So, you want them to read this section of your book proposal and say, “Wow, I think this book will be a bestseller!” or “Wow, there is a big audience for this book and I can see that books for this audience sell well and this particular book is fresh or unique or offers a fresh perspective or adds something that’s missing from the books that are out there on the subject.”
You want to compare your books to other books that sold very well in that category. You want to demonstrate that your book has things in common with those bestsellers (or books that have done very well) and that it has some freshness or uniqueness. That’s it.
There are other places in the proposal to let your beautiful prose shine through and say more about your book. Here, I would be succinct. Compare the books on audience, tone, voice, content (what’s new or different), length, accessibility, and anything else that seems relevant. I generally try to have at least one thing that is similar (or why would I be comparing them) and one that’s different. Several in each can be ideal.
If your book is different from all the books in one particular way, you may just want to emphasize it before the list of books compared rather than one by one. And if you can group several books together and address them as one in comparing to your book, that’s fine. Generally, I aim for 5-7 books in this section. If more, I try to group them rather than compare them all individually.
Do you have questions about how to write a book proposal? Anything specific about how to write the competing books section of a book proposal? Feel free to ask here.
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