Writer, Know Thyself! Making Competitive Analysis Work for You

It’s Wednesday, so let’s continue the ongoing series on author business plans and how to write them.

Last week we finished off a three-week tour of marketing plans by looking at post-release marketing. This week we leave marketing behind and move on to Competitive Analysis, the fourth section of the author business plan.

Competitive Analysis involves analyzing your work in comparison to other books in the marketplace, looking for strengths and weaknesses, and brainstorming ways to enhance your strong points and minimize the reasons a buyer would bypass your book in favor of another.

Let’s break that down a little.

Step 1: Identify similar works in the marketplace.

Authors should read widely, both within their genre and outside it. By the time you finish writing a novel, you should know (and have read) other authors in your genre.

Go to a bookstore. Where will your book be shelved? Look at the books around it. Who wrote them? Do you know those authors’ styles? If not, get a sampling and read. You need to know whose books your target readers are reading now.

Step 2: Compare. How is your book similar to or different from comparable works?

Ask yourself questions like: Why will (or should) readers want your book instead of or in addition to others in the genre? What might keep a reader from choosing your book instead of another one in the genre? Why might fans of a certain author like your books too?

You can see that it helps to be fairly widely read. If you don’t know that James Rollins writes thrillers with a historical twist that often involves ancient artifacts and legends, or that Laura Joh Rowland’s mystery novels feature a police supervisor who solves crimes based on psychological factors rather than heavy forensics, you won’t know whether your work is the same or different.

Step 3: Analyze similar works to learn how and why they sell.

Word of mouth is the strongest tool for selling novels. Your fans are your greatest (and most important) advertising method. Never underestimate the importance – or the value and honor – of someone who shelled out hard-earned money to read what you made up. That is a gift – and smart authors never forget it.

But authors have to get the word out in order to find the fans. How do authors whose works are similar to yours do that? Some may have large advertising budgets you don’t have – that’s all right, and not a reason to give up in despair. Watch how effective authors use Twitter, Facebook and public appearances. Go to signings. See how they behave.

Imitate only the good behaviors, never the nasty ones.

Step 4: Brainstorm strategies to maximize your advantages and minimize your weaknesses.

Some ideas:

– Interact on social media with other authors, industry professionals, bloggers and fans. (This means real interaction – not just automated tweets asking them to buy or advertising your work. Advertising is OK, but you need to be a real person first.)

Partner with other authors for events, signings, blogging, and other opportunities. (We are stronger in numbers than we are alone, and for many authors “nobody knows me” is the biggest weakness. Groups draw a crowd, and if you can partner with a more established author whose fans might also like your work, you both may benefit from the arrangement.)

– Always stay positive and encouraging – don’t put other people (or their efforts) down. (Everyone loves an encourager. People shy away from the negative. Being positive is an enormous strength!)

Do you have other ideas about successfully overcoming weaknesses and using your strengths? Please let me know in the comments – it’s great to hear your thoughts!

For those who may have missed an installment, here are links to Part 1 (the Overview), Part 2 (Writing the Dreaded Synopsis), Part 3 (On Pre-Release Marketing Mountain), Part 4 (Marketing for Release Weeks), and Part 5 (The After-Party: Post Release-Phase Marketing).