Today, we continue the ongoing series: How to Write a Business Plan for Your Book. (If you missed any previous installments, you can find links at the bottom of the post.)
Last week we finished off the marketing section by looking at how to plan your post-release marketing (spoiler: “write another book”).
This week we leave marketing behind and move to the fourth section of the business plan: the Competitive Analysis.
Writing a competitive analysis requires 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 the process down a little more.
Step 1: Identify similar books in the marketplace (meaning books already on sale).
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.
You need to know where your book belongs in a bookstore. Which shelf it would sit on, and why. If your book is going to be sold, it will be placed on a shelf. Knowing which shelf that is helps you market your book properly.
Go to a bookstore. Where will your book be shelved? Make note of the books around it, both on the same shelf and on adjacent ones. 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: Write an HONEST comparison. How is your book similar to or different from comparable works?
This is a tough-love section of your marketing plan. You’re writing it for yourself alone, and you must learn to evaluate your work objectively. The truth is that not everyone wants to read your book, and that’s okay—but until you accept that truth, you’re crippling your career.
Ask yourself questions like: What makes my book unique, and different from others in the genre, but still a book this genre’s fans will like? How does my book meet, or depart from, the expectations fans of this genre have? 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. Talk to your readers–or readers who read within your genre–and ask them what they like about their favorite books. LISTEN to the answers, and see what part of that might work for (or apply to) you.
Authors have to get the word out about their books in order for readers to find them. How do authors whose works are similar to yours do that? The Internet is a great advantage here. Many authors (present company included) blog or talk about their marketing, sometimes in great detail. Research widely–mainly authors within your genre, but also other authors, too. See what works, and why.
Some authors may have large advertising budgets, or other advantages 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.
Then write, in your competitive analysis section, the things you want to try (or emulate) and the things that might not work for you. Keep track, and make good notes so you have a plan.
Imitate only the good behaviors, never the nasty ones.
Step 4: Brainstorm strategies to maximize your advantages and minimize your weaknesses.
Remember, the goal of the competitive analysis section is understanding your work, and its audience, so you can market effectively. Only honest analysis works. Don’t beat yourself up, or put yourself on a pedestal–see both the strong and the weak aspects.
– 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!)
If you’ve missed any part of the series, here are links to the previous installments:
Part 2: The Business Plan Overview
If you have other thoughts about the competitive analysis, or questions about this or other publishing law and business topics, hop into the comments–I’d love to hear from you!