Depending on your definition of success as a self-publisher, knowing your “competition”[ref]While in this specific post, “competition” equals other books, Hugh Howey makes a great point when he states that writers are not in competition with each other, but with everything else that begs for a reader’s attention, like television, social media, video games, etc. For me, writing is like playing golf. I don’t compete against the person next to me; I compete against the course.[/ref] before writing your book can help your book become much more marketable. By combing through bestsellers and similar titles to your work-in-progress, you’ll learn how you can position your book against what’s already available.
For instance, let’s say you had an idea to write the seminal literary novel about the dust bowl. While I’m not saying it can’t be done, your research would show that one book far outsells all others when it comes to such a novel. If your definition of success involves selling as many books as you can, it’s highly unlikely that a dust bowl novel that’s even remotely similar to The Grapes of Wrath will sell well. The same goes for nonfiction. If you’re going to write a book on winning friends and influencing people, it can be done, but a perennial bestseller will likely trump your work before you’ve even begun.
Why spend months crafting a book that may be buried by a similar work?
That’s why market research prior to launch is such an integral part of self-publishing. Take a few hours and search for books that may be similar to yours. List three of the top sellers, then write a few lines about each book on how they compare to the work you’ll be doing. What are the major similarities? How will your book be different?
What you’re looking for is your book’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP), a phrase coined by ad execs in the 1940s. In other words, why should anyone buy your book over similar books? What benefit does your book offer to readers that they can’t find anywhere else? If you walked into a bookstore and there were only four similar books, all by different authors, merchandised next to each other on a shelf, what would make a potential buyer reach for your book first?
Going back to previous questions in The Self-Publisher’s Checklist may assist you at this point. Re-read your one-sentence summary. Look over the three adjectives that could describe your book. Conduct virtual market research by sending the summaries of the books you’ve found, along with your own summary, to a group of trusted friends. Eliminate authors’ names from the list so as to make the summaries anonymous. Ask your friends to rank the summaries based on their likelihood of actually reading the book. If you want to go further, ask these friends to tell you what sets these similar works apart. If they reply that the books seem “mostly the same,” then you’ll know you have more work to do in discovering your unique selling proposition.
As an example, my book’s USP was inherent from the title, The Gospel According to Breaking Bad. While many similar Gospel According to … books exist, none existed specifically about Breaking Bad until mine was published. Even then, I strove to differentiate my book from similar offerings by including more interesting trivia about the show than typical Gospel According To … books include. I also tried to keep plot summary to a minimum, as my readings of similar books always bogged down when lengthy plot summaries relayed what I’d already seen in the show.
Now it’s your turn, whether you’ve published or are currently working on a book: what’s your book’s USP?
Even if you’re not set on your USP, consider sharing it so that others might read examples of how to set a work apart from its close competition.