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by Patricia Fry

How to Use Your Competition to Ensure Your Publishing Success

It happened again at a writers’ conference this weekend. A hopeful author sat on the edge of his seat, notebook open and pen poised in eager anticipation of my wise counsel. Upon receiving it, however, he slammed the book closed, tossed the pen on the table in front of him and slumped back in his chair.

What was the advice that this man so readily discarded?

He asked me how to find a publisher for his memoir which would also feature recipes. I told him about Writer’s Market and how to use the Book Publishers Subject Index—information that he eagerly noted. I also suggested that he locate books in bookstores and at similar to his and see who published these books. I said that he might be able to interest one of those publishers in his project.

That’s when he slammed his notebook closed. He said, “There are no books like mine.”

Well guess what? I did a brief search later and discovered dozens of memoirs with recipes. I learned that Scribner published one of them—Random House produced another.

Many first-time authors have trouble using the title search method to locate an appropriate publisher. They also have a problem finding books to use in their market analysis section of their book proposal. Why? Because they believe that their book is unique—there are no other books like theirs.

If this is true, they may be pitching a book that no one wants. Maybe there’s a reason why there’s nothing out there like it. But in most cases, there are plenty of similar books. The author simply doesn’t understand the similar book concept. Let me explain:

Certainly there are no books exactly like yours. No one else tells the story of your childhood, your fight with cancer or your trip around the world. But there are other life stories, other survival stories and other travel memoirs.

You may not find any books focusing on the dental features of tarantulas and other large spiders. But there are a variety of books on spiders. These are the books you need to be looking at in your search for an appropriate publisher.

Maybe your book features whipped cream snacks. But you don’t have to look for another book exactly like this in order to locate a publisher for your book. A publisher of books on appetizers, holiday meals, fruit pies, stews and/or diabetic desserts might also be interested in publishing your book on whipped cream snacks.

Perhaps you consider your novel a romantic horror gothic adventure featuring pre-teen mutants. It’s doubtful that you’ll find another book within this exact realm, but a publisher of horror or science fiction books might be fascinated by yours.

You see, if a publisher does well with an even remotely similar book, he may be interested in another good book along the same lines—on the same topic, within the same genre.

But finding a publisher isn’t the only reason for researching books like yours. Consider the following:

 • Did you know that you can sometimes locate an agent through books similar to yours? Just look on the acknowledgements pages of these books. Sometimes authors will publicly thank his or her agent.

 • Check sales figures for books on your topic or genre. You may discover that recipe books with a theme are outselling straight cookbooks or that no one is buying adult gothic horror. It is a wise author who makes decisions based on in-depth research rather than raw emotions. Check sales through and other online bookstores.

 • Learn something about promoting books like yours by studying authors’ websites. You can still learn volumes about books produced by independent and small publishers through author websites. How are they promoting their book? Who do they perceive as their audience? You might even initiate a dialog with authors of these books and learn some inside secrets about what aspect of the book/story is most popular. What you can learn from authors of books similar to yours might just guide you in attaining greater success with your project.

 • Locate books similar to yours for the market analysis section of your book proposal. The publisher wants to know what makes your book different/better. And you’d better know this BEFORE you start actually writing the book or you’re liable to write the wrong book for the wrong audience.

The next time you are tempted to downplay the importance of comparing your book idea with other books that are out there, stop and think about it for a moment. Do you really want to deprive yourself of the valuable information you can glean?


Patricia Fry is the Executive Director of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) and the author of 35 books. See her most recent books in the left column of this page.

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