The Pitch Perfect Proposal, an on-going column by Erin Reel, The Lit Coach. Erin is an editorial and publishing consultant, writer’s coach, blogger, columnist and former Los Angeles based literary agent.
Keeping it Classy in your Competitive Analysis
Agents and publishing teams want to work with writers who, yes, are brilliant, creative and innovative, but who also have a firm grasp of their place within the book market and a healthy respect for those who’ve blazed the book trails before them.
Since most agents, editors and publishers have seen it all, they’re especially interested in learning why your book is unique and how it will complement other titles in the market. The Competitive Analysis section of your book proposal should accomplish three things:
- Show there is a market for your book
- Show which books compliment your book
- Show how your book stands apart from the pack
When Cheryl Lage, author of Twinspiration: Real-Life Advice from Pregnancy Through the First Year, approached me with the proposal for her charming twins tome, I knew I wanted to work with her on developing the project further because as an expectant mother of twins, she read as many twin-centric titles as she could get her hands on - she knew the market from the trenches. She knew what info was useful, what wasn’t and what advice simply didn’t speak to women like her.
Through her personal experiences, she saw a hole in the market and felt compelled to fill it – which is usually the way most book concepts are conceived (no pun intended).
Let’s take a look at a few examples from the Twinspiration Competitive Analysis:
Two at a Time: Having Twins: The Journey through Pregnancy and Birth, by Jane Seymour, Pamela Patrick Novotny and Sheryl Ross (Pocket Books, 2001)
Two At a Time offers an entertaining celebrity perspective on twin pregnancy and birth. Unlike the average twin mom, her status affords her the flexibility of hiring twin management personnel. A fun read from a unique point of view…the People magazine of twin pregnancy books.
Short Take? While Two at a Time is entertaining, it’s celebrity driven and removed from the general readership’s reality.
During the time I shopped Cheryl’s proposal, celebrity twin pregnancies were hot in the media as was the twins and multiples baby-boom in the general public – which ultimately was a nice hook Cheryl used to place freelance work, further establishing her platform. Not to mention, there was a market for her work.
Celebrity driven “how-to” books are lots of fun but you have to consider why the book is selling when adding the title in your proposal – because of their name and status or because of the info/message? Usually, it’s the celebrity that is the hook, not necessarily the message. That said, the same rule applies when analyzing the work of celebrity authors as it does for the rest in the field, respect their book and analyze it as you would any other. Keep it classy.
Dr. Rachel’s Guide to Surviving Multiple Pregnancy by Dr. Rachel McClintock Franklin (St. Martin’s Press, 2004).
Despite her upbeat tone, the text includes more medical and less “hands on” advice. Although she is a twin mommy, most readers surmise doctors “know more,” and are subsequently better equipped to handle the challenges of twin parenting, however her text lacks thorough real-life advice and only covers pregnancy and the very first days.
Short Take? Despite all the helpful, much-needed info and medical perspective on pregnancy and the early days of twinfancy, the book lacks some much needed, every-mom accessible, day to day info about how to cope throughout that crucial first year.
Here, Cheryl pays respect to the Doc’s expertise but also highlights the need for the more hand-holding “every mom” advice new twin mothers so desperately need, which Cheryl learned through her experience as a mother of twins. Plus she popped in one of her unique twin-centric words, “twinfancy,” that she uses throughout her book and popular blog, giving the publisher a small flavor of her brand.
Twins!: Expert Advice from Two Practicing Physicians on Pregnancy, Birth and The First Year of Life, by Connie Agnew (HarperCollins, 1997)
I bought this book as a gift for a twins-expectant friend who prefers authority for her pregnancy prep. This is a good text for medical info and developmental progress, but not enough nitty-gritty/how –to-manage-with-twins advice. (Same friend called me regularly for tips on maneuvering once her twins were born.) I love this statement because it shows Cheryl respects the author and respects the wishes of those who would prefer a “medical” text to a chatty one. Ultimately, her friend found a need for Cheryl’s day-to-day twins know-how, which clearly illustrated the need for Cheryl’s advice in a very positive and compelling way.
So how is Twinspiration different?
The need exists for an encouraging, friendly book written by a non-doctor/every-mom that not only covers the pregnancy phase of twins but what to expect through the first year of their twins’ lives. Twin mommies need a text that reveals “what works” in that challenging first year. Hearing the owner’s approachable manual-esque tips, the “don’t try what I tried” mistakes, and the cheerleading “you can do its” from a woman just like them will reassure a tired twin mom as no doctor can.
Twinspiration will fill a present-day vacuum. Providing real-life glimpses of the happy and harrowing, joyful and juggling, this book will give the reassurance that “it can be done.” For a shell-shocked expectant mom, or a sleep-deprived new mom of twins, that is good news indeed.
Twinspiration sold and has become a must-have text on twins-mamas nightstands because it speaks directly to the every-mom experience.
In a sea of doctor and celebrity written books about twins, Cheryl saw the hole in the market and filled it. But what’s very important to note here is that Cheryl built her platform as that approachable “every twins mom” expert before this book proposal was offered to publishers. The rest of the proposal reflects this.
Keep It Classy
And finally, here are a few “keep it classy” tips to have on hand as you craft your Competitive Analysis.
1. Respect the authors with whom you compete – you wouldn’t want to offend their agent, editor or publisher. It’s a small world and you never know when collaborative opportunities may arise. Besides, how would you feel if someone dissed your book just to grab the spotlight?
2. Objectivity is your friend. When analyzing the other titles, highlight their strengths, weaknesses, how your book will complement those titles and fill the gaps others missed – remember your hook. It’s that easy!
3. Hyperbole is your enemy. Plus, it’s just not good writing. Stay away from words like never, always and all unless you are 100% certain your claims are accurate and you have the data to prove it.
4. Confidence is classy – if you’ve read most of the titles in your competitive analysis section, you’re showing an agent, editor and publisher that you have healthy confidence about your work - you’re not afraid to read the competition. You know you have a place in the market and you know you don’t have to attack another author’s work to earn your place on the shelf. Confidence is a writer’s best asset and publishing pros LOVE to work with writers who know their place in the market.
5. Be concise – four to six competitive titles will suffice. Objectively state the positive qualities of the competitive title, the qualities the title lacks and how your book differs.
6. It’s ok to use your “voice” here as long as it’s appropriate to the tone of your book. Cheryl’s tone was the chatty mama-next-door because that’s who she is and that’s the tone of the book. Just ensure that while you’re using your authentic voice, err on the side of professionalism. Professionalism is always classy.
This article is 5th in Erin’s series on writing awesome non-fiction book proposals (a written pitch for your book).
The detailed analyses and market planning are great tools for fiction writers, as well. To read more…
Erin Reel, The Lit Coach, is a former literary agent and a current Los Angeles based publishing and editorial consultant, editor and writing coach. Her blog, The Lit Coach’s Guide to The Writer’s Life offers weekly tips, stories and encouragement for writers from her own experience in the publishing industry and through exclusive contributions from bestselling, award-winning and notable authors, agents and other publishing professionals.
You can find out more about Twinspiration: Real-Life Advice from Pregnancy through the First Year by Cheryl Lage at twinsights.com.