Reading your competition

August 10, 2010

I requested a full proposal last week and noticed that it lacked the requisite title comps. Since this was a potentially impacted category, I wrote back to the author and told her I needed to see the title comps. Her reply?

“I have avoided reading competing titles, so I can’t give you any title comps.”

Wrong answer.

Solitary Confinement

This writer has been living on Writer’s Island. She’s isolated herself in order to write her book – in the name of remaining “pure” and “untouched” by other books.

What this conveys to me

Right or wrong, this reason forces several thoughts to come to  mind.

Confidence: she lacks confidence in her ability to write something fresh and new – and is afraid of being tainted by  reading someone else’s work. This tells me I’m working with a new writer who hasn’t yet found her voice or her footing.

Lazy?: As much as I hate to even consider it, I’ve seen too many authors who didn’t bother reading their competition because they were simply too lazy to see what was currently on the marketplace. They believed their idea transcended everything else that’s already been written. My question is – how do they know?

Didn’t know any better: The author may not have any idea what a title comp is.  This, of course, falls  into the Clueless Category, which I’ve bleated about to ad nauseum.

I don’t read: Eeep. A non-reading author? And yes, I’ve heard it numerous times. I’m not sure if it’s hubris or inbreeding, but for the life of me, I can’t abide by anyone who thinks they can write, yet they don’t read.

This group scares me most of all because they are unaware that there actually IS competition. All I know is that they’re in for a startling education as they dip their toes into the query pond.

Many of us are big readers, and we’re drawn to write in the genre that we tend to read, right? Well, except for the beagle. She reads doggie porn, yet thinks her mystery/fantasy/romance novel about Glenda, the magic poodle will be a big hit. I’ve chosen not to delude her since she has a lot of filing to do. But I digress…

It’s not my job

Lastly, it’s not my job to do your job for you, and I get very cranky when someone can’t provide me with title comps. I don’t care about your reasons why you don’t have them – only that you don’t have them.

This is a business where sales happen because we understand the competition. If the author can’t explain how their writing compares and contrasts to that of their competition, then how can I possibly take them seriously?

A word to the wise: If an editor asks you for something, YOU SHOULD DO IT.

There are hundreds of authors who are prepared, and you don’t want to get left behind, do you?

“My book has no competition”

November 8, 2009

And while I’m busy being cranky, avoid putting this type of stuff in your query letter…

Competition: No similar XYZ titles at Amazon & Barnes and Noble

…because I won’t believe you. For one thing, the particular category of this book, both in fiction and nonfiction, is THE RAGE. To say that your book is totally unique and no one else has addressed the same issues – especially in a huge category – tells me one thing. You Do. Not. Read.

Right off the top of my head, I had five comparative titles for this author’s book, which I was sorely tempted to mention in his rejection letter.

Unique vs. Comparison

I think authors are confused about comparative titles. They believe that if there are books already on the market that compare to their book, then it’s not unique and the publisher won’t want it. It’s easier to say, “Nope, thar be nuthin’ like mah book out there.” This is just plain silly because we know darn well that there are. And it shows that the author doesn’t understand the reason behind comp titles. Strike two. One more, and they’re out.

See, we need those comparative titles for our sales teams and marketing and promotion. We need to know where and how this book fits with what is already out there. Say, for instance, that you wrote a book on your pet gerbil. Depending on your comp titles, this will tell a buyer that your book is either inspirational or instructional. Remember, a sales person has scant minutes to pitch a title to a genre buyer, so those comp titles are there to clarify.

This differs from unique. You can write a book that’s in a very crowded category, like Alzheimer’s or bipolar disorder and still get published because you have elements that are unique to the main core of that category. Unique. Is. Good. It is the smart author who highlights their story’s unique qualities because that’s how we market and promote your book.

For instance, there is no way I’ll say that Barry Petersen’s upcoming book Jan’s Story is about Alzheimer’s. Big deal. There are gazillion Alzheimer’s books out there. No, I’ll say that Barry is the first one to talk about Early Onset Alzheimer’s and what happens when this disease hits patients, and their loved ones, while still in the prime of life. I’ll focus on how Barry discusses controversial issues such as what happens to the caretakers and how they become people of uncertain status. This is a book that will make people sit up and take notice because IT’S UNIQUE.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t be using Lisa Genova’s fabulous novel, Still Alice as a title comp because this tells buyers where Jan’s Story fits on the shelf. It also gives readers an instant recognition. Unique – Comparative Titles: don’t confuse the two.

Be Well Read

I’ve blathered on about this in past posts, but it bears repeating. It’s vital to know your competition and be well-versed in the books that closely relate to yours. Why? Because at some time you’re going to be asked. Imagine having Katie Couric ask you how your book compares to another book, and you sit there with your finger up your nose. Trust me, I’ll be able to hear your editor screeching from inside my darkened cave.

If you’re well-read, you’re equipped to elevate your book over that NY Times bestseller. Instead of dripping mouth goo, you can fold your hands and say, “Well, Katie, NYT bestseller deals with an unruly dog that ripped apart the owner’s brand new LazyBoy and swam in the church baptism pool, while my book deals with the curative powers of my dog’s love. He loved me when no one else did. He didn’t care if my teeth weren’t brushed or I was overweight. His unconditional devotion to my welfare gave me the strength to get out of bed, seek medical help, and become a survivor. When he got sick, I was more than ready to return the favor.”

SOB! Gawd, who wouldn’t want THAT book? That’s what being well-read can do. It’s not that you want to diminish your competition – because that’s just bad karma – but you want to be able to compare and highlight why your book is so worthy.

Repeat after me: I. Will. Read…I. Will. Know. My. Competition.

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