In Part 4 of Writing Book Proposals, I’m going to talk about the section of the proposal that I believe many writers gloss over without taking adequate time to develop. The Competitive and Complementary Titles section can be a huge ally for your proposal if done correctly.

Some writers combine the Competitive and Complementary Titles section and discuss both lists in the same place in their proposal, while others separate the two sections. In my opinion, one way is not better than another. However, I would recommend combining them if both sections are relatively short.

As the title suggests, competitive titles are those books similar enough to yours in either theme or subject matter and function that they will provide competition in the marketplace. Complementary titles are those that will not provide direct competition but are still similar enough to yours that they will help prove the market for your book.

One mistake many make is thinking that there aren’t any books out there that would be considered direct competition for theirs. Agents and editors know better. By approaching this section too lightly, writers are simply showcasing the fact that they haven’t done their research.

A better technique is to list at least a handful of books that could potentially provide competition, then two or three that might be considered direct, head-to-head competition. You don’t need to list every book found in your research. The main objective to this section is to let the publishing house know that you are well aware that your book is going to have competition, and by researching exactly what kind of books yours will be up against, you now better know how to position yours in the market.

When listing the competitive books, start with the title, then the author, then the publisher and date. You should also include the number of pages and the format for the book (hardcover, paperback, mass market). In your listing you should write a brief description of the book. Then briefly tell of its shortcomings, and use this point to illustrate how yours is different and better. Maybe the book is a how-to on making birdhouses but only has black and white illustrations of the final product, where yours has full-color photos of each step in the process. Describe, then compare and contrast, making sure yours is the clear winner.

Be careful when listing any negative attributes of other books, however. You never know–the same editor that you’re trying to sell your book to may’ve worked on the competing book at another publishing house! Be as factual and honest as possible and don’t just throw around your opinions.

There are potentially a lot of books on the market right now for the book you want to write. So, how does yours stack up with these others, and why should a publisher buy yours with so many already out there? These are the questions this section of the proposal must answer. If you do a good job answering this question, the editor or agent will be much more excited about reading the rest of your proposal, knowing that this book may have a great chance of selling well.

The Complementary Titles section offers you another opportunity to help convince an editor that there is a need for your book in the marketplace. By researching and listing books that are similar to yours and that have sold well, you are showing that people are buying these kinds of books and that there is room for others. If any of these books happen to be published by the publisher you are submitting a proposal to, be sure to have those books on your list. Since the books will complement and not compete with one another, it is an advantage to do so.

With both the competitive and complementary titles, list books only a few years old and newer. Books much older than that are most likely not selling anywhere anymore and would not be relevant. Also, many people ask about the relevance of e-books or self-published books in this section. Unless the book is widely known and popular, I would not include it on either list. The only exception to this is, if you’re thinking that your book will also be published as an e-book, then you should research similar e-books as well and make note in your description how they have been selling.

Stop back next week when the discussion turns to you–how to write a compelling bio.

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