The traditional “book pitch proposal” seems like a quaint relic of traditional publishing in this age of digital publishing when anyone can self-publish a book. No gatekeepers asking questions like: Is there a market for this book? and How does this book differ from similar books?
For those that really want to publish a book—for posterity, business development, to change the world—analyzing competitive books can seem irrelevant. But don’t fool yourself, the traditional publishing “gatekeeper” may be gone but the “shopper-gatekeeper” is alive and well.
In this exercise you are not deciding if or what to publish. The goal is how to position your book relative to competitive books.
Your prospective buyer is going to look at your cover, read your description, study your sales rank, read your bio. And how did they find your book on that digital shelf? If you or someone didn’t send them to the store page then the shopper most likely found your book by looking in a category or using a keyword.
What can you expect to gain from this exercise?
You may not need permission to publish but this exercise delivers several important benefits.
- You will get ideas about how to describe your book. (Hint: it’s a sales pitch, not a book summary.)
- You will get ideas about writing an effective bio.
- You will discover the various categories where your book could be listed.
- If your book can fit in more than one category, which one(s) are a better fit?
- You will see a correlation or pattern of book pricing in your category.
3 Steps: repeat as often as necessary, or time permits
If you are one of those whose mind is made up, and your book is written, this exercise will help you position your book more effectively. The first two steps—identifying categories and recording results—should take 30 minutes. (But possibly more depending on your book’s subject or how thorough you want to be.)
The final step, putting what you learn into practice, will take longer. But you have to do this anyway in order to list your book in the store. At least now it is much easier because you have learned from those who are already experiencing some level of success.
(By the way, you can perform this same exercise using keywords. Simply begin typing words that describe your book’s topic into the search box for the Book or Kindle eBook store.)
Step 1: Create a competitive book matrix
Before you begin, create a spreadsheet or table in Word. Rows will have the data you are tracking and columns will be each book you find. (See my note in Step 3 about descriptions and bios).
- Category 1 (name and rank)
- Category 2 (name and rank)
- Category 3 (name and rank)
- Sales Rank
- File Size/Page Length
- Reviews (number/average)
- Link (to the book on Amazon)
- Author Bio
- Cover (saved as an image file)
Step 2: Identifying categories to find books similar to yours
Visit Amazon.com and change the search category to Books. Click Go (don’t enter anything in the search box).
Optional, but highly recommended, is to repeat this exercise for every category relevant to your book’s subject matter.
Record the top 4 books in this category and book number 20. (Amazon currently shows a max of 12 results for category pages but 20 results for Best Sellers and New Releases. I believe looking at #20 will expose a larger gap in success and quality than looking at #12.)
Step 3: Record the results in your competitive book matrix
Now add your findings to the competitive book matrix you created in Step 1. A few notes about what you may experience.
- Categories. You may find that your competitors are listed in more than two categories. Amazon will often add your book (and remove it) from additional categories depending on how it is selling. They are a retailer after all and want to sell books. So if they see something is selling, they’ll “put it on a table at the front of the store” to sell more. Record the category and the sales rank for this book.
- File size/page length. Use your judgment here. If you are publishing only an eBook then look only at file size. It is a pretty safe assumption that large file sizes are longer books. However, I wouldn’t draw a direct comparison between my book file size in Word, or the Mobi file, and what you see here.
- Covers, descriptions and bios. These can get rather lengthy and difficult to read if crammed into a small Word box or spreadsheet cell. It might be easier to paste them at the end of the matrix where you can study them more closely.
Now put this treasure chest of findings to work
Clearly there are many factors besides these that influence a book’s rankings. Quality of writing, marketing, and author reputation are three. But if you isolate and analyze these findings, and use them as benchmarks to prepare your own listing information (metadata), you’ll be several steps ahead of most other books in your category.
Now, if your writing resonates with readers, and your marketing pays off, your book will be positioned to compete with the best. Also keep in mind that the earlier you start the analysis, and the more open minded you are about changing key elements of your book, the stronger your book listing will be in its final form. And the better it will perform relative to books in its peer group.
AuthorImprints performs these steps, and more, when we optimize your book for distribution on Amazon.com, B&N, Apple and Kobo. Learn More.
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