Seeking a book deal? Definitely self-publishing? Either way, you need to know how to create a comparative books list. Believe me, as an in-house acquisitions editor at G. P. Putnam’s Sons/Perigee Books and HarperCollins Publishers, I relied on a strong comparative books list to make my case to my colleagues that the book project I was enthusiastic about would be a good investment for the company. When I work with clients to create a vision plan for their book, I find they often get stuck on this crucial piece of their publishing plan. That’s why I wanted to offer some advice here on 4 ways to distinguish your book from comparative books.
1. Offer a definitive, big picture view. Maybe the other books out there just don’t give the broader, comprehensive view many readers seek. For example, my book, Raising a Sensory Smart Child, coauthored with Lindsey Biel, is (as the subtitle promises) “The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues.” As the parent of a child with sensory processing disorder, I didn’t want to buy a dozen books to get the information I needed. I wanted one definitive handbook or “bible.” I’m proud to say that several parents who reviewed it called it their “sensory processing disorder bible.”
2. Offer a more focused view. Sometimes, your best bet is to go in the opposite direction of a comprehensive guide—to focus instead on just one specific topic. Many books grow out of a chapter in a previous book or an idea that the previous book inspired. Cinematherapy Goes to the Oscars, which I coauthored with Beverly West, looked specifically at Academy-Award-winning movies and appealed not just to Cinematherapy fans but to fans of the Academy Awards. You might expand on a topic introduced in your previous book or on a topic that came up when doing publicity and marketing for the book. Every year, Bev and I did an annual Cinematherapy Awards press release to tie in with the Academy Awards nominations, and realized that this annual event provided a great way to talk about movies—and in our case, to talk about them in a different way.
3. Offer a brand no one can resist. The words you use to convey your message can set your book apart in the marketplace, not just because the words are appealing but because the voice in your writing matches that branding. The bestseller You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life had an emotional appeal that made it sound like more than just a self-help book on gaining confidence so that you could improve your life. No, it’s a book about being a badass living an awesome life someone who has greatness ought to be living! The edgy word “badass” is key to the brand. Books can serve as credibility cards for your work as an expert, so choose your wording and graphic look carefully as you create or refresh your brand.
4. Offer an updated approach. Even books on so-called “evergreen” topics, like how to become more assertive or how to become more effective at finding a soulmate, need to be updated as society changes and technology alters how we interact with each other and find, share, and save information. Maybe all the books out there on dating don’t cover the complexities of dating when the reader is gender-nonconforming, or they don’t incorporate information on how to use the latest dating apps. Although technology changes, general ways of using tech can remain the same for several years before you need to update. Think “what’s the strategy” not “what’s the specific technology people are using today.”
I hope these tips make it easier for you to set yourself apart from comparative books. If you’re still struggling with your brand, and would like to work with me on branding, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me are with your brand so we can set up some coaching sessions.