Writers In The Storm welcomes back literary lawyer, Susan Spann with her next installment of her blog series on the author’s business plan.
By Susan Spann
Thank you for joining me again on our trek through writing an author business plan!
Last month’s installment looked at The Three Stages of Author Marketing. Now, as 2012 draws to a close, we’re moving on to Competitive Analysis – the fourth section of the author business plan.
“Competitive Analysis” means examining your work and comparing it to similar books in the marketplace.
When comparing, look for your strengths and weaknesses. Once you’ve identified them (and all books do have both), brainstorm ways to enhance your strong points and minimize the reasons a buyer would bypass your book in favor of another.
Let’s talk about how to do it.
Step 1: Identify similar works.
As an author, you need to read widely, both within your genre and outside it. By the time you finish your book, you should know (and have read) many books by authors in your category or genre. Think about how your book compares to the others. Take notes.
Go to a bookstore. Where will your book be shelved? Look at the other books on and around that shelf (and in that section of the bookstore). Who wrote them? Do you know those works and their authors’ styles? If not, get a sampling and read. (Take a list to the library if you don’t want to buy.)
Look up those books on Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/) and other review sites. Learn what readers are saying about them – and why.
Step 2: Compare your book to comparable works.
Ask yourself: Why will (or should) readers want your book instead of or in addition to similar works? What might keep a reader from choosing your book instead of another one in the genre? Why might fans of a certain author like your books too?
You can see that it helps to be widely read. If you don’t know that James Rollins writes thrillers with a historical and/or supernatural twist, or that Laura Joh Rowland’s mystery novels feature a samurai policeman who solves crimes in medieval Edo (Tokyo), you won’t know how your work compares, or whether their fans might also enjoy your book.
Step 3: Analyze similar works to learn how and why they sell.
Word of mouth sells more novels than any other advertising method. Your fans are your greatest (and most important) resource. Never underestimate the importance – or the value and honor – of someone shelling out hard-earned money to read your work. That is a gift, and smart authors never forget it.
But you have to get the word out for readers to find you – and research helps here too. How do authors of similar works advertise their books and spread the word? Some may have advertising budgets and publisher support that you don’t have, but that’s no reason to despair. Pay attention to the ways effective authors use Twitter, Facebook, and public appearances. Go to their signings. See how they interact with people, and evaluate the effectiveness of those interactions.
Remember: Imitate only good behaviors, never nasty ones.
Step 4: Brainstorm strategies to maximize your advantages and minimize your weaknesses.
Interact on social media with other authors, industry professionals, bloggers and fans. This means real interaction – not automated tweets telling people to buy or advertising your book. Some advertising is OK, but taking an active part in conversations is FAR more effective. Stuck for ideas? Check the #amwriting hashtag and start encouraging other authors – you may be surprised how quickly friendships form!
Partner with other authors for signings, blogging, and other events. We are stronger in numbers than alone, and for many authors “nobody knows me” is the book’s biggest weakness.
Stay positive and encouraging – always – and don’t treat other people (or their efforts) with negativity or scorn. Everyone loves an encourager, but people shy away from criticism. A positive nature is an enormous strength!
Step 5: Keep track of your notes – and act on them!
Collect your notes in a binder or other place where you can find them for reference purposes. Cross-reference your ideas and analysis with your marketing plan. Remember: the best ideas only become effective when you use them!
Do you have other ideas about successfully overcoming weaknesses and using your strengths? Please let me know in the comments – it’s great to hear your thoughts!
Susan Spann is a publishing attorney and author from Sacramento, California. Her debut mystery novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Thomas Dunne Books, July 2013), is the first in a series featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori. Susan blogs about writing, publishing law and seahorses at http://www.SusanSpann.com. Find her on Twitter @SusanSpann or on Facebook.