Your Author Business Plan: Compare, Contrast And Conquer

susanspannWriters 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.

Some Ideas:

  • 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!

About Susan

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.

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31 Responses to Your Author Business Plan: Compare, Contrast And Conquer

  1. Stellar advice, Susan.

    On reading in your genre: I did not go into my first agent pitch properly prepared. The first questions she asked were not on my memorized spiel*. “What makes your novel different from other contemporary romance novels? What makes it unique?” I now have an answer to that question, but agents don’t award Mulligan’s, so there are no do-overs. [*Memorized spiels are The Kiss of Manic for me. Bullet points. Conversational bullet points. Those, I can handle.]

    On putting your plan into action: Three items sit like dusty little paperweights on my master to-do list.(1) Update blog design and posting schedule, (2) Interact on Facebook, and (3) Learn to manage Twitter w/out letting it become a time-suck. Were I an ostrich, I would have suffocated long ago from the sands of time used to ignore those three items.

    Time to take action! It’s nearly 2013! And, I will soon have a “unique” book polished and ready to pitch [sans spiel]. Thanks for these great tips.

    • Laura Drake says:

      Gloria, thanks for the reminder – I have to get s spiel together for mine!

    • Susan Spann says:

      Thanks, Gloria! Even though you probably remember your first pitch with all the fondness of a swim in a freezing lake, your comment tells me you’ve learned a ton from the experience – and ultimately, the road to publication is dotted with “learning moments” – the authors who succeed are absolutely the ones who pick themselves up, put a leash on the Dog of Humiliation that follows us all, and runs at the next obstacle in the way.

      Blogging is so important – as are effective social media interactions. I’m working on those myself this spring, so know you’re not alone!!

      And the fact that you have lists, confidence and the ability to persevere tells me I’ll be seeing your name on covers – hopefully soon!

  2. Wonderful advice and ideas.

  3. Even though I constantly read in my genres, I’ve never done an in-depth comparison. Great advice! I have to share.

    • Susan Spann says:

      Thanks Diana, and thank you for the reblog too. It’s great that you do read in your genres – it makes you much more knowledgeable and makes this kind of comparative analysis so much easier.

  4. Reblogged this on Diana Douglas and commented:
    Writers In The Storm is one of my favorite blogs. This week, their guest, literary attorney Susan Spann, blogs about the importance of comparing your books to similar works that have done well in the market place.

  5. Betty Bolte says:

    Hi Susan! Thanks for sharing these awesome tips. The hardest thing for me is determining other stories/books that are comparable. I see a trip to Barnes and Noble in my very near future to go browse and see who else is writing anything like what I write. I’m sure they’re out there, it’s my own unawareness at issue. Thanks!

    • Susan Spann says:

      Hi Betty! I hope you’ve been having great writing success since Atlanta – I had a great time chatting with you there🙂

      Browsing the bookstore and reading jacket copy is a great way to get a finger on the pulse of your genre, and it will really help when it comes to understanding how to position your work in the market!

  6. Great advice! Thanks.Found you through Diana Douglas…

  7. Great post, Susan.
    I’m in the same boat as Diana – I read A LOT in my genre but not sure I could really get into an in depth about similarities and differences. Interesting. I know what I’ll be doing for the next few weeks.🙂

    • Susan Spann says:

      Thank you Orly! (And thanks for reminding me to stop back in – Christmas had me completely lost in terms of tracking the days!)

      The great thing about comparison research is that it gives us a fantastic excuse to read too!!

  8. Brilliant advice, Susan. I’d add that when comparing other authors’ marketing strategies, pay special attention to authors who are in the same position than you. For debut authors, check out other debut authors of your genre (and others) who have done well.

    Of course you can get ideas from what NYTBSA authors (and their publishers) do but if you’re a debut indie author, you won’t have the same name recognition (and as sizeable email list). So you can’t pull off everything they do. Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.

    Btw, Susan, you totally sold me on your book by words “ninja detective”🙂 Irresistible combination.

    • Susan Spann says:

      Thanks Reeta! You make a really important point here: it’s vital that authors know both what authors in the same position are doing as well as what “successful” authors are doing. Some NYTBSA authors’ tactics are helpful to learn from – things like interaction on Twitter (a place where a lot of those authors fall short, IMO – I know they’re busy, but fans WANT to interact and making an effort really helps). However, if you’re a debut author, or publishing independently, it’s exceptionally helpful to pay attention to others in your category and situation – excellent advice here!

      Thanks also for the compliment about CLAWS. I love hearing that people are excited about the idea of a ninja detective – I love him, but I think I might be a little biased!

  9. Hi Susan, great Tips! And thx Diana & Jenny for having this incredible post and advice for writers to use. One Question. We’ve heard about finding books like yours and getting to know your genre and competition. But what about that story you write that is not mainstream or even locatable? Is there any advice to authors who’ve done their research and have a hard time finding books like theirs? Does that mean that there’s no market for the idea? What if the idea is fresh enough to break the scene and be great? Though we know that can be a downfall and somewhat naive, we’ve contemplated that, as we love our book, like any author should their babies. But we’ve also considered, what if it’s just not marketable? What’s your advice to an author whose written something that’s just not finding a place to fit in. We’ve found other books with some similiarities but nothing specific or close to what ours is. Thanks.

    • Susan Spann says:

      This is a great question Inion.
      As it happens, if your book isn’t like other things out there, you can still find books to compare to. What you’ll want to look for are books that are marketed “out of category” or as “general fiction” and which have a unique look and feel. Take a look at those books that have some similarities to yours. Consider the market you’re shooting to reach – who do you think would want to read your book? Who SHOULD want to read it? (“Everyone” isn’t a good answer here, incidentally – you have to find an identifiable group of people. The good news is, you absolutely can find such a group if you think about it long enough, even if it seems hard initially – though I suspect you already know who your target market is.)

      Once you know who you think would read your book, you need to ask yourself what those people are reading now. If they’re readers, examine those books. If you’re shooting for an audience that isn’t a standard reading audience (gamers, for example, or magazine readers, or people who consume most of their media in app form) look at what products those people are consuming and use those as your comparatives.

      For a book that’s “outside the box” you need to redefine “the box” and seek your comparatives in unique ways, but ultimately it comes down to identifying the potential audience, finding out what that audience is reading (or what media they are consuming in the case of “non-readers” – though be aware that “non-readers” are a harder sell for books than readers, for obvious reasons), and then using that for comparison.

      One last comment: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series broke out because it pulled “non-readers” into reading. While you should never plan to be the next startling success, Rowling’s experience proves that this CAN happen. If your book is unique, you will stand a much higher chance of success in publishing if you can show an agent or editor that you’ve done this research and you know how to approach the market you’re looking to capture.

  10. Sharlarae says:

    Always love your blogs Susan. We always tend to think our books are different from everything else but I have to admit, even that doesn’t make it easy to describe those differences. I guess at times like that I’d have to subscribe to and old saying my mom used to say, “He tootith not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted.” Translation–If you don’t toot your own horn (about your book) than no one else will either.🙂

    • Susan Spann says:

      So true, Sharla, about the tooting of the horn. It’s hard for some of us, because many of us were also raised by parents who didn’t allow much horn-tooting on our own behalf (my father used to ask me, “Is your drummer out sick today, that you have to beat the thing for yourself?”). As authors, though, we need to be able to promote our work, and to do it effectively, and knowing where we stand in comparison to the others in our genre is really helpful when it comes to that.

      And thank YOU for inviting me to guest blog here – I love writing for Writers in the Storm!

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  12. zannyro says:

    Thanks for posting such great advice…I’ve been kind of stuck after writing two books, and needed a little positive input to move me forward…Thanks again!

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