In this lesson you will learn how carefully listing a set of books that are similar to your book will allow agents and publishers to have confidence that your book is suitable for them. This technique will also allow you to avoid confusion regarding your book’s genre.
In the previous lesson you learned the importance of word count. In this lesson you will discover how knowing the marketplace increases your chances of landing a book deal.
In addition to word count, your second paragraph should also contain a list of competitor books. The reason for this is not to say that you are ‘like’ the writers of the books listed, but instead to demonstrate to potential agents and publishers that you have a firm grasp of where your book fits in the marketplace. We have already established that genre is essential for agents and publishers. However, one problem that agents and publisher face is that many writers incorrectly place their books. It is not uncommon for an agent or publisher to get a pitch for a book that says it is in their genre, but once they start reading they soon realise it have been misplaced. By listing competitor titles you can ensure that you avoid this disastrous problem.
I have found that, when initially explaining the concept of competitor title to writers, I will often face understandable resistance. Writers will say things like, ‘Why should I turn an agent’s attention to my competition?’ They will also often express a concern that by highlighting well known writers they themselves will come across as arrogant or overly ambitious. Both of these viewpoints misunderstand the aim and potential power of competitor titles.
Why Use Competitor Titles?
One of the reasons that a writer is rejected by agents and publishers is that the agent or writer misunderstands the nature of the book that is being proposed and fails to see that it would be suitable for their list.
As I described, the whole publishing industry is based around genre. We have seen that bookshops, book sellers, publishers and agents have all positioned themselves to be experts in producing, marketing and selling a particular genre of book. Agents and publishers spend time and effort making it clear to writers what genres they represent and publish.
There are two important facts to remember:
1. No matter how good your book, if you pitch it to an agent or publisher that doesn’t represent or publish books of the same genre as your novel, your book WILL be rejected.
2. Agents and publishers are so used to receiving books from an unsuitable genre that it is the writer’s duty to ensure that there is zero chance of the genre of their book being misunderstood.
There are two ways to ensure the genre of your book is not misunderstood. The first is to clearly state the genre of your book at least once (if not twice). The second is to provide three or four titles of other key books that are similar to your book AND are in the same genre.
Agents and publishers are experts in your genre. If you start listing books that they recognise as being in the genre they represent and publish, there is no chance that the genre of your book will be misunderstood.
How to Choose Competitor Titles
There are two criteria for selecting suitable competitor titles:
1. The books MUST be the same genre as your book.
2. The books MUST be similar to your book in some way.
I suggest that you don’t begin selecting your competitor titles until you have firmly established your book’s genre.
As for the titles you end up listing, it is very much a personal choice. You may find that one or two books jump out for a particular reason. They may have been strong influences on your writing, or they may represent a particular niche in your genre. This will be especially true if you are pitching a sub-genre to a more general agent or publisher.
For example: Let’s say you are pitching a book that you have identified as science fiction, but could easily fit into the sub-genre of cyberpunk. The problem you face is that, since cyberpunk is a very narrow sub-genre, there are no agents or publishers specialising in publishing this genre alone. You don’t wish to put off potential agents or publishers by openly declaring the book as cyberpunk and therefore you pitch your book as science fiction and make no reference to cyberpunk. You feel this will open up more agents and publishers. However, by carefully selecting your competitor titles you can make it clear that your book fits into the sub-genre of cyberpunk without ever mentioning the word ‘cyberpunk’.
In this case my three competitor titles would be:
1. William Gibson’s Neuromancer (A genre-defining novel).
2. Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep (the novella on which the film Blade Runner was based).
3. Gary A. Ballard’s Under the Amoral Bridge (a more modern title).
When choosing your competitor titles I suggest you use the following pattern:
Book 1 - A genre-defining classic.
Book 2 - A book that you feel is very like your book.
Book 3 - A more modern title.
The reason for these choices is as follows:
Book 1 - A genre-defining classic — this clearly defines your genre and should support your earlier declaration of your book’s genre. An agent or publisher of the correct genre will be intimately aware of this title and it will leave no chance of confusion that your book is suitable for them.
Book 2 - A book that you feel is very like your book — a second re-enforcement of genre, plus it gives you a chance to pin-point the niche within a genre (or sub-genre) in which you see your book fitting.
Book 3 - A more modern title - this is showboating. You are demonstrating that you understand the genre, the marketplace and the potential readership. Get this choice right and you will leave the agent or publisher in no doubt regarding which genre your book belongs.
Using the Internet to Pick Competitor Titles.
The first step to selecting your three titles is to pick your classic title. This should be the easiest title to choose since almost all genres will have a handful of very famous bestsellers that define the genre. If you are struggling to think of a genre defining book then it is time to reassess your genre. If you have written a novel without at least a basic understanding of your book’s genre, then you are going to find it very difficult to impress an agent or publisher.
However, this said, I would suggest that you carry out a Google search using the following two terms:
‘Bestselling [your genre] books’
‘Classic [your genre] books’
In the case of cyberpunk books this produced a number of good hits. Two that sprung out were…
A quick browse of these website showed that Neuromancer is considered to be a genre-defining book.
You now have your classic title and you can use this to pick your second title. The best way to do this is to open up Amazon and search on your classic title, in our example Neuromancer.
Having located your classic titles’ page on Amazon scroll down and look at the very handy ‘Customer Who Bought This Item Also Bought’ section. This will give you a list of titles that are similar to your ‘classic title.’ A bit of browsing should produce your second book. Remember this needs to be similar to your own book and still in the correct genre (or the sub-genre of cyberpunk in our example). Please beware, not all titles listed will be in the same genre as the classic title.
Below is a screenshot of what I found when I carried out this exercise for Neuromancer. Take a quick look at the fourth title from the left…
That gives us two of the three titles, but leaves the tricky third title. This book requires a bit more knowledge and work to locate. Hopefully, you will have a good understanding of the genre and can quickly identify a bestseller from the last year or so. You are looking for a title that fits firmly in the genre, but has sold well in the past twelve months. If no title jumps to mind a bit of internet searching will help.
You need to search on Google using terms like:
‘Best seller [your genre] 2011’
‘Best [your genre] 2011’
‘New [your genre]’
This was, in fact, the way I pinpointed Gary A. Ballard’s Under the Amoral Bridge as the third title in our example.
A search on ‘bestseller cyberpunk’ threw up a result with the title
Bestseller — Under the Amoral Bridge: A Cyberpunk… — godzstudio … I followed this link which took me here:
And finally here:
Remember the aim of your competitor titles is twofold:
1. To clearly identify your genre and show that you will fit into their list.
2. To show that you understand the genre and the marketplace.
- Listing competitor titles is not boasting
- There are two criteria for competitor titles: 1. Same genre as your book, 2. Similar to your book
- It takes time and research to identify your competitor titles