Nonfiction Proposals – Competitive Analysis

For those joining us for the first time, we’ve been stepping through the various elements of a Nonfiction Proposal. Most novel-length nonfiction is sold on proposal rather than with a fully finished manuscript, so structuring a strong proposal is your first step to querying agents and publishers. This month we’ll look at the Competitive Analysis section.

Your Competitive Analysis answers two important questions: 1) “What books are already on the market?” and 2) “How is your book different from what’s already for sale?”  These two questions establish a clear need for your book. Let’s look at each question in turn.

  1. Identify competitive titles. First identify titles already for sale. In other words, when a reader does a search for “parenting autistic kids” or “office yoga” on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, what books pop up? When you scan the bookshelves at your topic at your local indie, what books are for sale? If you are having difficulty finding titles, try searching the WorldCat library database using key words. Once you’ve found one competitive title, you can enter it on to find dozens of similar titles. These books are your competition. When a reader is making a decision about which book to buy on a topic, they will consider these books alongside yours.

Don’t let the sheer volume of competitive titles overwhelm you. Focus on books that have been selling well. Did a book hit the bestseller list? Look at its Amazon Best Seller’s Rank (under Product Details) relative to other books on the subject. If you can visit a brick and mortar bookstore and find a book, that’s a great indicator too. Inventory turns over frequently, and booksellers only stock what sells.

Pick what you think are the five top competitive titles to analyze further. This isn’t a hard number. Six books may be fine too, but be careful. You don’t want to show that the marketplace is overly crowded. You also don’t want to say, “There’s nothing like my book on the market.” There may be a reason for that, for example, these types of books may be a tough sell. So a handful of competitors feels about right.

2. Analyze the titles to understand how your book is different (and necessary). Now it’s time to analyze the books in more detail. If you can find the book in a store, look at the table of contents and skim some of the content to get a feel for the topics covered and approach. Look at the sources in the bibliography. Read the jacket-flap copy. If you live too far from a brick and mortar store, put a hold on the books through your library or use Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature (when available). Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I delivering new content, not available in this book?
  • Do I have a unique approach?
  • Do I have access to newer or better research sources?

3. Write it up. Armed with this information, you are ready to write your Competitive Analysis. For each competitive title, include the author, title, publisher, and publication date. Write a couple of sentences that identify the key content, approach, and sources. A couple of sentences is plenty. You don’t want to oversell the competition. Then explain how your book is different and necessary. Don’t bash the other books! These books are selling well. Think in terms of how your book will improve on what’s already selling and fill in gaps left by these books.


Next month we’ll dive into marketing and promotional plans. In the meantime, happy proposal writing.

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