Chip MacGregor

May 29, 2012

How do I create a “competitive works” section in my proposal?


Karen wrote and said, “The hardest part of a proposal for me is the ‘competitive analysis’ section. Any advice or tips?”

Sure — think about the purpose of that section. Publishers bascially sell in lines — that is, if they are currently selling a lot of fitness and health titles, they’re going to want to publish more fitness and health titles in the future, since they know how to market and sell those. (One of the things that drives publishers crazy is seeing a proposal that screams, “You’ve never seen anything like this!” Or an agent that says, “You’re not currently doing any books in this genre, so I thought I’d send this to you.” Huh? If a publisher isn’t doing any books in one area, they’re probably not going to know what to do with that project. An easy rejection.) So the “competivie analysis” section of your proposal serves as an advance organizer. It tells the publishing team, “THIS book is similar to THAT book. If you could get excited about THAT title, you’re sure to like THIS title.” Make sense?

What most authors do is to head over to and spend a little time doing research. Search by title. Look at key words. If you find an author who has done a book similar to yours, check out his or her other titles (since authors have a tendency to maintain an interest in a topic, just like publishers). What you want to do is to find a handful of titles (normally about three to seven) that are similar to your proposed book.

In your proposal, you want to list the title, author, publisher, and release date. You need to give some indication of what the sales were, if you can find them (that will take a bit of research). Then you want to explain very briefly how that book is similar to your own. And, in many cases, you want to offer a short explanation of how your proposed book is different.

More on the competitive works section of your proposal tomorrow, but I’d like to know what tips you have for other authors as they put together this part of their proposals.


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  • V.V. says:

    Can you give specific tips for finding comparables for fiction? I can narrow it down to genre, but beyond that, I’m at a loss. Maybe I’m making this harder than it should be. If I choose titles in the same genre (that are not polar opposites of my book), is that comparable enough? I don’t know why this is so difficult, but it surely is. Thanks!

  • GiantsFanSince52 says:

    Chip, when did writers start using Amazon for this rather than BOOKS IN PRINT or FORTHCOMING BOOKS IN PRINT?

    • Chip says:

      When Amazon became easier to use, Les. It’s just easier to search and grab the info you need. 

  • Melissa says:

    I’m truly hoping you’ll give us some hints on how to find those publishing numbers. Something in my memory makes me think there is a place to pay for that kind of information, whether you get a year subscription or a month.

    My tip: Amazon searching isn’t too friendly to searches for topics, settings and character vocations, etc.

    In frustration, I made my own website for this kind of thing, so for all my future competitive analysis sections I’ll waste a lot less time.

    If you write CBA historicals you could check here:

    Inspirational Historical Fiction Index

    I inputted about 5 years worth of CBA historical novels by time period, decade, geographical setting, world events, character occupations and other misc. things all the way from Mail order brides to Based on Real Events to Famous Disasters.

    And I add all of the new releases every month.

    So now, I can see with the click of a mouse that in the past 5 years there have been at least 23 mail order bride books in the CBA. Oh, so much easier!

  • I can understand the necessity of the competitive analysis for non-fiction, but is it really necessary for fiction (especially romantic comedy)? Also, if a writer has a completed fiction manuscript, is a book proposal necessary?

    Chip, thanks again for all the valuable information–it is quite timely for me. School will be finished this Friday, and this Monday, I’m starting an extensive re-write of a novel that has been in the drawer since the mid-1990’s. My goal is to have it completed by the end of July. So, your posts are right on target for me.

    • Chip says:

      It’s fair to ask, “is this necessary for fiction?” But in today’s competitive publishing environment, I think it is. By doing a comparison, you quickly show the publisher some context for your new project, Patricia. 

  • This is one of the hardest sections. 

    I found shelf reading at my local bookstore to be hugely helpful because they mostly carry current titles. Then I’d get the books out of my public library and skim them. Reading the reviews on Amazon and GoodReads also gave me a sense of the strength and weakness of the books (or an angle that was lacking that my manuscript could (maybe!) fill).

    • I hadn’t thought of checking reviews. Thanks for that insight Leanne. 🙂

    • Chip says:

      Yes — in fact, that’s how we all started doing it, Leanne! Lots of days spent wandering through the library or the shelves at Barnes & Noble, looking for the right match. 

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