Book Proposal Basics – Competitive Titles

Lots of authors find themselves stymied by this category, but it’s essential. When I’m unsure of a book’s place in the market as I review a proposal, seeing comparable titles helps me. I define this category as answering the question: “What titles are currently on the market that are similar to the book the author proposes?”

You may say, “Isn’t it the editor’s job to know the competition?” Yes and no. No one person can keep up with all titles released, even in a relatively small category. We appreciate authors who show us similar books when they are proposing something especially unique. For example, if Marvelous Author sold 1,000,000 units of her book, The Many Uses of Essential Oils for Dogs, we may be more inclined to give your book called Cats and Essential Oils a close look.

How Do I Find Them?

I recommend being familiar with your category and then looking on the Internet for similar books by genre or topic. When compiling your list, choose three or four published within the past two years. If nothing obvious shows up, list books that come as close as possible to yours. You might think it’s great not to find comparables for your book, but in reality, it may be a disadvantage. You will need to put forth a good reason as to why readers are clamoring for your book today. For instance, you can make a great argument as to why your book about closing a cold case needs to be published now if the police just solved the crime. Another example is if you are writing about a new political movement, or the reawakening of an old movement so your book is timely and pertinent to today.

Fiction is a bit more fixed into types of books that readers buy so if you’re writing a novel about sexy Martians saving the earth through recycling methane, your story and writing will have to be so astounding that an entire publishing house falls in love with it. Could happen.

Direct Versus Indirect Competition

If there is a good reason to divide up the competition this way, you can, but I don’t generally find it all that helpful.

Need to Know

Include the title, author, publisher, and release date. It’s nice to have a small paragraph saying how your book is different. Don’t say anything remotely close to, “This book is so riddled with errors it shouldn’t have been published,” or “A monkey throwing darts at a keyboard could have written a better novel.” Don’t criticize the other books in any way, even if you feel they are poor and yours is far superior. You may be right. Or you may accidentally be complaining about a book the editor worked on herself. Not a good move. No need to use false praise for other works, but explain the merits of your book and how it differs from current offerings.

With fiction, saying that readers of Mary Contrary’s Hardheaded will enjoy your book titled Obstinate because you are also writing about stubborn characters, although your setting is Regency England instead of 1849 Mississippi.

I think writing this section benefits the author as much as it will the agent and editor. It’s always good to know what’s on the market already, and composing this section forces you to find out.


Your turn:

Have you ever written a comparables section? How did it go?

What tips can you offer?

What is the most challenging aspect of comparing your work to others?



Steve Laube has a course on book proposals on The Christian Writers Institute that includes a one hour lecture, a short ebook on the topic, and sample proposal templates. Click here for more information.



26 Responses to Book Proposal Basics – Competitive Titles

  1. Avatar
    Terry Whalin May 9, 2019 at 5:23 am #


    I agree that the competitive section is important for the author, the agent and the editor. When I was the fiction acquisitions editor at Howard Books (an imprint of Simon and Schuster), I know we could not complete our internal process to issue a contract without these competitive titles. Yes it was that critical to the process of acquiring a book and issuing a contract. Authors have to include competitive titles in their proposal submission.

    Straight Talk From the Editor

  2. Avatar
    Kristen Joy Wilks May 9, 2019 at 5:26 am #

    As long as I keep up with reading in my genre, this section is all right to write. But I keep switching genres, so that can get tricky. Thankfully, the genre switching in writing usually follows an accidental genre switch in reading. I’ve read so many amazing middle grade books to my sons over the years, it was hard not to attempt a few myself. So yeah, don’t slack off on your reading and you will do fine!

  3. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson May 9, 2019 at 5:36 am #

    My personal opinion is there’s never a time to downplay another persons work. It benefits no one. I opt to point out how mine differs from the other without criticism.

  4. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 9, 2019 at 6:14 am #

    Don’t think I should add comparables,
    and here’s the reason why:
    I find it’s quite unbearable
    to make other authors cry.
    I’m so much better than Nick Sparks
    and outshine R. P Evans.
    Tom Clancy cannot match my mark…
    oh, wait, yeah, he’s in Heaven.
    I’m no good at pretending
    a modesty unfelt,
    and my comparables would be condescending,
    a hit below the belt.
    So, as you can plainly see
    my only competition’s me.

  5. Avatar
    Bryan Mitchell May 9, 2019 at 6:16 am #

    I’m working on my first competitive titles’ section. Should we meet boluses titles that are 10 years older or more? There are a couple of novels I want to include on my list but are a bit dated.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray May 9, 2019 at 5:53 pm #

      There would have to be a very good reason to include a novel that old. A novel that age would probably be considered a classic if it’s still selling well, and it’s very hard to compete with a classic. Just a thought!

  6. Avatar
    Daria Doshrelli May 9, 2019 at 7:14 am #

    A very timely post, Tamela.

    I just self-published my first book and finally understand why the marketing section of a proposal is important.

    What did I learn from my first week on the hunt for readers?

    My book needs to be the same as others in its bucket. But it also needs to be different.

    Crazy world.

    The cover, the hook, the retailer description/back cover copy – all keys to answering the all-important question: But who will buy this thing?

    Of course, that’s exactly what an agent and publisher want to know, too. First question they ask, probably.

    Makes do much more sense now that I’m doing the marketing myself.

  7. Avatar
    J.D. Wininger May 9, 2019 at 7:20 am #

    Ms. Tamela; I couldn’t agree more about the importance of a well thought out Comparative books section. My question is how do we more efficiently find viable sales numbers? Yes, we can use formulae for Amazon’s BSR ratings, etc., we can reach out to known authors. Are there any methods other than super-expensive services to help with that portion ma’am? God’s blessings…

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray May 9, 2019 at 6:09 pm #

      Thanks for the question. I don’t expect authors to come to me with sales figures for other authors’ books. But what popular books are like yours? Readers looking for books similar to yours won’t care about sales figures of other books, but about whether or not they want to read your work. A good approach may be, “Readers of (popular author) will like my book because we discuss similar themes, etc.” Hope that helps.

  8. Avatar
    Lillian May 9, 2019 at 8:07 am #

    I found numerous books titles. Before I sign off on my Proposal, I’d like to know how many competitive titles are required? Also, what’s the easiest way to write a short comparative analysis of each title without reading the book?

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray May 9, 2019 at 6:11 pm #

      I’d say three or four would work. You can read reviews and book cover blurbs, but if you’re limiting yourself to three or four books, it may not be a bad idea to be pretty familiar with those titles.

  9. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. May 9, 2019 at 8:11 am #

    HI Tamela:
    For my book Suddenly Single: A Practical Guide to Maintaining your Household When your Spouse is NLA, I looked for books on “What do I do now?” for widows and divorcees. I couldn’t find any, so I started looking for books on grief. There were plenty. I listed six of them on my proposal and then explained that these types of books were plentiful but that my self-help book on the practicalities of maintaining one’s house after losing a spouse were not present in the marketplace. I think it was helpful to have a comparison, like you mentioned, even though I was dealing with something other than essential oils. I also included information on how well the books had sold on Amazon and the U.S. Census Bureau information on how many people would love their spouses this year (1.6 million, about evenly divided between divorce and death). I believe that there is a huge, untapped market there.

  10. Avatar
    Seralynn Lewis May 9, 2019 at 8:19 am #

    Having done comparative analysis for real estate listings and sales, the skills were transferable. The comparative section is interesting to me. How does my story differ and what do the stories have in common? I failed to remember comparative works should be recent. How recent, I’m not certain. The agent who looked at it said a work from five years ago is too old. Could you define how old of a work we should choose? And if there are no works in that genre for that time period that are comparable, do you extend the time frame or do you go to another sub-genre or outside the genre? Thank you!

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray May 9, 2019 at 6:16 pm #

      If you can make a good case why those books compare to yours, then that’s fine. It would be better to have a really good short list than to look as though you are stretching to find comparables, though. What you are trying to show that if a consumer is in a store or online, that person may buy your book after viewing or buying the comparable books you mention.

  11. Avatar
    claire o'sullivan May 9, 2019 at 12:09 pm #

    EEEE gads! Tamela, I didn’t do a research of the genre market, but of those books I most enjoyed. In my proposal (one of the most important aspects for your slush pile(s), I reported on the books I read and that my work was somewhere between *author name* and *author name*.

    After a lot of reading has passed by, I have come to realize what I ‘thought’ was my genre isn’t even close, i.e. I report Christian romantic suspense when in reality it’s very difficult for me to read romance (perhaps too much ogling?). I think my genre is more in the (lololol) police procedural with a strong Christian message. Big difference. These books always have a touch of romance, but the books still fall into the category of what I want to read rather what I think I am writing.

    My computer is doing funny things right now, and hopefully, the sentences make sense.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray May 9, 2019 at 6:18 pm #

      Yes, that makes sense. It sounds as though you need to investigate straight suspense novels to see if those are a closer match. Romantic suspense has to be heavy on romance. Hope that helps.

      • Avatar
        claire o'sullivan May 9, 2019 at 6:38 pm #

        Thanks, Tamela! I have a number of intrigue/suspense/crime authors who I enjoy, one of which is Christy Barritt. I am simply not that humorous but her amateur sleuthing with her humor and forensics background (in the Squeaky Clean series) are fun reads. There are several other authors I just ‘have’ to read because they can weave a story with extraordinary precision of the English language.

  12. Avatar
    Beth Olsson May 9, 2019 at 3:55 pm #

    Thank you for the post! I’ve compiled a mental list, but as time passes will it be a disadvantage to include titles more than two years old? Say five-seven years old?

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray May 9, 2019 at 6:19 pm #

      That latter time period can be a bit of a stretch unless it makes sense to include those.

  13. Avatar
    Judy Wallace May 24, 2019 at 9:37 am #

    Tamela, I’m working on a nonfiction book, about overcoming the traumas of life and plan to write a book proposal for it. Your post helped answer my question on how to choose books that fit with my topic. I really enjoy reading all the posts on the blog and helped me to overcome the anxiety of writing a book proposal.

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