An essential part of a good book proposal is a “book comparisons” section. It’s usually only a few paragraphs or so in which you compare your idea to successful, fairly recent books in the marketplace.
Many writers hate the comparison section.
And no, hate is not too strong a word. For some, the comparison section (or “comps,” as the cool kids call it) ranks near the top of the list, along with Hitler, autoplay videos, and people who “reply all.”
But your comparisons section isn’t just helpful for the agent or editor who will review your proposal; it’s also your friend. Why?
- It clarifies your genre.
The first book proposal I ever wrote was for a multigenre mess of a thing. It never got published. I don’t know for sure if the proposal contained a comparisons section (it was written in an ancient word-processing program called MultiMate, which disappeared with the dinosaurs), but probably not, because comps may have helped me to realize that there was no marketable genre for what I was writing.
- It helps you to define your book’s “special something.”
I often see pitches for books that are so “been there, done that” (much like the phrase been there, done that). I bet that a perspicacious author who took the time to write a comps section for such a book would soon realize that successful books have a much sharper focus, a clearer takeaway, a “special something.”
- It may show you whether your timing is right on—or off.
Suppose you sit down and write a comps section for your awesome book idea (which probably shouldn’t include the word awesome) and see that Max Lucado, John Ortberg, Priscilla Shirer, and Bob Hostetler all have recent books that are very similar. After pondering how Bob Hostetler got into that list, you may well adjust your thinking—or timing. Conversely, you may see that only Bob Hostetler has released a book like that, which could cause you to conclude that either the time is right or that guy (and his publisher) is ahead of his time. Or both.
- It can raise a red flag.
If you start to research and write your comparisons section and struggle to find any successful book that is remotely similar, that could raise a red flag. “There’s nothing out there like it” is usually a bad sign; there may be a number of good reasons there’s nothing similar to your A Christian Guide to Astral Projection.
These are only a few ways that a well-researched and well-written book proposal comparisons section is your friend. I’m sure there are others. What have you learned from writing comparisons sections?