Researching the Competition — Example: Serena Williams Biography

Researching the competition for your next book can be a roller coaster of emotions. First you think your idea is completely new and out of the ordinary. Yay! Then you start to find others like yours. Nooo! Then you see those books are ancient and yours will be fresh and new. Yay! Then you search again and find 5 new releases. Heartbreak!

It can be exhausting going through all of that, and perhaps that is why many writers avoid researching their competition. However, if you plan to market your book to anyone outside of your family and friends, you need to know who you are up against.

Let’s say  you are interested in writing a book about US tennis great Serena Williams. A quick Amazon search for Williams brings up 419 items. Sorting by year of publication, we seTennis Racquete 12 of those books were slated for publication in 2019 alone. That is a whole lot of competition for a book about Serena Williams!

Looking closer, however, you will also note that very few Serena books were published before 2019. So how do you make your case that your book will have the shelf-life needed to recoup your and your publisher’s investment?

Another search, this time for tennis biographies, illustrates the long life of tennis as a source for biographies: Arthur Ashe, the icon who played in the 1960s, is the subject of a biography set to publish in 2020. Nearly 60 years is a pretty good shelf life.

You need not be discouraged by the competition. All of these books indicate that there is a large population interested in reading about the lives of sports stars.

That said, you might also take this information and decide instead to write about someone else, say, Maria Sharapova, who is ranked number two by ESPN for famous female athletes but has had just a handful of books written about her. Explore a wide-open market like that and you just might land on the bestseller list.

Researching the competition is scary, but it can also lead to inspiration and will almost certainly fuel your success. Keep with it until you know exactly who you are up against.

PerfectBound front cover 2019 9-6 low-res

 

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Update and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!

 

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What Is Your Mission?

Defining your mission as a writer is a powerful exercise. It’s not enough to have an idea of what you want to accomplish with your book or other writing. You need to be clear with yourself, and the sooner you can get that clarity, the better.

In the past I have thought the act of writing down a mission statement was needless work. I knew why I plugged away at my editing company. I knew what my business goals were. I knew why I was writing a book. Why should I go to the trouble of writing it down?

But my attitude has changed.

shutterstock_404833252After reading a fellow freelance writer’s argument for why mission statements are so important, I decided to give it a try. I suppose having it come from someone I knew gave it more weight. I wrote up a mission for my editing company and placed it on the home page of my website.

I was blown away by the effects. Writing down my mission forced me to give my company the attention it deserved. In return, it gave me direction I didn’t know I needed. I also began getting clients who were better suited for me.

That was for a business. What about a mission statement for a book?

When it came time to write the proposal for my book Perfect Bound, I thought a mission statement would make a good marketing tool. Agents would love it. It would make my proposal stand out.

Well, I never found out what agents thought of it. What I learned instead was that having a mission statement gave me clarity and direction. I had a concise paragraph stating what I wanted to accomplish and why. That influenced how I wrote my introduction, how I presented myself at public events, how I approached my website, and more.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of a mission statement for a book, here is one example:

My mission in writing Perfect Bound, as it has been throughout my career, is to help aspiring authors achieve their dream of publication. Armed with the knowledge contained in this book, authors will be more confident in their approach to book publishing in general and the book production process in particular. Further, they will save time and money when they avoid the common pitfalls every author faces.

Importantly, this mission statement is particular to the book I was writing and is concrete in naming what I really hoped to accomplish. It is outward-facing—that is, I can share it with my readers—yet personal, so that it has meaning for me too. The statement appears on my website, and I have often referred to it when I needed encouragement.

In one of the exercises in my class Choose Your Best Book-Publishing Path, I walk students through the process of crafting a mission statement. I provide a simple formula to get you started, and we generate ideas for how you can make yours meaningful to you.

Ultimately, however, what you put in your mission statement isn’t as important as the act of writing it down. Publishing is a long road. When doubt starts to settle in, a writer’s mission statement is a touchstone that reminds them why their book is worth the struggle.

 

PerfectBound front cover 2019 9-6 low-res

 

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Updated and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!