For many agents and editors, the most important section of the proposal concerns the competition. Not only must you be thorough in providing the information but how you present it is equally important; it is also an opportunity for you to distinguish yourself from other authors who do not appreciate the significance of competitive titles.
The fact that there are books similar to your book does not necessarily dissuade publishers from having an interest in your project. On the contrary, if there have never been books published addressing the same subject as your book, publishers will question if there is a market for the book at all.
Finding the Competition
The first step in identifying the competition is to see what books have been published that resemble your project. Books In Print is a multivolume set that lists all the books currently in print and is indexed in several ways including by subject matter. You can also visit
Do not be discouraged if you see titles similar to your book, because this is where your work is just beginning. Make a list and be sure to obtain the following information:
Number of pages
When you list the books in your competitive book section, be sure to include all this information — especially the ISBN, because editors and agents can track sales of a title with this identification and they appreciate that you are providing this number.
Distinguish Your Book
The fact that books have been published similar to your project actually helps make your case because it shows there is a potential market for your subject. What you must do is demonstrate why your book should still be published, and you can do this by distinguishing your book from the books on your list, which can be done in several ways.
First, it may be that the book is no longer in print; or, if it is in print, it is not on the shelves and therefore it would not hamper sales of your book. Second, the book may be different from your project. In order to make the distinction, you must familiarize yourself with each book and then explain why that book is distinguishable from your book.
There are several ways to become familiar with competing titles without buying the book. You can examine the book at a library or bookstore; you can read book reviews that provide essential information; visit a bookseller's website where the book is sold and glean information from the title, subtitle, table of contents, and excerpts.
In differentiating your book from the competition, you should consider not only the contents but the target market. For instance, if your book and another book are both about swimming but your book is directed to swimming as an exercise for senior citizens while the other book is about developing swimming skills in young children, then the books are no longer competitive in the marketplace.
Finally, you must address the books left on your list that are readily available for purchase, have a similar subject matter, and target a comparable audience. This is where the meaning of “competition” comes into play and you must demonstrate why your book is superior to the other books. Of course, this can be a subjective matter, but try to be as objective and professional as possible in evaluating your competition.