Thursday, June 18
Creating an Author Business Plan: Our Competitive Analysis
Part of the Indie Author Series
We’re down to the final pieces of our author business plan. (If you missed the previous sections, you can start back at the beginning with setting our goals, choosing our stories, identifying our audience, running our business, and crafting our product plan.)
Today we’re tackling the competitive analysis.
Traditionally, the competitive analysis section in a business plan has been about learning as much as you can about the people or businesses that directly compete with you and figuring out a way to steal their customers.
I don’t know about you, but that view of a competitive analysis makes me shudder. I don’t want to hurt other authors. In fact, I believe that we can achieve more when we work together. When one author is successful, it brings new readers into the reader pool who might like our books as well.
Besides, books aren’t like cars or plumbers. You can own a whole bookshelf (or e-reader!) full of books.
Because of those factors, I like to look at this as a cooperative analysis. Some of the elements in a cooperative analysis will focus on how we can stand out and what we can learn from other authors, but we’re also looking for authors we might be able to partner with.
Remember as you’re creating your competitive/cooperative analysis that this section will change over time. You might add new authors who come along or you might need to renovate this section because your writing focus or genre has changed.
Here’s how we can start.
Make a list of successful authors who write similar books to what we’re writing. I recommend noting whether these authors are self-published or traditionally published.
Self-published authors will be people we might be able to approach later about joint marketing ideas and whose marketing successes and failures we can learn from. We’ll also use them to help us price our books.
Studying traditionally published authors can often help us learn what packaging styles (i.e., covers and descriptions) work best for our type of book. This is one way we can take advantage of the large marketing departments of traditional publishing houses without having to actually work with them.
Study their book descriptions to learn how they’ve crafted them to draw readers in. What length are they? How do their first sentences hook the reader? How many character names are included? How far into the story do they go before stopping? How do they end their description?
Ask yourself “What do these authors have in common?” In other words, what can we learn from them. What price range do their books fall into? Do their covers all have a specific style or feel to them? For example, do they feature a character, are they light or dark in tone, and how big are the author’s name and title on the cover?
Read some of their reviews both positive and negative. What made readers upset with their books? For example, do their books tend to have too many typos? Make sure you avoid the same. What did readers particularly love about them? For example, do readers generally praise them for their quick pace or for their vivid descriptions? This is teaching us what readers of our genre expect and love.
How are your books different? Who are you most like? This is about placing ourselves in the market.
We can compare ourselves to other authors—for example, our books are for readers who enjoy stories with small town flair and quirky characters like those found in the cozy mysteries of Elizabeth Spann Craig.
We could also contrast ourselves with other authors—for example, our books are for readers who wished Nicholas Sparks novels had happy endings.
Both are valid strategies for knowing how we fit in the marketplace and either promising to provide more of what readers love or to give them what they love in another author’s work without pairing it with what they didn’t love.
For the independent authors on our list, what marketing strategies have they used successfully? What marketing strategies have they discovered don’t work (or don’t have a good return on investment)?
This is an especially interesting section of our analysis. Not only does it help us figure out what works and what doesn’t in general, but it also helps narrow it down to what works best for our genre.
What we write down in this section is going to become our foundation for our marketing section.
But where do we find out what they’ve tried? The easiest thing to do is check if these authors have blogged about their marketing. You could also join groups for authors in your genre where information is posted more privately. If all else fails, you could try contacting other authors. In that case, we need to be really respectful of their time. They might not have time to answer all our questions, but if we ask politely, they may be willing to answer a few specific questions.
Is there anything else you would recommend including in our competitive analysis / cooperative analysis section?
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About Showing and Telling in Fiction: A Busy Writer’s Guide
There are three reasons for this. The first is that this isn’t an absolute rule. Telling isn’t always wrong. The second is that we lack a clear way of understanding the difference between showing and telling. The third is that we’re told “show, don’t tell,” but we’re often left without practical ways to know how and when to do that, and how and when not to. So that’s what this book is about.
Chapter One defines showing and telling and explains why showing is normally better.
Chapter Two gives you eight practical ways to find telling that needs to be changed to showing and guides you in understanding how to make those changes.
Chapter Three explains how telling can function as a useful first draft tool.
Chapter Four goes in-depth on the seven situations when telling might be the better choice than showing.
Chapter Five provides you with practical editing tips to help you take what you’ve learned to the pages of your current novel or short story.
Showing and Telling in Fiction also includes three appendices covering how to use The Emotion Thesaurus, dissecting an example so you can see the concepts of showing vs. telling in action, and explaining the closely related topic of As-You-Know-Bob Syndrome.