Many inventions come about by accident. Whilst you are looking in one direction, you may miss something important or you may just hit on something that could change the world. Percy Lebaron Spencer was working on radar when his discoveries led to the invention of the microwave. Christopher Columbus bought rubber to the western world, Charles Goodyear learnt accidentally how to vulcanize it and vulcanized rubber is now everywhere. When Jesse Kops, of 3M accidentally developed a very-low pressure adhesive, my favourite product was created – the post it note. Viagra was meant to help with angina and instead increased blood flow elsewhere. Researchers studying ‘change blindness’ concluded that…
”When we’re concentrating so hard on something that our processing capacity is at its limits, the parietal cortex is not available to pay attention to new things and even dramatic changes can go unnoticed. If you’re concentrating on what the magician’s left hand is doing, you won’t notice what the right hand is doing.”
Key learnings: undertake your research, take time to walk around and reflect on your research to look for the ‘and what else?’
Why do a competitor analysis?
We do a competitor analysis to understand the market better, the position we occupy and how to fill the gaps. Competitor analysis is great for crystallising where your book fits with what is already available. It also informs your book strategy, tells you who your potential reader might be, what else they are buying, what their needs are and gives you an idea about what sort of books and content are out there.
You will see books that you never knew existed, books that you had wished you had written and a space for your work.
When it comes to writing, I like to see my fellow authors as collaborators as opposed to competitors, there is a place for all of us, as we each bring something different to our readers. Remember, just because there is a book with that title, the one you wanted to use, which looks like it covers your subject, it may not do it in the way that yours will, with your knowledge, skills and passion. It may be completely different to what you will be writing about.
Should you read your competitors books?
There are two schools of thought, one) it’s a good idea to get a better understanding of what is selling and why and two) no because you want to keep your thoughts and ideas pure. I say yes to reading lots of books, because you can learn so much by considering them with a writers eye.
Simple steps to undertake a competitor review
Make a list of evaluation criteria. You will use these to assess your competitors work as you read and review their books. E.g.
- Writing is easy to understand.
- Uses lists.
- Has diagrams and drawings.
- Has action plans.
- Uses simple words
- Pages laid out so that the book is easy to read and digest.
- They understand their reader.
- Their arguments are well explained.
- Research is clearly defined.
Assess each of the criteria for the three books you are reviewing.
- What do you like about the books?
- What don’t you like?
- What does that tell you? How will you use that information?
- Write a review of one (or all) of the books.
- What makes your book different?
- What key points have been left out?
- Which readers are not being addressed?
What else can you find out about your competitors?
After a browse around Amazon, surf the internet, look at your ‘competitors’ websites and social media, what can you learn from them? Armed with this research, ask how does your book fill a gap? What else can you learn about how they market themselves, what tips can you pick up? Who do they collaborate with? What about their personal branding? What can you do better or different?
And don’t forget to ask others, friends and family about the books they have bought in the genre you hope to serve.
How did your competitor research inspire or inform you? What did you learn? How can what you have discovered improve your book?