Pro Tips for Competing Titles
Hello and happy August!
Earlier this week I explained why the “comps” section of your scholarly book proposal should include different information than you might put in a literature review. Today I’m going to share a few more tips on selecting books to serve as your “competing titles” or “comparable works.” These tips require you to pay attention to the publisher, audience, and author of each book that you list (in addition to the topic, approach, scope, and other features of the books that you might have already been considering when contemplating competing titles).
Pick books from publishers that are comparable with the press you are targeting. So if you are submitting your proposal to a university press, most of the books you list should also be published by university presses. Why? Because books published by university presses tend to share similar audiences and marketing channels, and they have similar standards of academic rigor.
Pick books with a comparable expected audience size. Trade books are sold differently than most scholarly books (I won’t get into the details about how right now), and the economic model for trade publishing requires a much larger volume of sales. This need for sales in turn dictates the writing style and approach to the topic that the book’s author takes. If you list mostly trade books as comparable works, an editor is going to wonder if you’re really trying to write a trade book (instead of a traditional scholarly book) or if you have unrealistic expectations about the reach of your scholarly book. If you do want to write a crossover book with trade potential, that should be clear throughout your proposal, as well as reflected in the list of competing titles.
Pick books whose authors have a similar platform to yours. Your book is probably not truly comparable with Famous Giant In Your Field’s book, because people will buy that book just because it has that person’s name on it, whereas that is likely not the case for you. (If you’re a famous giant in your field who reads my newsletter, hello! Won’t you tell everyone under your influence to subscribe?)
Remember when I said in Tip #1 to pick books from presses that are comparable to the press you’re pitching? You’ll get extra bonus points if you pick at least one recent book from the actual press you’re pitching. For one thing, it establishes that you’re familiar with the press’s output and that your work resonates with their current list. For another thing, you’ll be helping your acquiring editor do their job. When it’s time to pitch your book to their colleagues—which they’ll have to do before they can offer you a contract—acquiring editors often point to titles their own house has recently put out, as a way to persuade the marketing team that they know what to do with a book like yours. If you can come up with those titles yourself, you’ll save them a step. Or you might come up with a title the editor wouldn’t have thought of on their own, which only enhances the case for your book. (Shout out to Dawn Durante for sharing this insider tidbit with us in the book proposal accelerator last week.)
Overall, comps are probably a bit less important in scholarly publishing than in trade, so if you mess this list up a little bit, it probably won’t kill your chances of getting your book published with a scholarly press. But I hope these tips will help you make the strongest case you can!
For many more tips in this vein, about all aspects of the scholarly book proposal, check out the Manuscript Works book proposal accelerator. Enrollment is currently open for the fall and winter break sessions. There’s more info here, and you can always reply to this newsletter to reach me with a direct question about it (or anything else scholarly publishing-related).