If you are looking for published books comparable to your book idea, and you don’t find them, it might be because your audience is underserved.
There’s something I do with all my clients called a “book comparison analysis” or “book comps” during which my client is tasked to research books similar to the one they intend to write and to see exactly what has been published in their topic area in recent years. The goal of this process is twofold: 1) to see if there’s a market for their idea and 2) to identify what specifically about their idea makes it unique. This helps us to both “sus out the competition” and determine whether my client’s book idea is relevant to the mass market.
Usually, if there are no books to compare, this means that the book idea is not considered “relevant.”
I have been doing this with my clients for 17 years. I consider book comps an invaluable part of the book writing and publishing process. I never thought twice about it: if there’s not a market for your book, then there won’t be any comparable books out there.
Then, recently, I had one of those “gear grinding to a screeching stop,” “lightbulb” kind of moments.
You see, my client looked and looked and couldn’t find any books to compare to her idea. She came to me deflated and unsure about her concept. “Maybe it’s not relevant?”
Here’s where the screeching brakes came in.
This client is a business woman who is writing about an issue that I would argue every woman business owner has struggled with at some point. I’d even go so far as to say, few ever really get over it. Her message is crucial for women business owners everywhere.
That’s when I realized something huge. In fact, this is something so huge and world changing, I think everyone needs to know about it.
When you’re writing as a member of an underrepresented group about a problem that affects said group, don’t assume that if there aren’t any comparable books on your topic, that it’s not relevant.
You need to look deeper, to the next layer, and ask yourself why. Why aren’t there any other books about this?
The lack of books on my client’s subject is not due to a lack of an audience. Quite the contrary. It’s due to a lack of representation for that audience.
The fact of no comparable books in this case doesn’t link to a lack of interest in the mass market, but rather, a lack of awareness.
Think about all the revolutionary books that were written by and for underrepresented populations that were among the first of their kind. The ones that paved the way for other revolutionary books. They sold millions of copies, and the authors became legends in their own literary right.
The publishing industry continues to facilitate revolutionary books making their way into the marketplace today, but it still has had its own blind spots which continue to impact underrepresented groups.
The recent #PublishingPaidMe trend on Twitter, started by Jesmyn Ward, author of Salvage the Bones pulled back the curtain on inequitable compensation when she started a conversation among authors where they disclosed the value of their advances and exposed how Black authors tend to get smaller advances, despite having similar or better qualifications than their white counterparts.
And not only are Black authors paid less, there’s also fewer Black authors overall. According to Data USA, 81.3% of authors in 2018 were white. Only 4.07% of them were Black.
Researchgate.com reports that as recently as 2015, 72.6% of authors were male (and we can infer based on the above statistics that around 96% of them were also white).
What this is means is that if you seek books about issues that underrepresented populations face, you will find a shortage of comparable books. Do not make that a reason to stop.
If you are writing about an issue that affects women, minorities, the environment, the poor, immigrants, or the otherwise disenfranchised, and you have trouble finding comparable books, do not be discouraged.
Be encouraged. Be ignited. Double down on your commitment.
Because in these cases, “no comps” does not mean that your book concept has no audience.
It has an audience, but it’s an underserved audience. And you have an opportunity to write a book that serves it.