Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Comp titles

A key element of a non-fiction book proposal is Comp Titles. These are books that demonstrate there's a market for your book and it's a market with enough buyers to make a book profitable.

You can easily find books but how the HELL do you measure the number of buyers? Unless you have access to Bookscan you're pretty much in the dark.

There is however a tiny candle in the darkness so you only have to curse half as much. There's a way to get a sense of the market (not the actual number) and it's from Amazon rankings.

I suggested this to an author in one recent Chum Bucket and she replied

What Amazon rank would be considered "good" in an agent's mind? I know that's an idiotic question, but I really have no idea. Would a book need to be top 100, top 1,000, top 100,000 to be considered a decent seller?

Well, it's NOT an idiotic question for starters. An idiotic question is "are you excepting queries?" but that's a topic for another day.

And let's refine the question to not what is considered good, but rather what the numbers can do for you.

1. The broader the category, the lower the ranking number you want if you're looking for books that sold well.

I recently needed a comp title that sent me to kids picture books. Here's the rundown for GOOD NIGHT IPAD by Ann Droyd. (you find this in PRODUCT DETAILS on the Amazon page for the book in question)

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,894 in Books
#7 in Books > Children's Books > Social Situations > Sleep
#22 in Books > Professional & Technical > Engineering
#61 in Books > Humor & Entertainment > Humor

The book was published in October of 2011 and it's still pretty high up in the overall Amazon rankings (#1,894 in Books)

Amazon rankings measure how well the book is selling compared to other books sold on Amazon, not actual numbers, so you're getting an sense of velocity, not actual speed and distance.

This feels high and fast for a year old flight. That's good.

It's also doing well in some good subcategories but you want to watch out for those. Those categories can be so narrowly defined there are only ten books total in the category.

2. If the books you're using as comp titles are OLD and not selling well, use this to highlight the point  that a new book in this category is desperately needed and then use the old slow comp titles to show there is still demand even for old books.

3. If you can't find any comp titles at all, you've got a problem.

A. You're delusional because you think there aren't any books like yours.
B. You're writing a book for which there appears to be no market
C. You're describing your book so narrowly you don't think anything fits.

None of these are good things.

Finding the right comp titles can take a while. Don't just pick the first three books you find. Know what you're trying to say with these comps: my proposed book fills a niche that exists; provides new insight or new information; demonstrates there's a market for this topic.



Unknown said...

This is great info. Thanks!

I was able to find the overall ranking for a book, but I'm having trouble finding the rankings in specific categories. How did you find the iPad book's ranking in those three categories you listed?

Janet Reid said...

Rhen they're all listed together, in the same place on the Amazon page for the book.

Make sure you're looking at the right version of the book: not at for example the Kindle edition.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Janet, just a thought...

Regarding - B. You're writing a book for which there appears to be no market.

Isn’t that like saying, no new inventions are needed because everything has already been invented?
Way back when, how would you have comp-ed Potter, Twilight or even Grey? That which sets a new standard...isn’t that what the industry is clamoring for?

Sometimes the short guy with the glasses, the one which seems to lack personality is the best lover and the most innovative provider.

Sam Mills said...

Wry Writer -- I'd say none of those were new genres. Wizards and fantasy existed, urban fantasy and romance existed, erotica and Twilight fans existed. I think comp titles are mainly for non-fiction anyway.

And, as an aside... man I love it when anti-women spam shows up even in my publishing world blogs. =/

Janet Reid said...

Wry, I hope I'm not saying that cause it's not what I mean.

Take for example the Boycott American woman spammer (his comment has been deleted but you get the point). He can write a book but you can bet there aren't many, if any, comps. Why? There's no market. Not in general trade publishing anyway.

For thus was the venerated industry of self publishing invented.

Unknown said...

Another avenue for lovely research. Thank you.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I think I get it.

Sam M. I know the genres existed but for the so-called age groups in question, Potter and Twilight particularly, it was indeed a new thing or maybe I'm really off the mark, which would not be unusual.

So Janet, if there is no market in general trade, the so-called new inventions can be patented and sold on street corners, at country fairs and infomercials...al la self-publishing.
Sometimes I just need a thumb on the head with a thigh-master to get it.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Janet. I searched Goodnight iPad and saw it. The book I was looking at just doesn't have the more detailed rankings. It must be different for different books.

BP said...

This is pretty clever! Thanks for the tips. I guess this *would* just be for non-fiction or at least very specific/unique/unheard of fiction, since an agent who's immersed in reading the genres they sell would already have a pretty good idea of which genres/titles been selling good in general, without stats and specifics, no? Eg. If I've pitched paranormal (which I neither read nor write ugh), and it has a strong voice/plot/characters/etc., it's not rocket science to know that genre is selling good; you just have to look at the ceiling-spanning YA paranormal section in B&N! yikes! lol

Annie Neugebauer said...

I just asked this exact question on Twitter and got no response from my followers, so thank you! Perfect timing. And I've shared this link as well.

Kaethe said...

Thanks, Janet!

Unknown said...

I am writing a Music Biography. Would comp titles be ANY recent music Bio or just the ones about my same musician and or band mates?