So many authors are looking for the silver bullet that will solve their book marketing woes and shoot their book to the top of the bestseller lists. If you have been in the business of self-publishing for a while, you’ll already know there is no silver bullet. But what if I told you there is a shortcut? Let's talk about comps.
Follow Those Who've Blazed the Trail
It’s true that no matter where you are on your authorial journey, there are authors similar to you who are a little further ahead. On your down days, you may feel envious of their success, but what you should be feeling is gratitude. You can leverage what they have had to figure out for themselves, making your path to finding your readers a little easier.
Some time ago I wrote a post for BookWorks expert Dave Chesson’s website Kindlepreneur, How To Analyze Your Competition And Create Your Own Author Success, in which I go into detail about how to analyze different metrics to gauge the strength of your competitors. You should definitely check that out, but here I want to give an overview of the first things you should be looking at and how the information you gather can help in your search for your target readers.
Comps Lead to Readers
One thing your competition has that you possibly don’t have, and want more of, is readers. Whether it’s because they have been around a long time, or because they had the help of a knowledgeable publisher, they have already learned who their readers are, where to find them and how best to communicate with them.
So if you’re still trying to figure out all of this from scratch, stop. It’s time to focus on what your comps are doing and go from there.
What Are Comps?
Comps, short for comparable books, are books similar to yours that readers of your book would enjoy. Literary agent Rachelle Gardner has some great advice about comps, but it does depend on you knowing your readers. Penguin Random House has some more practical tips to finding comps, but my advice would be to start with you.
I would make a guess that you write books similar to ones you like to read, so start there - what books do you enjoy? You can also try searching Amazon as if you were searching for books like yours to see what comes up.
You can also try the following:
Amazon’s Also Bought List
Use Amazon’s ‘Also bought’ results to show books that are potentially similar to yours. The book needs to be reasonably popular to have relevant "Also Boughts". There has been some panic around "Also Boughts" disappearing recently. You can get the full lowdown on what’s going on from David Gaughran on Amazon and the Also Bought Apocalypse.
Goodreads Recommendations And Best Lists
Next, head for Goodreads. You can use Goodreads' ‘Recommendations’ or look for lists made up by readers that place comparable books together.
If you fail to find the ideal comps at either Amazon or Goodreads, take your search offline. Speak to booksellers or librarians, as they may know the perfect comp for you.
You can also visit forums and Facebook Groups that exist for fans of your genre to talk about books.
Familiarize Yourself with Your Comps
It’s important to read your comps to check they really are a good comp and to consider objectively what about them would appeal to a reader - the plot, pacing, characters or writing style, for example. With that in mind, you can then choose what to highlight about your own books - where are you similar (and therefore equally appealing) and where are you different, possibly for the better?
Reviews can give clues here. Perhaps several reviewers say they loved one of your comps but would have liked it to have been a faster pace. If your book meets that need, highlight in your description that it would "appeal to fans of XXX who love a fast pace".
And remember, comp is short for comparable, not competition. By thinking co-opetition, you can work with your comps’ authors, perhaps working together on newsletter swaps or other joint marketing activities.
What Your Comps Can Tell You
Once you have identified a handful of good comps, it’s time to look at what their authors are doing to reach readers, so you can leverage that key information.
The first thing to do is check out their Amazon presence and answer the following questions:
—How many books do they have listed?
—Which categories are they listed in?
—What is their bestseller rank for each category, and overall?
—What are their descriptions like? Look at writing style, length, the content, and any formatting.
—How many reviews do they have and what is their average rating?
—How many books are they selling? To answer this query, you can use this tool.
—Is it clear who their listing is aimed at? How does your listing compare?
Doing this will give you some ideas about what you should include, but it will also provide insight into who they are appealing to and how seriously they take their listing.
Visit an author’s website and check how professional it is. Is the design amazing, clean but basic or downright 1990s bad? How seriously an author takes their website is an indicator of how committed they are to their author business, as well as their level of resources.
Things to look for include:
—Do they pay for hosting, or are they using a free platform, like WordPress.com or Blogger? You can usually tell this if ‘wordpress’ or ‘blogger’ appear in the web address. A personal url is more professional.
—Do they have an email optin that shows up? This tells you if they are actively collecting email addresses (and understand the value of doing so).
—Do they share their social media metrics or anything impressive on their site?
—How professional does it look?
—How well do they present their books?
—Do they have a Contact Me page?
—Do they blog or post articles on the website? Do they update content regularly?
—Check their website on your smartphone. Is it mobile friendly?
If you want to get super technical, my post for Kindlepreneur goes into detail about how to check how popular a website is, but this is an advanced step and not essential for everyone.
By answering the above questions you will get a good sense of how important their website is to an author and also the kind of look and content that they believe will appeal to their readers. This can be very useful information.
It’s useful to know where your comps’ authors are hanging out online, as that’s most likely where their readers are hanging out and therefore where you should be too. No one can manage more than a couple of social accounts well (at least, not without help), so checking where your comps’ authors are will help you decide which networks to be active on and which to ditch.
If they appear to be active across several platforms, plus blogging and writing books prolifically, it’s a sign that they have an assistant or two (or that they are superhuman). In that case, look at the channel that gets the most engagement—likes, shares, and comments.
The easiest way to find the social profiles of your competitors is to look for social icons on their website, as these will take you straight to their profiles. Alternatively, you can search the various platforms for their name, but this isn’t usually the easiest or fastest route.
It’s useful to look at how many followers an author has, but this number is not as important as an engaged following. I’d rather have 100 engaged followers than 1,000 followers who couldn’t care less about my posts.
Spend some time watching your comps’ authors on their websites and social networks. How frequently are they posting? Do they share other people’s content? Do people often like or share their posts? By doing this, you will soon get a good idea of how engaged their followers are and the kind of content that engages them the most.
Finally, you’ll want to run a Google search for your comps’ authors. By typing their name into Google, followed by ‘author’ or a book title if it’s a common name or they are not well known, you can uncover a few relevant things.
First, the results should reveal if the author has won any awards or competitions, or hit a bestseller list. Second, you should be able to find if they have appeared in any online news pieces or blogs, or been featured on any podcasts or vlogs.
This information is useful not only because it tells you how active they are in getting the word out about their work, but also provides you with some obvious places to pitch to be a guest yourself. If your comp’s author has found some perfect places to get in front of their ideal readers, you should definitely follow their lead.
By researching your comps and their authors, you’ll learn who is doing what to promote their books, and how successfully they are doing it, which will give you plenty to think about.
Not only that, but if your readerships overlap, studying their readers will give you lots of insight into who your readers may be.
But you don’t want to do all this just for research purposes, you should also reach out to your comps, particularly if they are at the same level or just a little bit ahead. If the Harry Potter books are your perfect comps, JK Rowling may not be a) available to work with you or b) need the reciprocal support.
Stick to Your Own Sandbox
As a side note, here, when I work with self-published authors they often select well-known trade published books as comps. This is most likely because they are easy to spot, but if a book was published a long time ago, was trade published and you’re not, or if it’s a very famous book, you’re not playing on the same field. It will benefit you far more if you can research comps who are or were, operating from a similar position as you when they started.
Authors will often do well in one area and not others. For example, an author may have a good social following and be very active on social media, but never blog. Another could have a thriving blog but fail to post on social media regularly.
By identifying where they are strongest, you can make informed decisions about how you may want to work with another author. Do they have a popular blog? Pitch a guest post. Do they have a good social following and engagement? Run a social media event such asTwitter chat or Facebook Live. Do they run a much-loved podcast? Ask to be a guest.
Return the Favor
And if you are doing well in one area that they’re not, you can return the favor by inviting them over to your blog or social channel.
Most importantly, learn from your comps and their authors, but don’t copy or plagiarise in any way. Don’t try to imitate someone else, it won’t work, and always play fair. Your comps have worked hard for any success, so don’t try to cannibalize it. Instead, apply relevant lessons and take advantage of any insight you gain to give yourself a leg up. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, but be prepared to still put in the effort necessary to see real success.
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