Do You Know If Your Book Idea is Unique and Necessary?

This post is a blogged draft excerpt from The Author Training Manual (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2014). Read the previous blogged excerpt, here.

Your book must be unique and necessary to sell successfully.Most aspiring authors believe their ideas are unique and readers absolutely need to read their books. Like these writers, you probably feel convinced your book idea is new, fresh, timely, different, and essential. You know readers must read what you have to say, the information you have to offer, the arguments you want to make or the stories you have to tell. You possess a sense of urgency to write and publish your book now—and, if you don’t want to do as an indie publisher, you just know a publisher will want to take on your project and get it into print ASAP. Great!

I have often felt that way about my book ideas, and I still do when an idea first strikes. It’s great to feel passionate, enthusiastic and confident when the proverbial light bulb goes off, but those feelings—and your conviction—simply aren’t enough reason to publish a book. You must have facts to back them up, facts that unequivocally prove your idea is unique and necessary in the marketplace. These facts must convince a literary agent, first, and an acquisitions editor, second. They also must convince you.

Passion, Intuition or Gut Instinct Don’t Produce Successful Books

Unfortunately, your passion, intuition or gut instinct (and I’m a big believer in all three) are not enough when it comes to book publishing—at least not if you want to publish a successful book. If you just trust your gut or take inspired action, you may lose money on your book project. If you self-publish, you won’t sell many books or make back your investment. A publisher likely won’t take the risk if you can’t show hard data and research to back up these emotional responses to your project. That’s why Step #4 in the Author Training process asks you to do the evaluation necessary to Discover if Your Idea is Unique and Necessary enough to succeed in the target market you chose in Step #2.

Just yesterday I sat across the table from one of my book coaching clients. She had shelved one book idea for another (in the time frame of just one week) as she followed her passions and interests. This second book idea arose from a talk she had been asked to give for an organization. She was excited about this speaking opportunity and about her topic, which related to the overall subject matter about which she originally wanted to write. She said she would come back to the other book idea, but now she wanted to pursue this concept, which she believed was singular and felt passionate about.

Preparing for her presentation caused her to realize she had the foundation for a book, she explained to me. The process of determining what she would talk about had required her to go through a similar process to outlining the contents of a book; she’d even come up with an acronym she liked and that worked well. Indeed, she had most of the elements that comprise a book if she angled it correctly for her market—women who wanted to assume leadership roles at work.

Here’s the rub. This writer had no idea how many other books had already been written about women and leadership—16,774 were listed on Amazon when I looked. She hadn’t even thought to look at similar books in a bookstore or on Not only that, she had not considered:

  • how her book would be different from other books already written and published on the topic
  • how her book might complement other published books in some manner
  • how to make her book stand out from the pack

Why? She felt certain it was unique and necessary because she’d thought of it and she was excited and inspired by it. She just assumed her book would be different, unique, and necessary, especially since she worked with and spoke with the women in her target market.

The more I explained how her book had to be different, unique, necessary—how it had to “fill a hole on the shelf in the bookstore”—the more her excitement turned into disappointment.

Like her, you have to determine if there is, indeed, a space on the shelf where your book would sit in a brick-and-mortar bookstore, a spot where a book currently is missing, a book that has not been written yet and that is unlike all the other published books in your category—a unique and necessary book. (A category is the place in a bookstore you would find your book, such as self-help, history, science fiction, or women’s studies.) You must evaluate if a place is waiting for your book if it were to make it onto the Top 100 list at Amazon in your chosen category.

The Competitive Analysis and How it Helps Angle Your Book

In fact, my client’s idea still might have been a good—even great—idea if carried out strategically. That last word—strategically—is the key. I didn’t mean to put the kibosh on my client’s project, only to make sure she evaluated her project against the competition, something required if she sent her idea on to an agent or publisher. Her idea would have to stand up against the books already published. Not only that, it would have to rise above the competition.

To discover if your book will fill a hole on the bookstore shelf—or if there even is a hole waiting to be filled, compare your project to existing books in its category and evaluate the pros and cons of the competitions as well as the pros and cons of your project. Based on this comparison you can determine if you can do a better job with your subject than authors who have come before you. Indeed, if you can produce an objective
“competitive analysis,” you can evaluate how you need to change or tweak your book concept to make it matchless in its category and indispensable in its target market.

This competitive analysis, which takes place during Step #4: Make Sure You Write a Unique and Necessary Book, parallels the nonfiction book proposal section called “Competing Books” (or sometimes called “Competition Analysis”).  In this section of a proposal you provide agents and acquisitions editors with a detailed look at what traditionally published books have been written on your topic and how your book compares to them. (Publishers don’t care about self-published books.) This convinces a publisher that the book you plan to write is different and adds something new to existing titles. For the sake of the Author Training process, you do not need to focus on traditionally published books. In fact, if you are planning to self-publish your book, your analysis might benefit from an evaluation of bestselling indie published books that compete or complement your book project.

For your business plan, look at 10-15 books you consider direct competition to yours—books that cover the same type of information or that tell the same type of story, then narrow the competition down to five you feel are closest in subject matter. These should be the most direct competition to your book. List these by bestseller status or by date of publication first. Gather this information as well: title, subtitle, author, publisher, copyright year, number of pages, paperback or hardcover, and price. From your research on the books, write two statements (which do not even have to be full sentences) that make clear the positive and negative aspects of each book. Finally, include a paragraph comparing these books to your proposed book and you as an author to these authors, if that is relevant.

The Author Training ManualNote: You can read additional blogged draft excerpts from my new book, The Author Training Manual (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2014) here. Only select pieces from the manuscript, a “working draft,” were posted—not the complete manuscript. Read the next post in the The Author Training Manual blogged-book series by clicking here. Purchase the book on, or at

LeaLearn how to become a successful authorrn how to create a successful book—one that sells to publishers and to readers—by developing an AUTHOR ATTITUDE and writing a BUSINESS PLAN for a MARKETABLE BOOK. Register for the AUTHOR TRAINING 101 Home-Study Course, and go from aspiring to successful published author! This course is based on The Author Training Manual. If you like what you’ve read here, you’ll love the course.

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