No matter what your genre, knowing your competitive landscape is essential. Being aware of what others in your market are producing, blogging, and promoting can also be critical to your own success. Of course I would never encourage copying, but being in sync with your market helps you stay ahead of the curve and enables you to recognize trends even before they reach the consumer level. So what I’m saying is: yes, you should spy on your competition!
Does this seem obvious? Well—unfortunately—it’s not. I frequently meet authors, even those who are savvy business professionals, who are completely unaware of similar books in their market. This is a huge mistake. Before I entered this business, I immersed myself in the market, the books, and other people in the industry. It helped me differentiate myself in products, services, and pricing. And to this day, I am constantly researching (i.e. spying). Once more, I’m not advocating copying, but rather cultivating a keen awareness of your market. Spying offers another huge benefit: keeping your competitors on your radar will expand your marketing ideas, which is great for enhancing your social media content.
Successful authors know their competitors. Don’t know where to start? Below are six strategies to help keep your ear to the ground, understand your market, and (yes) spy on your competition.
1. Google search. Start with the basics: do an online search of your market (fiction or nonfiction) and make a list. Who else is writing on your topic? As you scroll through the search results, you’ll find something interesting – the results will not just turn up names and book titles, but also show you the best ways to interact with your consumer. This is an opportunity! As you begin writing your list, ignore the big brands because it’s likely they will be successful no matter what they do. For example, if you’re a thriller writer, don’t expect that the marketing practices of Stephen King and Dean Koontz will apply to you. The yare big, powerful brands. You’re looking for the smaller names, people you may not immediately recognize. Why? Because they have to try harder. And that’s where you will likely find inspiration.
As you compile your list of competitors, be sure to register for their emails, newsletters, and to follow them on social media. Beyond the information you will glean, this is a great way to support other authors in your market and give them some love. Share their Facebook updates, retweet their great Twitter posts, etc. This research will reveal which social media sites you should be on. If you’ve had a hard time figuring out where your market resides, this exercise will clear that up. Why? Because if you’re finding names on the first page of a Google search, you know one they are doing something right. It’s no longer possible to “trick” Google to get onto page one. To get there, you have to be doing everything right with your content and online outreach. So when you find those authors on page one, watch what they’re doing! Look at their updates. What are they sharing and why? How often do they blog? Are they on LinkedIn instead of Facebook? What’s going on for them on Pinterest? Be sure to spend some quality time doing this analysis. It will help you get a better pulse on your market and it will cut your learning curve by half, if not more.
2. Bookstore Research: While I love Amazon, I love brick and mortar bookstores even more. They generate a great deal of book awareness and provide a good indicator of what’s selling in your market. Bookstores—especially in this market— don’t stock something that won’t sell. So what should you do? Check out the shelves in your genre, paying close attention to the names you don’t immediately recognize. Why? Because similar to the big brands, it’s easy for a big name to get shelf space. It’s a lot harder for an unknown to do this unless they have some serious marketing muscle or a good sales record. So take note of these titles and then buy a few. Why? This is part of your research (and it’s nice to support your fellow authors). Reading these shelf titles will tell what direction the authors took with their particular topic and why? It will also suggest how can you improve upon the conversation, or take it in a new direction. This could prove helpful when you’re writing and marketing your book.
3. News alerts: This is another must. Sign up for news alerts on sites like Talkwalker.com and Mention.net. These sites can find any news update, even Twitter retweets. Dive as deep into the research as you like, but definitely pay attention to where your competition shows up. This will also provide a great list of the blogs and news outlets that cover your genre – take note of these and target them when pitching your book!
4. Reviews: Log onto Amazon, search for books in your market, but don’t pay attention to the books. Instead, focus on the reviews. What are readers saying? What do they like? What don’t they like? What did they want more of? Reviews are subjective, but if you’re reading them across your genre, you’ll start to see a trend. It’s possible this trend is an opportunity for you as an author. Is there a need that has yet to be filled? And could you fill that need with your next book?
5. Speaking: If the author(s) you’ve found through your research are speaking or signing books at an event nearby, go! This is a great way to network , engage with your industry, and support your fellow authors. Wouldn’t you be flattered if an industry partner dropped by one of your events? If the author takes questions, pay close attention to what people ask . Audience questions are often the best way to generate ideas for new blog topics, books, or emerging trends.
6. Industry events: I used the feel like I didn’t have time to go to events if I wasn’t speaking at them. I was already traveling so much, and didn’t think it was worth it to squeeze in another event. But you know what? I was wrong. Now I go to as many industry events as possible. No matter the event, if I can leave with one new piece of wisdom, then it was worth my time. Industry events are great places to meet some of the folks you’ve been following, do some networking and also: learn. A constant state of learning can fuel success.
These six recommendations for spying on your competition are really just suggestions for how to do your research and stay tuned in. No matter if you call it spying or research it’s an essential part of success and a solid way to build connections.