How to Find Your Book’s Evil Twin

Written by on October 12, 2010 in Books & Self-Publishing, Writing Tips - Leave a Comment

In my last post, I talked about the humbling experience of coming up with a Brilliant Idea for a book about nature and mental health, only to discover that it had already been written almost exactly as I had envisioned it.  This was not too big a crisis for me because I’m the kind of person who tosses out projects almost as quickly as I come up with them.  But if you’re serious about your book idea, you should be serious about finding your book’s competition.

Here are some tips for finding your book’s “evil twins”:

-Make a list of all the possible categories your book might be shelved under in a library or bookstore.  When you go to the bookstore, check all the categories you came up with.  Be thorough.  In my case, I made the mistake of only checking the “Psychology” section for books about nature and mental illness, when my book’s evil twin was actually lurking in the “Gardening” section.

-An internet search can be an efficient way of finding competition, but only if you’re skilled at choosing search terms.  My searches for “nature and depression” on Amazon turned up many books on the nature of depression, but none about nature itself.  This led me to conclude (quite wrongly!) that there must be very few books on this topic.  (In case you’re wondering, the search terms that do lead to my hypothetical book’s competitors are “gardening and psychology” and “ecopsychology”!)

If you’re not sure about which search terms to use to find a book like yours, try searching for the subject of one of your chapters.  My imaginary book was not specifically about gardening, but “gardening and psychology” turned up books about nature and mental health.

-Focus on books that have been published recently.  A book that has been out of print since 1987 probably doesn’t represent real competition to your book.  A best-selling e-book on your topic presents more of a challenge.

Once you’ve tracked down all the books that compete with yours, check out their table of contents and (if you have access to physical copies) flip through them, asking yourself the following questions:

-Does my book seem like a clone of any of these books?

-Does my book contain new information that isn’t found in any of

these books?

-Do the authors of these books have substantially more expertise than I do?  Do I have substantially more expertise than they do?

-Are these books targeted at the same audience as mine?  Have I found a new audience, or offered something special to the existing one?

-What sets my book apart from the others? (e.g. better writing, better information, more up-to-date, different target audience, etc.)

If the answers to these questions are encouraging (i.e. if answering them makes you feel even more confident about your project rather than making you want to go hide in a cave), chances are your book will stand out well from its “evil twins.”  If, on the other hand, you realize your book idea is too similar to what’s already out there, this is a great opportunity to brainstorm ways you can upgrade your original proposal.

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