There are two sides to choosing a timely topic for your book: The upside is that you can ride the wave of what’s going on in the world, knowing that people are interested in that subject; the downside is that you have to time it just right. Too soon is not good because people may not be tuned into it yet. Too late and you are playing catchup. What makes this particularly tricky is that some authors have an uncanny sense of timing and nail it every time.
The questions to ask yourself are why this book, and why now? What’s hot in the media? If you are writing about healthcare, did you hitch your wagon to the controversy over the Affordable Care Act, or did you miss the opportunity by a fraction of a second? If your topic is politics, you have an embarrassment of riches to choose from, but you also have a lot of competition in terms of political books vying for top spots on Amazon and the New York Times bestseller list.
You may think your book is the best one out there on your subject, but you can’t know that if you haven’t read and analyzed competitive titles. What else is out there on this topic? How will your book be more important, different, better? One way to judge whether your book is different or better is to remind yourself of its purpose—its implied promise to the reader—and whether that purpose was achieved. Does this book solve a problem? Answer a question? Explain a process? Tell a story? If there are other books that attempt to do the same thing, are they succeeding or falling short? How are they approaching the subject? What are they missing? What makes your book special?
Whatever you are writing about, you can be sure that someone else has already thought of it. It has been said that there isn’t a new idea under the sun, only new ways of expressing existing ideas. When a student or client tells me there is nothing else out there that is anything like their book, I am immediately entered their topic into Amazon and discover that not only is there something like their book, there are hundreds if not thousands of titles.
Are you really expected to read hundreds if not thousands of books on your topic? Perhaps if you have a lifetime to spend reading other people’s books and not writing your own you could do it, but most of us don’t choose to do that. Once upon a time, before Amazon, I used to go to Borders or Barnes & Noble and sit on the floor in front of a particular category of books, scribbling notes as fast as I could write. Reading the dust jackets, preface, introduction, and endorsements gave me valuable previews of coming attractions.
These days, Amazon provides all that with the click of a button, lets you preview what’s between the covers, and makes available every opinion posted about the book. It tells you about the author, the book’s position on the bestseller list, itDigital and print books availability in various formats, and its retail, wholesale, and used-book prices. These are the basics that can be expanded on other websites. The point is that you must have a firm grasp of what else is out there in the digital and print world that is covering your subject matter.
If you are writing a book proposal, you will include this information in detail. To list a competitor’s book, write the title, the author or authors, the publisher, the publishing date, a brief summary of what the book contains, and how it differs from yours. Ideally, you will want to explain how well, or not so well, the book achieves its mission.
Rule number one: Be fair in your assessment. There may be ways in which this book does something better than yours does. If so, say so. Rule number two: Be civil. Do not slam the competition. Do not be sarcastic or overly critical. Your job is simply to compare another book to yours in a way that sheds a positive light on your book.