Step 3 Right Differentiation

How do I know I’m saying something fresh? Maybe I’m just writing a book someone else wrote already. Books today are “products.” Tens of thousands are published each year. To catch a publisher’s eye, yours has to distinguish itself from all the others.

This may seem like a crass way to think about a book idea. I try not to let it bother me. Neither I nor my publisher want a me-too book. I want to make a difference. So consider this step as a way to sharpen your thinking.

Differentiation takes many forms – fresh ideas, new perspective, varied chapter development, novel supporting material, superior writing style. Publishers demand two things above all: “authority” and “platform.” They want to know: Are you a recognized expert? And do you have a ready way to sell books — through speaking engagements, teaching, web sales, or other sales channels?

To figure out how to position a book as different, I start with the obvious: I visit an online bookseller (amazon.com or bn.com) and study competing books. I go to my bookstore and pore over books on the shelf. How is mine different? How can it be different? Note that it’s good, not bad, to be similar in some ways to big sellers. Publishers do want authors to demonstrate they have an established book-buying audience.

Step 3: The paper trail continues
In this third step in the Stairway to Earth, I create two more documents:

  1. Log of competing books: When I browse online, I cut and paste all relevant books into a new document. I include cover images, authors, publishers, publication dates, sales ranks, and notes on my competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Positioning journal: I start journaling about my book’s positioning. How is it new? How can I differentiate it? I get plenty of insights from my competing books research. I analyze and speculate about opportunities to distinguish myself.

With this step, I consider myself three steps out of the clouds. I grab any opportunity I can to test my book direction with friends. Does it resonate?

If you’ve worked to differentiate your book before, how have you done it? If not, what do you suggest? Join the conversation on my blog..

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