Roger Blue Ocean Strat and ShiftThe quality and quantity of the research you do at before you start to write plays a major role in your ability to plan, write, promote, and profit from your nonfiction book. Here’s why.

  1.  Positioning

To succeed, your book not only has to be well-written, but it has to be significantly and obviously different than existing books. Your research goal is to identify and write the “missing book,” the book that avoids competition by offering something that is your market desires that has yet to be written.

To do this, you have to be familiar with existing books, so you can offer something obviously and significantly different.

In marketing, this approach is known as a “Blue Ocean” approach. It was popularized by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgine’s Blue Ocean Strategy, How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant and their recently published follow-up Blue Ocean Shift: Beyond Competing – Proven Steps to Inspire Confidence and Seize New Growth. More than 3.5 million copies have been sold around the world.

One of the best examples of the Blue ocean strategy at work is Robin William’s The Non-Designer’s Design Book. Robin chose to position her book by emphasizing the market it appealed to choosing a breezy and informal design and writing style.

Other ways you can position your book include:

  • Experience level. Are you writing for beginners or for readers familiar with the topic and who are looking for efficiency and productivity shortcuts? The “…for Dummies series is an excellent example.
  • Occupation and role. Are you writing for managers or C-level executives? The Corporate Blogging Book makes it clear the author was targeting her message and her brand to high-level corporate executives.
  • Condition or situation. What is the problem your target market wants to solve, or the goal they want to achieve? What to Expect When You’re Expecting is a classic example. Another is Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics: A 10% Happier How-to-Book.
  • Goal, timeframe, or Urgency. Guerrilla Marketing in 30 days not only promises results, it promises fast results.
  • Tone and style. Titles like LinkedIn: 101 Ways to Rock Your Personal Brand: Grow Your Network and Build Your Business promises a different tone than LinkedIn Marketing: An Hour a Day. Or, are you writing a manifesto
  • Depth and scope, Are you writing a general (or introductory) book or a detailed Guide, Handbook, or Playbook? The Copywriter’s Handbook promises a different reading experience than Marketing: A Love Story: How to Matter to Your Customers.
  • Size and price. Your depth and scope decision, of course, influences the physical characteristics of your book, i.e. the page count and the size of pages.

As you’re creating a list of competing books, follow the links to additional titles to explore. Each time you locate a title, look for additional titles in the following places on the Amazon page describing each book.

  • Advertisements. Publishers frequently promote competing books above the description area of each title’s page.
  • Frequently bought with.Additional titles packaged together at a special price.
  • Sponsored products related to this item. Additional author or publisher advertisements.
  • Customers who bought this item also bought. This shows competing books that were purchased after purchasing the original book.
  • Customers who viewed this item also viewed. Viewed, but not purchased from
  • Your recently viewed items and featured recommendations. A blend of advertisements and recommendations based on your browsing history.

By exploring the above links to competing books, you may be surprised by the many “hidden” books that have lessons to teach that you might not have been aware of.

  1. Author, publisher, date

It’s not enough to research competing books, it’s equally important that you visit each book’s Amazon Author Page as well as the author’s website. Tracking the authors of competing books offers numerous benefits, including:

  • Additional titles. Has the author written or contributed to additional books? This can provide important clues to the book’s profitability. If the author has written only one book, the topic may not have been as profitable as expected. If the author has updated his book with second and third additions, or has written additional titles on the same topic, you know the book has been profitable.
  • Back-end profits. Profits from book sales or royalties are typically a fraction of the income your book can lead to, in terms of paid speaking engagement, services like coaching and consulting, and information products like subscription newsletters, ecourses, check lists, templates, training and workshops.
  • SEO research. Another reason to visit the author’s blog, website, and social media presence is to track the keywords and phrases used to promote their book. This can help you jumpstart your search engine optimization strategy.
  • Networking. Following the authors of competing books is often the start of a mutually-satisfying relationship. Favorable comments on their blog posts and attending their events brings you to their attention, perhaps leading to future podcast interviews or—even—a pre-publication testimonial for your book.

Trade publishers tend to specialize in specific topics. Checking out the publisher’s online catalog will help you identify publishers who are more likely to publish your book. In many cases, authors thank their agent, the publisher’s acquisition editor, and the editing staff for their contribution to the book.

  1. Content

Today, you don’t have to purchase and study every competing book, just those that have the most lessons to teach. There are two ways you can preview a book’s contents before buying it.

  • Print books. Clicking the Look Inside! link above the front cover of the book on allows you to preview the book’s table of contents. This permits you to view the book’s Foreword and Introduction, sample the author’s writing style, judge the book’s readability, and read pre-publication testimonials from influencers in your field and early readers. You can also search for specific topics ascertain the author’s perspective and the depth of detail included.
  • Kindle e-books. If you own one of Amazon’s Kindle ebook readers, or have installed the Kindle app on your computer, you can immediately download a sample for onscreen reading. In addition, many authors allow readers to download the entire ebook for free, or for just 99 cents, during book launches and promotions.
  • Audio. More and more books are becoming available as audio downloads. When available, click the Listen text and graphic under the book cover and the audio preview starts playing.
  1. Categories, ranking, and reader reviews

Many authors pay attention to the wrong metrics when reviewing competing books on

  • Reader reviews. There’s good news and there’s bad news. The bad news is that many reviews are obviously biased to either effusively praise the book or criticize the book. So, the Average Customer Review is not particularly helpful. The real value of the reviews is the number of reviews and the posting date of the reviews. Use discretion when you encounter 3 and 4 year old books with just 12 or 13 reviews that were last submitted 2 years ago.
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank. This is frequently over-emphasized. The Best Sellers Rank displays your book’s performance compared to all of the titles sold on Your book’s performance thus competes with the latest tell-all’s from Washington D.C., the Bible, and Hemingway’s evergreen titles. In addition, the Best Sellers Rank is updated several times a day, so it is influenced by short-term author promotions and the latest news.
  • Categories. The categories where your book is listened are far more important to authors who are writing the book to build their brand in specific areas. There are literally thousands of categories, and the categories are very precisely defined. An example is Dan Pink’s When: the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. Dan’s book is #1 in Books > Science > Experiments, Instruments, & Measurements > Time. Some categories are more competitive than others. This is because the category is dominated by a frequently-updated, long established best seller.

Research tools
One of the keys to successfully taking advantage of the research opportunities available on is setting up an easy-to-use tracking system. Many authors depend on lists or spreadsheets to consolidate data and permit instant access to author websites and blogs.

Lists and spreadsheets do not do a good job of revealing the “big picture.” This is because only a portion of a list or spreadsheet is visible at one time. You can’t instantly go from a “big picture” view of a book’s table of contents to a detailed view of the contents of an individual chapter.

Mind maps, however, like this sample, allow you to instantly switch between a big picture view of the book’s table of contents (Figure One) to a detailed view of the topics a single chapter of a book (Figure Two), to other ideas to add at a later date.

Collapsed mind map displays high-level view of book’s table of contents.

Collapsed mind map displays high-level view of book’s table of contents.

Expanding Chapter 3 reveals the four main ideas to be addressed in the chapter

Figure 1: Expanding Chapter 3 reveals the four main ideas to be addressed in the chapter

Figure 2: Expanding the first topic in Chapter 3 reveals 11 ways to put helpfulness into action

Figure 2: Expanding the first topic in Chapter 3 reveals 11 ways to put helpfulness into action

About Roger Parker:
Roger is one of the Pros who will be discussing the importance of carefully researching competing books on during the Ask-a-Pros sessions of the Nonfiction Writer’s Conference next week. Details here.

Contact Roger on Twitter @RogerCParker or via email if you would like copies of these, and other mind mapping resources.