When reading through the competitive analysis, or comparable titles section of a proposal, it’s interesting to read something like "there is nothing else out there like my book".
What a statement like that communicates is:
1) The book may be so unique that there isn’t an audience for it, or enough of an audience. (The author is too weird.)
2) The author was not motivated enough to do their homework. (The author is too lazy.)
But this is one part of your proposal that deserves to be as strong as the other sections. It’s important to remember that there is always competition for your book.
Here are some tips, for both fiction and non-fiction proposals, when assembling your comparable book list:
1) Find, and list, similar comparable books from the past five years. Although it’s possible that a classic title may be a good comparable, such as something by C.S. Lewis or Tolkien. Finding suitable titles may be as easy as looking at Amazon, or Good Reads. (Although it’s much more fun to actually go to a bookstore or library.) List the title, author, year of publication and the publisher.
2) Avoid books that have not sold well, or have been self-published (unless that self-published book sold exceptionally well). You want to show that there is a large and vast audience for the type of book that you have written.
3) Give a one or two sentence synopsis on the competing work. Don’t assume that the person reviewing your proposal has deep, intimate knowledge of each book that you’re listing. As a reminder, you don’t necessarily want to list a book, or at the least, more than one book, that is somewhat obscure.
4) Briefly highlight how your book is similar. Don’t be afraid of doing this. Remember, if these books are popular, then it’s alright to show how yours aligns similarly.
4) Indicate how your book differs. This is where you can now state how, and in what ways, your book is different and superior. Do you cover new material? Have you approached the subject from a different point of view? How are your characters unique?
By the time the reviewer has finished reading this section of your proposal you want them to be thinking that there is a sizable potential audience. And if not a large audience, then at least a fiercely loyal audience to your particular genre. The goal here is to show that there is a market for your book.
Here is one other thing to think about when doing your research: One of my clients was finding it challenging to find a number of comparable titles for her proposal. I suggested a certain movie, yet to be released, as a comparable, and encouraged her to use it. My reasoning is that there are more than just books competing for a reader’s attention (and spending money). And this will also show that the subject matter of her book is current.
There is content everywhere, especially on-line. With that in mind, at the end of your competitive analysis, or possibly in your marketing section, you may want to list a popular blog, a pod-cast, or even a You Tube channel. But don't forget that it's still a book proposal, and other books will remain your largest competition.
Every section of your proposal is important and you don’t want there to be any noticeable weak links.