Why does everything seem to just work for some authors?
There you are slaving away, hustling to get each and every Twitter follower, Facebook like and, well, let’s not even talk about book sales.
You know your books are good, just as good as those successful authors’ books.
But while their fans are falling over themselves to pre-order every title they release, you don’t have any fans to even speak of.
The difference between you and your competition is they already know who their readers are, where they hang out, what they like, and how to talk to them.
These are all things you have been trying to figure out, but why not learn who your most successful competitors are and leverage what they’re doing instead?
As Sun Tzu said (paraphrasing), “Know your enemy and know yourself and you will always be victorious.”
In this article, you’ll learn:
- Each step to learning about your competitors and how they succeed
- Free methods and tools to gauge the strength of your competitors
- How to leverage this information for your gain
Identify Who Your Competitors Are
Before you can begin leveraging your competition, you need to find out who your competitors are, if you don’t know already.
Knowing your competition is important for all sorts of reasons – pricing, book descriptions, and query letters, if you’re going down the route of finding an agent or publisher. It can also be a great way to figure out who you can network with and grow together.
Now, some of you might already know who your competitors are, but here are three extra steps to help you dig deeper and find more:
1. Amazon’s Also Bought List
Use Amazon’s ‘Also bought’ results to show books that are potentially similar to yours. This is why you need the book to be reasonably popular. If your sci-fi book has only sold one copy so far to a lady who bought it for herself along with a book about kittens for her granddaughter, the ‘also bought’ section is not going to be helpful. Read descriptions and even a few reviews to help you decide if a suggested book really is a good fit for a comp.
2. Goodreads Recommendations and Best Lists
Next, head for Goodreads. You can use Goodreads’ ‘Recommendations’ or look for lists made up by readers that place comparable books together. I logged into Goodreads and clicked on Lists, and under ‘Lists with recent activity’ I discovered this excellent example of a very specific list: Best BBW Plus-Size Heroine Romance Books. If this is your genre, you’ll no doubt find some comps in there…Here's a complete guide on how to use Goodreads to sell more books.
3. Forums and Librarians
If you fail to find the ideal comps at either Amazon or Goodreads, take your search offline. Speak to booksellers or librarians, as they may know the perfect comp for you. You can also go to your genre’s forums
Gauge the Strength of Your Competitors
Now that you have found a handful of competitors, it’s time to discover how powerful they are. You want to know where they are active and how well they are doing.
There are four places you need to look to gather information about your competitors:
- Amazon – what can this retail giant tell you about how popular your competitor author’s books are?
- Their website – how well does your competitor author’s site rank and does it get much search traffic?
- Social networks – how engaged are your comp author’s fans?
- Google – what other juicy details can a Google search reveal?
P.S. In case you want to be organized as you do the below research on each competitor, I’ve created a spreadsheet that will really help. You’ll see in each step, I’ve labeled which column goes where.
Let’s go through each step. At the end, I’ll also tell you which column each piece of information should go if you’re using my above excel sheet.
Step 1: Checking Their Amazon Power
Total Number of Books on Amazon
This gives you an idea of how prolific the author is, especially in a specific genre or topic. More books means the author either has more emails or clout in the industry. (This is column C of the spreadsheet.)
How to find the number of books available:
- Go to the author’s Amazon Author Page by clicking on their hyperlinked name on the book’s sales page.
- Scroll to the bottom of the page to where you can click to go to the ‘next page.’ You want to go to the last page.
- Scroll back up to the top and look for where it tells you how many books are shown on the page. For example: “Books by Cynthia Sax. Showing 65 – 73 of all Results Books.”
- Take that final number and put it into your spreadsheet. In this example, it’s “73”.
This is the number of reviews the author has gathered for this particular book. It’s worth noting both the number of reviews gathered and the average rating. The reviews will not only give you an idea of how much readers have enjoyed the book, but a large number of reviews also suggests that the author has a loyal fan base and/or a good marketing strategy in place to ensure they gather reviews. (Column D)
How to find the number of reviews:
- Go to the book’s sales page on Amazon.
- Click on the hyperlinked number of customer reviews next to the star rating under the book’s title.
- This will take you to the reviews section of the sales page and show you both the number of reviews and the average rating.
Amazon Bestseller Rank
This can give you an idea of a book’s popularity, at least in the eyes of Amazon. Rank is hugely important as a higher ranking means Amazon will give a book more visibility, which will result in more sales and an even higher ranking, and the cycle continues. (Column E)
How to find best sellers rank:
- Go to the book’s sales page on Amazon.
- Scroll down to the Product Details section. At the bottom of the list of details will be the book’s overall rank and its rank in various categories.
Note: In the spreadsheet, I included only the overall ranking, as it’s easy to compare like-for-like. However, you should take note of the specific categories your competitors are listed in as it could influence decisions about what categories to use for your own titles. Some categories will be easier to rank in than others (which you can hear me talk about in this interview).
Daily Book Sales
Knowing how many books are being sold can give you an idea not only of their popularity, but also how much money the author is making from them and therefore how successful their author business is. (Column F)
How to figure out how many sales a book is making:
- Go to the book’s sales page on Amazon
- Find its Amazon Best Sellers Rank
- Copy and paste this number into the Kindlepreneur KDP calculator.
Amazon Author Rank is another useful metric that can tell you how powerful Amazon considers authors to be compared to other authors of the genre or niche. It is based on the sales of all of an author’s books on Amazon.com and is updated every hour.
An author who has published a large number of books will generally have a better author rank than an author who has only published one or two. Of course, that depends on how well the books are selling.
This is a beta feature and not currently available for all Amazon sites, such as Amazon.co.uk. It also only lists the Top 100 for each category. Authors can find their own Amazon Author Rank in Author Central. (Column G)
How to find an author’s Author Rank:
- First, go to Amazon.com
- Do a search for the author’s name and click on it, this should take you to their Amazon Author Page.
- Scroll down to the Author Rank section (will only appear if they are ranked in the top 100) and you will see their overall rank, as well as their rank for each category they are ranking in.
Note: To find the biggest players in your niche, even if they aren’t direct competition, go to https://www.amazon.com/author-rank and select your genre.
Step 2: Checking Their Website’s Reach
Author Website Design
After going to an author’s website, check to see how professional it is. Is the design amazing or rudimentary? How well do they present themselves–it is an indication of the author’s level of resources and commitment to the trade.
Since this is a very subjective value, I like to give each website a grade between 1-10, with one being super sad, and 10 being the greatest website you’ve ever seen. (Column H)
What to look for on an author’s website:
- Are they using a WordPress.com or free Content Management System (CMS)? (You can figure this out by looking at their URL. A free WordPress.com website will have something like “Author.WordPress.com.” This is indicative of a less than professional author. However, if their URL is DaveChesson.com, then you know they are more professional.)
- Do they have an email optin that shows up?
- Do they share their social media metrics or anything impressive on their site?
- How professional does it look?
- How well do they present their books?
- How many genres or topics does their website represent? Or is it just the one?
- Do they have a contact me page?
- Do they have a disclaimer page or users agreement? This is actually necessary these days, but many don’t do it.
- Do they blog or post articles on the website? Or is it just one page to showcase their efforts?
- Check their website on your smartphone. Is it mobile friendly, meaning does it look good there too?
These are several questions to ask yourself. But in the end, just ask yourself, how professional does this look?
Know a successful author in your niche? Analyze + Replicate = Your Own Success. #WritersLifeClick To Tweet
Traffic (Global Rank)
A beautiful website means nothing if no one visits it. Knowing how much traffic a competitor’s website is getting tells you how popular it is. A good flow of traffic means the website is likely doing something to attract readers, so that would make it one worth studying. (Column I)
How to figure out how much traffic a website gets:
- Go to SimilarWeb.com.
- Enter the URL you want to check.
- Look at the number for traffic as well as where it is coming from.
- Here is a great video Dave Chesson created showing you how to do this: How does THAT author's website get traffic?
Traffic stats are one way to find out how popular a website is, and a Domain Authority (DA) score is another. DA is an indicator of influence, at least in Google’s eyes. It is a search engine ranking score from 1-1,000 that can tell you how well a website will rank on search engine result pages. A website’s DA increases when really good websites point or link to it. A high DA score is, therefore, a very good indicator of influence. (Column J)
How to find the DA score for your comp authors:
- Go to Open Site Explorer.
- Enter the URL you want to check.
- See the website’s DA score and also any inbound links.
A good rule of thumb is a DA of 30 or greater means it’s pretty powerful – especially for an author’s website. Kindlepreneur is a 46.
Step 3: How Large is Their Social Presence
Social Authority reveals how influential someone is on Twitter, regardless of how many followers they have, because SA takes into account the influence a user’s Twitter followers have. If someone is followed by Neil Gaiman, for example, that will be more meaningful than 1,000 followers with much lower influence (Column K).
How to figure out someone’s SA score:
- Go to FollowerWonk.
- Enter the Twitter handle you want to check.
- See the SA score after the number of followers and following.
It’s useful to know where your competitor authors are hanging out online, as that’s most likely where their readers are hanging out and therefore where you should be too. No one can manage more than a couple of social accounts well, so checking where your competitors are will help you decide which networks to be active on and which to ditch (Columns L to Y).
How to find the social profiles of your competitors:
- Try typing the author’s name into the search box on each platform, but know this doesn’t always reliably bring up the correct person, particularly if they’re using an unusual username.
- Look for social follow buttons on the author’s website. This should also tell you straight away which channels they are actively using, which can save you unnecessary time searching.
Any marketer can tell you that follower numbers on social media are merely vanity metrics – a large following is good to have, but tells you very little. Far more important is engagement. I highly recommend that you spend some time watching your comps on their website and social networks. This sounds a bit creepy, but all you want to know is how frequently they are posting, do they share other people’s content, and how many times do people like or share their posts? You will soon get a good idea of how engaged their followers are.
How to assess engagement:
- BuzzSumo can tell you which content has been most popular on any website and will show you the number of shares it’s had on social media. The free version will only show you the top few posts, but this should be enough to tell you what blog content your comps’ followers love.
- Check to see how often they are adding content to their blog and if they publish guest posts; this could come in useful when deciding who to pitch guest posts to.
- Look to see if they receive many comments on their blog. This isn’t such a good indicator as it was a few years ago. Many bloggers have switched off comments due to unmanageable levels of spam, while others have found that comments have naturally migrated to social channels. So, a lack of comments doesn’t necessarily mean a blog is performing poorly. However, if it has many comments, and especially if the blogger is responding to the comments, that suggests a highly engaged and tight-knit community.
- Do your comps have mailing lists? Popular blogs that have thousands of email subscribers will often tell you how many subscribers they have (although, there’s no telling whether the number is accurate), but most won’t and there’s no way to find out. But, if they have a good sign up incentive and multiple and obvious opt-in forms, that tells you they are actively collecting emails. If your research also suggests they get plenty of traffic, there’s a good chance they have a decent sized list. Growing an email list is one of the most important things an author can do, so an author with a good sized list is in a powerful position.
Note: There’s no column for engagement in the spreadsheet, but you could easily add one or make some general notes depending on what you find.
Step 4. How to Gauge your Competitor’s Strength on Google
The final step for checking how powerful an author is is a basic Google search. When I was carrying out my research on my example author for the spreadsheet template, Mina Carter, I discovered that she is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. That seems relevant to note.
I first spotted this on her Facebook cover image, but it wasn’t made obvious on her website. So, always keep your eyes open! Another indication of results is if you type in their name, but you don’t see anything of theirs show up, then this is a sign they don’t have much of a presence (Column Z).
How to search on Google:
- Type the author’s name into Google. If it’s a common name or there is another well-known person with the same name, try adding ‘author’ to your search or their book title.
- The results should reveal whether your comp author has been featured in any online news pieces. Add anything noteworthy to the Notes column in your spreadsheet.
I highly recommend you record all the details you learn about your competitors in a spreadsheet. There are no difficult calculations involved, but you want to be able to compare your authors at a glance, just like in my free, downloadable example.
For my spreadsheet, I included books by three romantic science fiction authors: Mina Carter, Cynthia Sax, and Grace Goodwin. I have no connection with these authors or their books; they were chosen at random for illustrative purposes only.
Note: I am in the UK and used Amazon.co.uk for my research, so the numbers may vary. Also bear in mind that Amazon rankings change frequently and may be drastically different by the time you’re reading this.
Most authors will pick one particular metric to compare themselves against, but by looking at the numbers in the spreadsheet, it’s easy to see that this can be a dangerous thing to do. Each author has particular strengths and it would be foolish not to look at the whole picture.
I have sorted the examples in the sheet by Domain Authority, as this is the metric that tells you which author is the most powerful in the eyes of Google. However, most authors primarily sell books through Amazon, not their website, so Amazon metrics are very important. If I had Author Rank info for these authors, I would definitely sort the sheet by Author Rank instead.
With your own spreadsheet, you should also use some judgment to decide which author is most powerful. For example, an author who is crushing it on YouTube but has low DA and SA scores may not seem very influential. But if you are also trying to grow a YouTube following, that may make them of greater importance to you.
Cynthia Sax, at the top of my list, has the worst Amazon ranking out of the three examples. But with 70 books available, she probably has a higher ranking for other books. Although only one book may be your perfect comp, you need to look at how prolific an author is to get a sense of how influential they may be.
Grace Goodwin, on the other hand, is selling nearly 100 books a day but has far fewer books available in total. Looking at her stats, it may be beneficial to connect with her on Twitter and maybe get a retweet from her, but she wouldn’t be the best bet for a guest post perhaps due to her low DA score.
It’s difficult to draw too many conclusions from just three authors and three books. I recommend you have at least 5-10 in your spreadsheet. If these were my real competitors, I would be taking a much closer look at how well their other books were selling to get a better idea of who was strongest overall on Amazon.
Looking at the whole spreadsheet, I would say Mina Carter is the most powerful competitor. She is a prolific author, her DA and SA scores are not far behind Cynthia Sax’s, and she has more Twitter and Facebook followers. Plus, she is active on more social channels, giving her a wider reach, and her website design is by far the best out of the three.
If these were my competitors, I would want to connect with Mina to find ways to either work with her or get in front of her readers with a guest post.
What to Do With The Information You Gather
Carrying out your own research will provide you with a wealth of information about your competitors and will reveal just how powerful they are compared to you and to each other.
At the beginning of this post, I explained how knowing your competitors can level the playing field and allow you to leverage the success of your competition. Let’s see how you can go about this.
It’s important to look at where each of your competitors is strongest and how you can take advantage of that. Then you can divide your list of comps into those you want to respectfully emulate and those you want to work with.
Remember, competition doesn’t always have to be a bad thing – think co-opetition. Study their audience and how they interact with them, what they are doing right, and what they could do better. Use this information to aid your own book marketing and platform building efforts and you’ll soon be reaping the rewards.
For the competitive author that sells well:
Study their Amazon listing to see what you can learn from it and be sure to join their mailing list to see how they engage with their fans and promote their books to their list.
For competitive authors that don’t have great visibility:
These can become very useful author partners. By working with similar level authors, you can leverage each other’s email lists and social followings or collaborate on a box set and jointly promote it.
For the author that has a good DA score and plenty of web traffic:
Study their website to see what you can improve on your own site. This would also be a good author to pitch a guest post to -> like I did with Dave’s website. A guest post would put you directly in front of their readers, who are also your target readers.
For the authors with the best Social Authority scores:
Analyze what they are doing, where they’re doing it, and who their readers are. If they are active on Twitter and Instagram, you should be on those channels too. Use some of the same hashtags they use and share similar content to what their followers prefer. Leverage what you know about their readers to grow your own platform.
Don’t get me wrong, you’re not trying to turn into this person or directly copy what they’re doing; you have something unique to offer and no one is going to fall for a copycat Stephen King, for example. But look at what the information you gathered tells you about your competitor's readers. These are your potential readers, so make use of what you’ve learned.Don't recreate the wheel. Learn from your successful competitors to get more author success. Find out how:Click To Tweet
Your most powerful comps have already done the work to find their target readers. They know which social channels are most effective for them and what blog topics to write about. It’s never ok to copy another author, whether that’s their writing or their book marketing, but it is ok to be a little bit savvy about following their lead to save yourself hours of work.
You now have the tools you need to set about finding your most powerful competition. There is a lot of research to do, but remember the effort you put in here will save you a great deal of time and energy in the long run wondering who your readers are and how to reach them.
About The Author: Belinda Griffin
Belinda Griffin is a book marketing coach helping indie authors connect with readers so they can achieve greater book exposure and sales without experiencing overwhelm or burn out. Belinda runs SmartAuthorsLab, where writers can learn about book marketing and building an author platform – grab your FREE guide: How to get your book noticed with fantastic results! Follow Belinda on Twitter @SmartAuthors.