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Question
I’m researching a nonfiction book.  What can I do to see what other books are already out on my topic?  

Answer
Thanks for asking MLB.  Your question directly addresses one of the most difficult components of a nonfiction book proposal.  The section is called 'Competition' and it should list anywhere up to ten books that are on the same topic, or close to it, as your book.

The resources to do this are:  any on line bookstore and a publication titled Subject Guide to Books in Print.  I'll start with the Subject Guide.  It is on-line but just like the old printed form, it's prohibitively expense to subscribe as an individual.  Check with your local library.  I've never found a library, not matter how small, that didn't have some way to access Subject Guide to Books in Print.  So, when you have access, here's what you do.  Let's say your book is on antique weathervanes.  So, in the Subject Guide, you'll look under weathervanes.  You'll also look under antique weathervanes.  And under just plain antiques.  You might even take a gander at collecting and collectibles.  In short, think of as many different ways to describe your topic and look them all up. When you find other books on your topic, record the title, author, publisher, city of publication, year of publication and ISBN.  I would only include on my list the books that were published in the last three years.  Anything older than that is probably woefully out of date.  So now you have a list of all the books out there on the topic of weathervanes.

Now go to an online bookstore, Amazon.com, Borders, Waldens, etc.  Search for the title of each book on your list and read the descriptions that come up and any reviews that are listed.  For each one, note how your book is different, hence better!  If, god forbid, you do find a book that is exactly like yours, go back to the drawing board and see what you can add to yours to make it different.  Remember, the best selling type of book is the cook book.  And I'd certainly think we have enough of them!  But they just keep getting published.  So, the fact that there may already be a book out on your topic shouldn't discourage you.  Find a new slant, or twist, on the topic.

This does take time, MLB, but it's worth it!  You'll make serious, big time points with the editors and agents if you already know what your competition is and how to make your book better.

Good luck!  If, and only if, you feel my answer was helpful, please consider filling out the review below.

Liz Aleshire
Private Lives of Ministers' Wives
www.lizaleshire.com  

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Liz Aleshire

Expertise

What is a book proposal and why do I need one? Do I need a book proposal for both nonfiction and fiction books? How do I write a book proposal? What are the required components of a book proposal? What is an overview? What is a synopsis? How do I find out what other books are available on my topic so I can make my book different? How do I pitch to an agent/publisher? What's a query letter? What's a 30-second commercial?

Experience

I am the author of four nonfiction books: Private Lives of Ministers' Wives (with Rev. Sherry Taylor,New Horizon Press, New Jersey, 1991)and currently working on a second edition; Bugs: Stingers, Suckers, Sweeties, Swingers (a FRanklin Watts Frist Book, Chicago, 1993); The Confident Collector Identification and Price Guid to Quilts (with Kathleen Barach, Avon Books, NY, 1992); and, Official Price Guide to Quilts 2nd edition(with Kathleen Barach, Random House, NY, 2003.) I've taught How to Write the Book Proposal for the past ten years at the week long International Women's Writing Guild annual summer conference, and, at the Manchester Community College Continuing Education program. I've taught in many local continuing education programs in central Connecticut. Five authors have sold books using my methods for writing the book proposal. I have spoken at the Big Apple Conference, an IWWG event held in NYC; both Connecticut chapters of the Romance Writer's of America other writing conferences

Organizations
Internation Women's Writing Guild, past associate member American Society of Journalists and Authors

Publications
Books for New Horizon Press. NJ; Franklin Watts (Now Scolastic)Danbury, CT; Avon Books, NYC; and, Random House, NYC

Education/Credentials
B.A in Economics from the University of Connecticut

Past/Present clients
Carren Strock, author Married Women Who Love Women; Doris Larson, travel writer, Ohio; MaryLou Streznewsi author Gifted Grownups.

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