76. Writing a Book That Competes with the Best

It can be intimidating to write a book in the same category as one some super successful author seems to already dominate.

In this episode, I walk you through why another book’s success in your category can actually make it easier for you to write and even sell your book.

For more writing tips and inspiration, follow me on Instagram @candiceldavis.

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Episode Transcript

Hey there and welcome to Nothing but the Words. I’m your author coach, Candice L Davis.

I hope your week and your writing are going well.

I’ve just returned from a retreat for the board members of a nonprofit organization I serve and we spent a lot of time talking about books.

One of my friends wondered whether you should write a book if you think someone else already owns the category.

And my answer was a very clear yes.

In this episode, I’m going to tell you why it doesn’t matter if someone else owns the topic you want to write about, why that can actually be a good thing, and how to write the book well anyway.

First, let’s start with the fact that just because you think an author owns a category doesn’t mean they’re actually dominating it.

Some people look like they’re the thought leader of choice on a topic because they’re constantly putting themselves and their book out there.

But sometimes, “out there” is only in front of a specific community.

Don’t get me wrong. There are certain people who definitely come to mind when you think of a subject.

When I think of habits, James Clear, who wrote “Atomic Habits,” and BJ Fogg, who wrote “Tiny Habits” definitely come to mind.

These two gentlemen are huge in their field. “Atomic Habits” has been on the New York Times best seller list for something crazy like 96 weeks. That’s almost 2 years!

So why should anyone else write a book about habits?

Let’s start with the fact that Mr. Clear’s success is a clear indicator that people have a deep interest in this subject.

Some percentage of people who bought his book are also going to look for other books on the subject.

That’s what readers do. They read multiple books on the same subject.

And let’s be honest. Most people don’t get 100% of the results they want from the first book they read.

That might be a problem of failing to implement, but the bottom line is they don’t get the results, so they look for another resource.

In the early years of my writing career, I probably read two dozen books on writing.

And to this day I still buy and read new books on writing.

In the last decade, I’ve read no less than 20 books on healthy eating. I want a variety of perspectives so I can figure out what works for me and my family.

One of those books hitting bestseller status didn’t stop me from buying all the other books.

Finding a book that seems like the go-to resource in your field can be intimidating.

You might think you shouldn’t bother writing your own book because this person has clearly said everything that needs to be said. But that would be your mind trying to protect you from the possibility of failure, and in this case, your mind would be wrong.

Some people will read the go-to book and still want more.

And for some people, the go-to book won’t even resonate. They won’t connect with it, won’t think it’s for them, and won’t buy it.

They’re looking for something else, and that something else might be exactly what you bring to the discussion.

If I were coaching a client who wanted to write a book on Habits, a category that seems to be totally owned by these authors, here’s what I would say.

Take a sheet of paper or a document and divide it into two sections, Same and Different.

Read these two most popular books on habits.

Read them all the way through.

And as you read, take note, in detail of your thoughts on these author’s philosophies and recommendations.

Note what you agree with and what you disagree with.

Note where your processes are different. They may be completely different or they may be similar, but it’s important that you’re aware of where they align and where they diverge.

Note where your experience is different from each author’s experience and where it’s similar.

By experience, I mean all of your experience, including your education, your experimentation, your professional experience, like coaching clients around habits, and your personal experience in creating helpful habits or eliminating habits that no longer serve you.

Some of this is as basic as your demographics. Your gender identity, sexual orientation, neurodiversity, ethnicity, religion or spiritual practice, or whatever you believe makes your experience in the world different in some way from these author’s experience.

I can promise you my experience living in America as a Black woman is different from BJ Fogg’s and James Clear’s experiences. There are some readers who want to learn about habits from someone who has a background similar to their own because they feel more understood by or connected with that author who’s more like them.

Maybe they’ll read Mr. Clear’s book and maybe they won’t, but they’ll still be looking for a book written by someone who reflects an experience similar to their own.

Even if you and the authors at the top of your category have a lot in common on the surface level of your demographics—say, you’re all straight, white, cis, married, non-religious women with children—I guarantee you there are some differences.

Dig a little deeper. Where did you grow up? How did you grow up? What are your values? Do you have a spiritual practice that influences your work? What are your personal interests that might make an appearance in this book?

Trust me. There are differences between who you are and who those authors are even if you look the same on a census report.

Pay attention to the objective of each author’s book. What result are they trying to create for their readers? And what results do you want to create? Where are they the same and where do they differ?

Who are these authors talking to and who will you intentionally reach with your book?

How do they present their material, and how can you present yours differently?

Your book doesn’t have to be completely different from the other books on the same topic. It’s almost impossible that it will be.

If you’re writing a memoir, there’s a better than average chance that you and every other author in your category had some successes and some failures, overcame some obstacles, and experienced heartbreak and elation along the way.

If you’re writing as a subject-matter expert, you’ll cover some of the same points.

If you’re writing a more prescriptive book, like personal or professional development, you’re probably going to have some overlap in the advice you give and the advice other authors share.

That’s fine. It’s to be expected.

It’s up to you to make sure your book stands out in a crowded field.

With a little research and thought, you’ll have no problem achieving that goal.

That’s all for this episode, my friends.

For more writing tips and inspiration, follow me on Instagram @candiceldavis.

Thanks for listening to Nothing but the Words. I’m Your Author Coach, Candice L Davis. And I’ll see you next time.

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