There's an old saying that to be successful you have to stop obsessing about the competition. I agree with that to a certain degree, but to not be aware of what other folks in your industry are doing is never a smart idea.
Regardless of what you write or the business you are in, you need to be dialed into the competitive landscape. Knowing what others in your market are doing, writing about, and promoting can be key to your success as well. Not that I would ever encourage copying, but being in tune with your market can be a fantastic idea generator, not to mention it gives you the ability to stay ahead of certain trends that haven't even surfaced at the consumer level yet.
Many times I see authors, even savvy business people who write books, totally unaware of the market or other books that are out there. I think this is a big mistake. When I was first in business I studied the market, the books as well as other people in the industry. It helps you to also differentiate yourself from them in products, services, and pricing. It's something I still do to this day. Again, you don't want to copy, you just want to be aware. Another lesser known reason for doing this is that if you're struggling with your social media - both from the aspect of what platform to be on to what to say to drive more engagement - keeping these folks on your radar will greatly increase your marketing ideas, too. I'll expand more on that in the points below.
Living in a vacuum never made anyone successful. Here are some strategies for keeping your ear to the ground when it comes to your market.
Google search: First up is the pretty basic online search of who else is in your industry. If you're in business you want to know other businesses that are out there. If you're an author, whether it's fiction or non-fiction, you want to know who else is writing on your topic. Now let me tell you a little secret about this search. The results will not just turn up names and book titles but also show you the best ways to interact with your consumer. Let me explain. Let's say you're searching on the top books on natural healthcare and you find that page one of Google is packed with names of authors who write about this topic. As you begin to compile your list I want you to do one thing: ignore big brands because it's likely that they can do anything they want and still be successful. If you're a thriller writer, names like Stephen King and Dean Koontz come to mind. These authors are big, powerful brands. You want the smaller names, the people you may not immediately recognize. Why? Because they have to try harder. If tomorrow King decided to put out a book on poetry, while his fans might be surprised they would likely still buy it. But if a lesser-known author did that they'd look like they have writer-ADD.
So start putting your list together, as you do I want you to sign up for their mailings lists, and follow them on Twitter and any other social media site they use. Aside from the obvious reasons why you want to do this, I'm a big fan of supporting other authors in my market. Share their Facebook updates, retweet their great Twitter posts, etc. One of the hidden gems of this research is it will also show you what social media sites to be on. If you've been struggling to figure out where your market resides, this exercise should really clear that up for you. Why? Because if you're plucking names off of the first page of Google you know one thing: whatever they are doing to show up in search, they're doing it right. Google has made so many changes to their search algorithms that you simply can't "trick" the system anymore to get onto page one. You have to do all the right things vis-a-vis content and online outreach. Look at their updates. What are they sharing and why? How often do they blog? Are they on LinkedIn instead of Facebook? Is there much going on for them on Pinterest? Really spend some time with this. Not only will it help you tune into your market but it will cut your learning curve by half, if not more.
Bookstore Research: While I love Amazon, I love our bookstores more. A recent BISAC study indicated that the majority of book awareness came from brick and mortar stores so we really need our bookstores, and, it's a good indicator of what's selling in your market. Bookstores typically won't stock something that isn't going to sell. Go to your genre and look at the shelf. But I want you to pay attention to the names you don't immediately recognize. Why? Because much like the big brand discussion above, it's easy for a big name to get shelf space. It's a lot harder for an unknown to do this unless they have some marketing muscle behind them or a good sales record. Take note of these titles and then buy a few of them. Why? This is part of your research (and I believe it's always nice to support your fellow author). What direction did they take with their particular topic and why? How can you improve upon the conversation? What can you say that's different? Take note of that. It could help you considerably when you're putting together your book.
News alerts: This is another must. You should get onto sites like Talkwalker.com and Mention.net and sign up for news alerts. Both of these sites have the flexibility of getting any update, even Twitter retweets if you want. It's up to you how deeply you want to dive into the research. But be aware where your competition is appearing. Not only is this a great way to stay tuned in, but keep a log of the blogs they've appeared on or news outlets that have featured them. These places could be targets for you, too. Keeping track of this for future pitching will save you a ton of time.
Reviews: Now is the time to comb through Amazon and look at the books in your market, but don't pay attention to the books. Instead I want you to read the reviews. What are readers saying about the books? What do they like, what don't they like and what would they have wanted more of? Granted, everyone has their own take on a particular topic but if you're reading through enough reviews you'll start to see a trend. This may be a trend that has yet to emerge in your market, or it could be a need that has yet to be filled. Could you fill that need with your next book?
Speaking: If the author(s) in question are going to be speaking or signing books at an event or location convenient to you, then by all means go. Again this is a great way to network and get to know other people in your market and it's also a nice show of support. I mean how would you feel if an industry partner dropped by one of your events? Pretty flattered, right? If the event is a talk, pay close attention to the questions the speaker gets at the end. Why? Audience questions are often the best way to generate new ideas for topics you could blog about, future books, or emerging trends.
Industry events: It used to be that I really didn't feel I could make the time to go to events I wasn't speaking at. I felt that I traveled so much already. I mean make time for another event that wasn't a mandatory attendance? Why? Because good industry events are almost always mandatory. Now I go to as many of them as I can. I'm not always right in my selection but I go and I figure that if I can eke out one piece of wisdom from the event, it was worth my time. Industry events are great places to meet some of the folks you've been following, do some networking and also: learn. I don't know about you but I find it hard to be successful if I'm not in a constant state of learning.
Spying is a catchy way of saying "do your research and stay tuned in." Regardless of what you call it, it's a mandatory part of being successful. It's also a great way to build connections. I have great respect for others in my market and I will often recommend much of what they offer to my own readers and customers. Why? Because I've spent a lot of time differentiating myself from them. Is Facebook your biggest challenge? Then make sure you find Amy Porterfield on Facebook. That girl rocks out on there and she has a ton of great books and programs that will make you a pro in no time. You want to know all there is to know about Google+? Follow Denise Wakeman on G+. She consistently has posts and experts on her page and on her live chats. Does she offer a service? Yes. Could someone hire Amy or Denise instead of me? Sure. The point is that it's sort of like the Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street. If you saw that movie you know that he was the Macy's Santa and would send parents to other stores where they could often find certain toys cheaper. He wanted to be helpful and make sure parents got the best deal possible. In the story it didn't end up putting Macy's out of business, in fact the exact opposite happened. People flocked there and the recommendations helped build a loyal following.
In the end that's what we all want: a loyal following. This isn't achieved by keeping blinders on or hoarding information. It's achieved by learning and sharing.
To learn more about Denise Wakeman, go here: http://denisewakeman.com/
To find follow Amy Porterfield, you can go here: http://www.amyporterfield.com/ or here: http://www.amyporterfield.com/ref?p=bookmkr&w=fbaw