© 2020 by Sarah Barnum / TrailBlaze Writing & Editing

Grass Valley, CA

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Comparison for a Cause

Updated: Mar 10


One of my favorite things about visiting my parents is sitting and talking with Daddy in his man cave. He’s converting a corner of the detached garage into a recording studio— amidst cinderblock walls, Grandpa’s old tools, and Momma’s shelves of household storage. Standing next to the bookcase, a silver microphone towers over computer monitors, boxy speakers, and a keyboard. Normally Daddy shows or plays me what he’s been working on, and today it’s old music he’s been archiving. Mixed in with some of his own songs is Steven Curtis Chapman’s song “Dive”—one of his favorites. He punches the play button and leans back in his chair.

“I wish I’d written this.”

His voice is filled with admiration, and I can relate. For me it’s like reading a perfectly crafted sentence, or a well-written book, and thinking I wish I could write like that or I wish I’d had that idea. But my motives aren’t as pure. Alongside the admiration is envy, driven by comparison—my constant companion. In my insecure moments, comparison sucks the creativity out of my soul. I’ve often asked myself, what do I have to say that hasn’t already been said, and said better than I could say it? If you’re seeking publication, that is a legitimate question. If you, like me, have a tendency to compare, put comparison to work to determine what makes your project unique, and consider the following:

1. What category does your book fit in? In order to compare your book to its appropriate competitors, you need to identify what category it would be classified in. Browse your local bookstore to get an idea of the categories. They are often listed just above the barcode. Here are some examples from my bookshelf:

Boundaries in Marriage by Dr. Henry Coud and Dr. John Townsend

RELIGION / Christian Life / Love & Marriage

The Power of the Herd by Linda Kohanov

HORSES / Personal Growth / Business

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

SELF-HELP / Motivational & Inspirational

2. Who are you competing with? Once you’ve identified your categories, let the comparison begin. Go on Amazon and find comparable books to yours. Are they selling well? How is your book different? This kind of market research can help focus your writing and will also be a necessary part of your book proposal.

3. What’s your angle? While you can be inspired by other works you’ve read, in order to catch the eye of a publisher (and a reader), your book needs to offer a new, fresh spin that makes it marketable. How is your book about marriage different than the hundreds of books on marriage already out there? Perhaps yours targets a specific audience, such as single parents who have remarried after the loss of a spouse. Maybe your cancer memoir is set apart from the rest because it focuses on your spiritual journey rather than the treatment of cancer itself. Maybe your tech book is marketed to baby-boomers while others on the market are geared toward millennials. What unique story or experience do you have that others don’t?

If you’re feeling discouraged by a lack of marketability or innovation in your writing, keep in mind that it may be just for you, or your family, and that is just as valid as being published. And be encouraged—no one else has been in your head or experienced your life. Maybe they can say the same thing, but they can’t say it in your voice. Your voice is yours and yours only, and that’s something worth sharing.

The rest of the songs that Daddy played for me were all his—original and distinctively his. And his voice is dearer to me than all the others. Who knows? There’s probably someone out there who has heard his song and said, “I wish I’d written that.”


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