Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dog Eat Dog or Not?

When you think about the 1,000,000 books published last year and the 1,000,000 more that will be published this year, do you feel like you’re fighting the tide? You want your book to succeed, but it is literally one of a million. Even with approximately 230 million book readers in US, the competition for book sales is tough. We can’t help but envy authors who are selling more books than we are. Or can we?

I would like to submit that this envy is a result of having the wrong attitude. Imagine, if you will, that you are a rancher with many head of cattle. It is a cold winter day, so you have to go around and break the ice to give the cattle something to drink. You go to work doing that, but your son decides he will help. Of the ten watering troughs, you break the ice in three, but he rushes around and is able to get to seven. Do you envy him because he accomplished more than you? Of course not. The cattle will have water either way and you can get out of the cold sooner.

Suppose we looked at publishing in the same way. What do we hope to accomplish when we write? Are we just looking for something people will pay us for or are we hoping to influence people in some way? If we’re hoping for money, publishing isn’t the place to be, but if we want people to be influenced, it shouldn’t matter whether our words are what influence them are the words of another. I think this is especially true in non-fiction, but it applies across the board. Non-fiction author Marla Taviano recently guest posted on literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog about cooperative promotion efforts involving her and Kathi Lipp, but I think there is more to it than writer friends helping each other out to sell more books. The most important question we should be asking is what we want to accomplish in the reader community and what other writers are hoping to accomplish the same thing. They may appear to be our greatest competition, but we’re trying to accomplish the same thing, aren’t they our ally instead?

If my goal is to teach readers how to do something, but another writer has already written something along those lines, it may make my life easier. Instead of spending my time writing a book, I can point them to the book that is already out there and accomplish the same thing. While I may not make money from doing that, the higher goal is still accomplished. The same is true of novels. If my goal is for readers to be entertained with a certain type of story, it makes sense for me to point them to that type of story written by another author.