Yesterday I wrote a little bit about success, and how you get to define it yourself. And that poked a little bit into this weird sort of competitiveness that some authors seem to be exhibiting.
Competition. I don’t like that word. Never have. It tastes like mud-covered pennies, feels brash and angry against my skin. Not that it’s a bad thing, it keeps our economic engines running, it drives us forward, makes us better, stronger, faster, bionic. Hell, it’s essential to survival.
I don’t have a problem with competition. I have a problem with when it brings out the worst in people.
I’ve been asked a few times about authors competing against other authors. As though we step into bookstores, producing katanas and claymores from beneath long coats, screaming “There can be only one!” and angrily turning each other’s books sideways on the shelves.
Look at some of the recent bad author behavior and you’ll see exactly that. They’re writing their own reviews. Trashing other writers’ books. Sock-puppetry they’re calling it. But that sounds so friendly, so comfortable. Socks are fuzzy, they’re warm. What’s wrong with a good sock?
No, I think Dick Puppetry is more accurate. That’s what they’re doing, isn’t it? Swinging their dicks around, trying to show who’s got the bigger one? “Look at my turgid member!” they cry. “Behold its FIVE STAR girth!”
In reality they’re pumping it up themselves. Self-fluffing, as it were. Which is actually pretty impressive when you think about the gymnastics they have to go through to suck their own cocks. They need multiple names. They need untraceable email aliases. They have to be vigilant to not leave their snail tracks of deceit where others can find them.
And it’s all because they think they’re competing. And for them, yeah, they are. They think that if they can wipe out the competition they’ll be King of The Amazon, and it’ll all be unicorns and handjobs from there on out.
But they’re wrong.
How many books do you read a year? Ten? Twenty? And how many books are available by your favorite authors? Three? Five? Ten? And when you’re done with those what are you going to do?
That’s right. You’re going to pick up another book. Now there’s an argument that if you see a bunch of one star reviews for a book you’ll stay away from it. Fair enough. But there’s still a lot out there that don’t have that.
There will always be more books to read.
Now you could talk about competing for shelf space at your local B&N, and I could see your point. But that’s out of the author’s hands. That’s all marketing, bribery and blowjobs. And with so many things on line it’s irrelevant.
Kinda like genre labels, but that’s a conversation for next week.
So, here’s an idea for all those thinking that books are Thunderdome.
Stop competing. It’s pointless. You’re not selling tires. You’re not defending your street corner so you can blow sailors for candy bars and small change. It’s a fucking book, not snake oil. Enough with the hard sell and pissy antics.
Instead, write the best book you can, let people know it’s out there. Yes, market it. Sound your barbaric yawp. You wrote a goddamn book. Be proud. People should know about it. How the hell else are they going to read it?
Talk about somebody else’s book.
Praise the work you like. Wave it around like a drunken gibbon. Say, “Hey, this Chris F. Holm guy is pretty awesome!” Or, “These books by Kim Curran and Emma Newman sound fantastic!” Or “Have you ever read Dan O’Shea? His stuff rocks!” Or, “That Saladin Ahmed knows a thing or two about writing.” And “That Chuck Wendig is one sick motherfucker and why is he naked, covered in feces and coming after me with a machete?”
Because if there’s any secret to publishing success, it’s this. You cannot do it alone.
If you’re praising the books you like, and the next guy is doing the same, and the guy next to him and the guy next to him, and everybody’s doing this big circle jerk of “Look at these awesome books,” the message gets out. The signal gets boosted. Word of mouth is a better seller than anything else.
Though I’m sure that some will argue with me on this, publishing is a business that thrives on the idea that the rising tide lifts all boats. Books that do well pull other books up with them.
A kick-ass PI novel is going to leave its readers hungry for more kick-ass PI novels. So if you’ve written a kick-ass PI novel, guess what?
As writers, or artists, or performers or whatever sort of creative you are I want you to succeed. Not only because it’s in my best interest, because getting the idea across that art has value is good for everybody, but also because I love seeing new things.
Unless you’re making a clown suit out of dead prostitutes. Stop that. Really. That’s not cool.
There is enough room for all of the stories and all of the music and all of the art. As creatives we are all in this together.
And it’s up to us to watch each other’s backs.
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