Are Other Authors Your Competition? (You Bet Your Sweet Ass They Are.)

I'm currently in the process of preparing to move my family across the world, and that involves me driving my wife around while she gets shit done. She doesn't drive, and I don't have the Korean language skills to get shit done in this country.

So while she's been running around talking to doctors and teachers and insurance agents and movers and my former employers, I've been doing a lot of sitting in the car and screwing around on Facebook.

I'll usually click on an interesting-looking post about writing, especially if it's about self-publishing. One nigh-universally shared opinion I've seen come up a lot recently in blogs and crappy writer's memes is that writers are not in competition with each other.

And, as with many beliefs commonly shared by unsuccessful people, there are kernels of truth buried deep inside steaming piles of  horseshit.

Translation: "I will kick another writer's mom in the nuts for a good review."

Translation: "I will kick another writer's mom in the nuts for a good review."

It's a nice sentiment, but completely divorced from reality. Of course we're in competition with each other. Buying and reading a book is an investment in money and time. Unless the target demographic you're writing for is gazillionaire vampires, your potential audience is limited in both.

Is your book at the top of every bestseller list in your genre? Is it even in the top 100? If not, you're losing valuable exposure real estate, with which you might otherwise be acquiring new readers. Who are you losing these spots to? Pirates and Visigoths?

"We shall slaughter every man, woman, and child until we are ranked #1 in Bear Porn!"

"We shall slaughter every man, woman, and child until we are ranked #1 in Bear Porn!"

No. You're losing them to competing writers.

The same goes for snagging agents, six-figure advances, movie deals, high-end hookers, mountains of blow... you get the idea. There's only so much literary success to go around, and with the exceptions of a few outliers, I'm willing to bet that the lion's share of the success goes to the writers who understand, and are willing to accept and adapt to, certain truths.

Another argument I've read is that the real competition comes from TV and video games and snorkling and all that other shit people do that isn't reading. There's one of those kernels of truth.

But if a possum and a hobo are squaring off in a Burger King dumpster over a half-eaten cheeseburger, and a grizzly bear comes along and also takes an interest in said cheeseburger, does that mean that the possum and the hobo aren't in competition anymore? Of course not. It just means that the possum and the hobo need to work that much harder to convince the cheeseburger that...

"Give me a minute. There's a better analogy in here somewhere."

"Give me a minute. There's a better analogy in here somewhere."

Whatever. We're competing. That's the way it is. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Not at all!

All of the awesome stuff you have in your life today are products born of competition. The phone or computer you're reading this on is the result of tech companies trying to outdo each other. Why did we put a man on the moon? Because fuck if the Russians were going to do it first. Each of your kids started as the sperm who wanted it more than any of the others.

Competition drives us to write the best shit we can write, and to constantly strive to improve our craft.

And that's not to say you're in competition with all other writers, certainly not to an equal degree anyway. The further away another writer is from the genres you write in, the less you are in competition with one another. Fans of Danielle Steel's books are not likely to be fans of my books. We're not competing for the same readers.

"What kind of bullshit is this? Where are the orcs? And why has no one shit themselves yet?"

"What kind of bullshit is this? Where are the orcs? And why has no one shit themselves yet?"

Also, "competitor" does not equal "enemy". Sometimes it's not a free-for-all race. Sometimes it's a relay race. Writers can pass the baton. In fact, the most helpful writers to your career could very well be the ones you're in the highest degrees of competition with. The whole reason I accepted the invitation to join DeadPixel Publications was the theorized cross-pollination of fans between writers. That was also no small part of me wanting to play in Authors & Dragons. (The even larger part being that I really needed an RPG fix.)

If you play  your cards right, a more successful author who doesn't know who the hell you are might even pass you the baton. Run with it.

Your fellow authors are some of the best people who can empathize with you on the long and lonely journey that is the writing process. Befriend them. Learn from them. Make yourself valuable to them, and let them make themselves valuable to you.

But never forget, there isn't enough time or money in the world for everyone who wants to make a living at writing to do so. If you want to make it, you have to compete.