Who’s my competition?

Chuck Wendig wrote a blog article called “100 Random Storytelling Thoughts and Tips” in which he lists…you guessed it…one hundred thoughts on how to write a good story, or make the story you are writing better.

One struck me as I read it, not because it had anything to do with writing.  Here it is:

35. There’s always something else for the reader to be doing. You are not competing against other writers or other books, but you are competing against the infinity of options open to your audience: games, toys, social media, sex, sex toys, sex games, corn murder, bee wrangling, monkey punching, gambling, sex gambling, exotic drugs created from household cleaners, falcon training, sex falcon training. Treat your reader as exalted. They have given you money and time. Do not punish them for their choice.

Yeah, Chuck’s writing style in his blog is a little…silly at times.  Remember, this is written for his audience.  Not mine, or not just anyone.  But his point seems to be one we forget often.  Other books are not our competition.  Choices for entertainment other than reading books ARE our competition.  All of our competition.  If you write, you are in competition with all the things Chuck listed.  (Okay, probably not those things.  But certainly we’re in competition with Netflix, with Wii and X-box and PS4, with computer games and websites, with someone’s smartphone or iPad, or any number of other things.)

The point is that reading good books is something we writers all want to do (or we wouldn’t be writing) and something we writers want all of our readers doing.  If today that good book is by me, great!  Better than great!  But if today you’re reading something by another writer of horror, or mystery or SF/Fantasy or thrillers, and it’s a good story, that’s great too!  (Just not as great as if you were reading that good book by ME!)

When I read a good book, it triggers something in me…I usually want to read MORE good books, MORE good stories, of the sort I just read, maybe, but maybe something else…the important point, and the relevant point, is that it is a good story and I want MORE!  So I’m thrilled to tell someone about a great book I’ve read, an interesting and/or thought-provoking story, an inspirational tale.  I find those often in SF stories, in thrillers, and even in horror, which I believe focuses so much on the characters and the settings, which are two things I love to see come alive.

No, as a writer, I’m not in competition with other writers.  We all have the same self-interested goal of promoting reading in others, and so much the better if it is in readers who love the kinds of stories that we tell.

Why did this hit home with me?  Because I’ve been sitting at home reading Flashback by Dan Simmons, and my kids are on YouTube watching videos about games that they play.  Meanwhile there are good books just laying there that I thought they wanted to read.  But they aren’t.  I’d prefer they read, but they’re old enough to take my strong suggestion that they read instead of watching  (and my criticism of the stupidity of watching videos about video games) and chuck it out the window.  They work very hard during their school year (dare I say harder than I work at my job?) and right now they’re both working hard, with long days, in band camps.  So they can ultimately do what they want with their limited leisure time, at least to a degree.  But it doesn’t stop me from being dismayed.

Orson Scott Card, David Price, and and dozens, no, hundreds, of authors are in competition with YouTube for their leisure time.  They’re not in competition with me as an indie author, or with each other as traditional published authors.

We all need to do what we can to promote reading, and we shouldn’t worry about whether we’re in competition with each other.  Because we’re not.  No way.



2 thoughts on “Who’s my competition?

  1. Steven M. Moore

    Hi Scott,
    Interesting points because they indicate what we’re really competing against: a dwindling number of readers. I guess I’ll disagree a bit and say that the problem is exacerbated by an increasing number of authors with good books AKA the indie revolution in book publishing–we ARE competing with other authors just because there are so many of us now vying for readers’ attentions!
    But there’s a flip side of the coin here: readers are exalted by authors to the point that readers have become spoiled. Not their fault really, because of the glut of books and authors has made it so competitive that readers now expect to read entertaining books at very little cost to them, not just from the indie world but also from traditional publishing (I won’t pay more than $5 for ANY ebook). One negative is that any one writer must sell thousands of ebooks to make a living at writing. Eventually, there will be an attrition in the number of writers and the number of new books will match better the number of actual readers that’s currently diminishing.
    In other words, maybe a stronger word than “spoiled” should be used when readers expect to receive an entertaining novel for the cost of a Happy Meal. It’s a bit hard to “exalt” readers who don’t want to provide writers a decent living, even to the point of expecting freebies. I refuse to cave to those sentiments. If it means I don’t sell any ebooks, fine. I value my work and think my ebooks are competitive in both price and artistic value. To thine own self be true….

  2. Scott Dyson Post author

    Good points — there does appear to be a dwindling supply of voracious readers (I think there’s no decrease in casual readers, but those aren’t the readers that either you or I are trying to get to), probably because there are so many other things to compete for their attention. And I also see your point about lowering expectations about pricing in readers — I know my own expectations with respect to price have certainly lowered. One of the first ebooks *I* bought was a Stephen King short story called UR (I think) and I want to say it was $2.99. I didn’t think anything of paying that much for a King short. Now I’d have a hard time paying $0.99 for a short story — though if it was by King I’d be more likely to pay that amount. I like to try things for $2.99 or lower, but I still have that mentality about feeling justified about paying more for a physical copy — because I own something concrete. So, yeah, it’s harder to make a living or even recoup costs, especially in the fields that we write in. I definitely see your point about “spoiling” (or whatever we can call it) readers in general and causing them to expect low prices.

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