I’ve been hearing a lot lately about rivalry in the writing and publishing industries. And it’s a sad state of affairs. Because it’s complete and utter nonsense.
Rivalry is an alluring demon for authors (and, indeed, reviewers). For one thing, the very nature of writing – a solitary activity, which rarely if ever allows for human interaction in the physical act itself – can make the loveliest, gentlest human into a raving, paranoid lunatic.
For instance, by the time a writer emerges from the Nth draft of their novel, covered in the primordial goo of self-doubt, the blinding fog that is fear of failure, never mind that murky quicksand which is the fear of success, the public domain can look like a row of guns and spears, all pointing at you. Some of them will just shoot you where you stand. You’ll manage to run into the spears all by yourself. But it all looks terribly nasty. (And that’s enough sloppy metaphors.)
Reviewers will slate you. Family and friends will lie, but secretly think you are an absolute imbecile and lose all respect for you. Publishers will print out your first chapter just to burn it. And other authors will make it impossible for you to be successful, by stealing your ideas, taking away all your prospective readers, and lying about you.
Any writer who puts their work into the public domain is looking for positive feedback. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar. If they’re not looking for praise, sales, or even just readers (which are a form of praise in themselves), they would never have shown their work to anyone other than their mothers. This makes the writer needy, and there is nobody more paranoid, more convinced that there are dark forces working against them, than the needy person.
Thusly does the rivalry issue come into play. But there are several reasons why authors should never view other people in the industry as rivals, ever. Here are some of them.
1. Other writers are the best support you’re ever going to get.
Maybe I’m just an innocent little fool because I live in Dublin where 99.67% of the industry professionals and writers I’ve ever met have been uncommonly nice to each other. Successes are celebrated. Major successes actually inspire others to think they have the potential to do the same. Hands are shaken and carbonated alcoholic beverages are bought and links are tweeted and posts are shared and smiles are frequent. If it wasn’t for other writers in this country, many writers would not be writers.
Who else can celebrate your successes, commiserate over your failures, or encourage you to persevere, better than another writer? Go on, people. Find a fellow scribe today, and hug them tight.
2. Similar writers are not your rivals. They are your meal ticket.
Let’s say my crime novel – about a psychopathic granny who kills young drug dealers on her estate – has been searching for, but failing to find a publisher, for the past 2 years.
And let’s say that last Friday, the most successful crime writer in America published a book (in a genre now informally known as “Granny Noir”), about a sociopathic formerly retired serial killer who systematically demises a gang of youngsters terrorising her neighbourhood, and got straight to number 1. It’s tempting to think that I’ve been destroyed by the competition, isn’t it?
But hang on. If they liked that book, why wouldn’t they like mine? The other author won’t be coming up with a sequel for another year. What will their fans do in the meantime? They’ll be looking for something similar, that’s what. And that’s where I come in.
Worried you’ll be accused of being derivative? Well, tough. There hasn’t been a new idea since Homer, really. And he probably nicked all of his.
You might write 1 book a year. A reader might read 5, or even 50. That’s a lot more books than will even be written by you and all the other authors they like in 1 year. Do the math: if your book is good, and you know your target market – particularly if it’s already there, and doesn’t have to be newly created – then why can’t you capitalise on the numbers?
Also, don’t forget that other writers are readers too: they are a whole other market, and more receptive to marketing on social media than the average bear, because they’re using it for that purpose too. Engaging with other writers, particularly reading their work, will get you more readers. That’s the way it works.
4. Reviewers are not your rivals either. They are people with sometimes loud and disagreeable opinions who love books as much as you do. If they offend you, ignore them.
If you don’t like a review, try to remember that negative reviews balance out the positive ones and very often make the positive reviews look more authentic. Even if you think a review is really nasty and vindictive, then engaging in a war of words can lend credence to it. It’s not personal. It’s definitely best to walk away. Sorry. But that’s the way it is.
Because what’s the worst case scenario, really?
There’s always one who’s going to say “but this other author/reviewer/girl I hated in high school is writing nasty things about me on the Webernet and out to destroy me and everything they say is lies”. That may well be the case. This happens. Rarely, but it happens. But for the love of sausages, who’s listening to them? Even if they say your entire book was ripped off from Chapter 7 of Harry Potter and the Pot Full of Dosh?
If they have a point, then I’m afraid it can’t be helped. But if you didn’t rip it off, what benefit is there in getting defensive about it? You’ll never change their minds.
Even if you are 100% certain (which you could never be, in fairness) that nasty comments and reviews are destroying a significant portion of your book sales, you are wasting a lot of creative energy on anger and worry, which could be spent on writing more stuff which could capitalise on your name being discussed in the first place.
And, above all, you’re assuming that readers can’t see through what you think is a pointlessly vindictive review. Readers are not silly. They are lovely. And they will make up their own minds.
5. If you worry that other writers are better than you, then either work on improving your writing, or stop being so critical of yourself.
Sometimes I’ll read something which is so bloody brilliant I’m tempted to just stop writing altogether. I start thinking – if I’m never going to be as good as X, why continue writing ABC?
Well, because I might get better at it, that’s why.
In the meantime, I could just try to be less pessimistic. (Although if I do that, I’ll be deported from Ireland, so it’s a two-edged sword.)
So there we go. Do you feel differently? Or do anyone have a splendid feel-good story about writer-ly support or inspiration? Do tell!