Monday, June 6, 2011

Publication is not a zero sum game

Publication is not a zero sum game.

What’s a zero sum game, you ask? Say you have a city with 500,000 citizens and 5 hospitals that serve 100,000 people each. In order for Hospital A to gain new clientele, it must lure patients away from Hospitals B, C, D and E. Growth for one organization means a decline for the others in this closed system scenario.
Over the years, I noticed a lot of fear among writers (pubbed and unpubbed) that one author’s success somehow comes at the expense of another’s, as though there is some arbitrary limit to the number of books/stories that readers will purchase in any given year.

Possibly it is human nature to think in terms of scarcity rather than abundance. Certainly over the last few decades, traditional publishers have slashed the ranks of their mid-list authors and poured their money into larger advances for fewer writers. Perhaps this has left folks with the impression that the pursuit of a publishing contract is a competition for finite resources where there is only so much to go around. So on the surface, it may appear that fear of someone else’s success is justifiable.

But I’m going to make two arguments against that premise.

First. As a reader, I am always on the lookout for a good story. Always. As a romance reader, I fall into that happy category of buyers who purchase multiple books a month, if not a week. There are a lot of us out there. So if Loretta Chase, Eileen Wilks, and Kristan Higgins all come out with a release one week and my friend recommends a debut author’s new book too, hello, I’m buying all 4 books. I am voracious and I am not alone.

Second. With the proliferation of indy-publishing and electronic readers, there has been a commensurate explosion of opportunity for writers. You don’t “write to the market” and no publisher will sign you? You’ve been cut by your publisher after a so-so book or two? Today you have options online that simply didn’t exist a couple of years ago.

So an audience hungry for stories exists. As does an accessible, flexible and powerful set of online tools for marketing and distribution.

Someone once told me that FEAR stands for False Expectations Appearing Real.

It is a fallacy to believe that another person’s success impedes one’s own. To a large extend, success in publication will always remain a crapshoot. You can’t make people buy your books. But you can control your output and attitude. Write the best stories you can. Woo your current and/or would-be readers. Be kind to yourself and to others. And know this to be true: Publication is not a zero sum game. Good stories find their ways into the hands of readers and that’s a win-win for all of us.

What do you think?

Did I make my case?

Do you agree there’s room for all of us at the table?

Or have I got rose-colored shades blinding me to the realities of the publishing industry?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Love this post, Keely. I'm a huge believer in there is a enough to go around. Those authors who grumble and grouse are just scared. I'm not sure you can help that kind of insecurity. Write a good book and you will get published. Maybe not on your time schedule, but it will happen.

  3. Hi Keely! I just tested the comments, then deleted the test. LOL. But now that I'm here, let me just say that I like the idea of there being room for everybody, and I agree! But I also feel the pinch of the market changes. Not resulting in jealousy but resulting in a "time's running out on my dreams" kind of feeling. Anyway, I like the way you think. :-)

  4. Evie! thanks for checking the commenting thing - very frustrating few minutes there!

    And yeah, I think you have to write the best stories you can and keep the faith. The market is always changing so I'm not sure there's ever a way to "time it." I understand the feeling of "time running out on my dreams." Every day I don't write feels like a grain of sand dropped into the abyss.

    But there sure is a way to make certain you don't have success and that's to stop completely, right? And just thinking of stopping gives me the heebie-jeebies.

  5. Shea - agreed. Write a good book. That's the first part. And the most important part, I'd argue, the one you have absolute control over.

    I think one way to get over the insecurity is not to indulge in it with others. If someone is shooting down an "overnight success," run, don't walk, to the nearest exit. Sharing the negativity is too toxic, don't you think?

  6. I think you're right, Keely. There are more opportunities cropping up every day. There is always room for a new voice.

  7. Right! I don't drop a favorite author when I new one comes to town. I thank my lucky stars I can spend time with both!

  8. Let's see if my comment goes through this time . . . had problems last week. Sorry.

    Keely ~ What wise words. Your way of thinking about this issue is interesting to me. I've tended to think that there's only x amount of room at the publishing bar and I have to wait my turn. Until someone else decides to step away. I like the way you've argued your case. I'm the same kind of voracious reader you are--and I buy in multiple formats (I'm a huge audio-book lover) as well as a paperback reader. And I'm always looking for the next best writer in the genres I love to read. So I think there is a balance, and you're probably closer to it than I've been in my past thinking. I'm going to turn another page and begin to think about this in a new way. ;0) Thanks for the challenge to see things from a slightly different angle.

  9. Hi Keely,
    I haven't been at it long enough to feel discouraged but I think the fact that I'm handling my dutiful share of rejections with a pretty positive attitude says something at least. I don't think I'd ever feel less of who I am at what I do when others find success. I'm not even trying to look down any paths that would lead to those feelings. So I not only think you are right, I thank you for saying it out loud! There is so much room for all of us at the table...

  10. Hi Keely,

    I wondered at those writers who cheered when that oh-so-famous-and-fun writer left her publisher--and multi millions on the table--last year. Many said, "Woo hoo! More opportunity for us!" Which never made sense to me. Because I agree with you. Publishing isn't zero sum.

    When I think about it, publishing may be a pie. And there's never any rule about how to slice pie. Have a wedge. Have a sliver. There's some for everyone. Yum!

  11. I don't think being jealous or seeing resources as limited is the way to go. When I see someone with something I'd like to have or doing something I'd like to do, I study how they've done it and try to learn from their example while working toward my goal. I think it's a waste of time to be worrying about how much anyone is getting or thinking that they are getting too much. I certainly don't think they have "my share." They worked for it and I can do it, too, if I work for it. It's the easy way out to say, "there's no room for me and that's why I'm not published." Thinking that there's only so much room is a clique mentality and I left those behind when I graduated high school. And don't get me started on how I feel about cliques. LOL

  12. Hey Keely,

    This is a well-crafted post. I think you've captured my POV as well. Voracious readers will read their favs and recommended books. There is room for everyone at this table. The trick is to get those all important recommendations!

    Enjoyed stopping by,

    Maggie Toussaint
    long distance WRW member who misses her peeps

  13. I agree with you, KT, and applaud your willingness to bring up a touchy subject. If publication is a limited pie, it's a lot less limited than it was even two years ago, and it's expanding rapidly. Literacy is on the rise, the number of publishers is on the rise, the publishing options are on the rise... It's a great time to be breaking in!

  14. Grace - It *is* a great time to be breaking into the biz! (Welcome back to the States, btw!)

    Maggie - true, good recommendations are important in getting the word about your books out to readers.

    Candy - glad to hear about the page-turning. Would you like my rose-colored glasses? :)

    Nic - in college we had a saying, "There's always room at a round table." Replace table with pie and I think we've got it!

    Lisa - cliques...the bane of the young and the fearful. And just when to groups turn into cliques and for what reasons...?

    Carlene - I think you've got a great attitude about this. Rejections are a big part of this business and it's really important to figure out how to deal with them, move forward to your goals and not become sidetracked by stinkin' thinkin'.

    Thanks, everyone, for sharing your thoughts!

  15. What a great post! Good writing will always be in vogue whether traditionally or Indie published. For the first time in many years, I am truly excited to be a writer.

  16. Cynthia - it *is* an exciting time to be a writer, isn't it? So many possibilities!