I have recently been talking to some other friends of mine in the publishing world, and one of them, Matt Feldman (Owner of Meztrailov Fantasy Games) and I got into a discussion about how there is so much ugly competition in our field and how silly that is. Reflecting on the discussion I think I can explain why.
Authors are like a tray of cupcakes. Delicious, decadent, sinful, and everyone wants them. (And they add pounds if you eat them, but who’s counting?) When we see them brought into the office we immediately start arguing about who can have how many, and sometimes fights to the death break out. However, the reality is we cannot eat all the cupcakes alone. Nor should we try to!
Let’s face it: there is no shortage of authors (or cupcakes) out there, and there are so many different genres, styles, and interests that it would be impossible for any one publisher (or even a hundred publishers) to all be doing precisely the same thing. Since a good deal of our job is deciding what we like even people publishing the same genre won’t pick up all the same books if we are given identical queries of equivalent quality. So why are we fighting to the death over the tray of cupcakes?
I will fully admit that Insomnia is in some degree of competition. I want my books to be bought over other publishers’ books because, well… we want revenue! But there’s no need to be cutthroat about it. I believe we can all have opportunities to shine, and sharing the wealth means better options for authors, better options for readers, and greater diversity. None of these are a bad thing. I cannot eat an entire tray of cupcakes by myself! I’d end up diabetic and weigh four hundred pounds. Neither of those is an attractive option.
The solution? Share the darn cupcakes. You can take yours and decorate them however you like to make them as attractive as you want. You can package them prettily. You can add special ingredients. But no matter what you do, you cannot eat them all.
My take on “competition” is that I (and the rest of Insomnia) are going to put out the best books we can possibly create. We are going to make our cupcakes the most incredible things you have ever put into your mouth! But that doesn’t mean we need to sabotage the other guys. Heck, it doesn’t mean we can’t swap recipes sometimes so long as we keep our list of secret ingredients to ourselves. With the world of publishing changing, and the variety of books exploding thanks to e-publishing, we are no longer in a world where it will be possible for us to squash all our competition. That would require taking on all self-published authors as well as indie publishers, and large publishers. No thanks!
Beyond that, in this age of social media, if you’re mean or unkind to people word gets around. Networking, however? That will get you everywhere. With that in mind, if I receive a query I think could be better placed with another publisher because we are simply not the place for them? I will tell the author. I would happily send a book we can’t publish to another company who could provide that author with what they need and want out of a publisher. That flavor cupcake? It just isn’t for me! But I have a friend who LOVES them. What’s the harm? Giving that cupcake away isn’t going to stop me from enjoying mine and making mine gorgeous. And my friend is going to make sure that cupcake goes to someone who will appreciate it while I prefer to focus on the people who are going to enjoy MY recipe.
Treating other publishers as resources for networking and building relationships with people in the industry is important. I would rather be known as a good person who brings morality, compassion, and honesty into publishing than become the Wal-Mart of publishing. Sure, Wal-Mart makes a huge amount of money, but everybody hates them. I’d much prefer to be a mom-and-pop store who supports themselves, their family, and their community than be rolling in money generated through poor practices and cruelty. Wouldn’t you?
[Photo by Myndi Shafer. Creative Commons 2.0]