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by Patricia Fry

How Do Successful Writers Deal With Competition?

Every creature seems to be in competition this year—even the hummingbirds.

Where there used to be two or three hummingbirds fighting for the right to eat at our house, now there are dozens of them swarming around the feeder outside my office window.

Likewise, the competition for writers and authors is greater now than ever before. There are more healthy retirees writing the books of their lifelong dreams. There are more businessmen and women writing calling card books. And there are more unemployed folks hoping to earn some extra cash by producing a book or by getting freelance work. So what does this mean for you?

Before You Write a Book

If you are an author pitching a book to publishers or you’re considering self-publishing, it means taking extra responsibility to create the best product that you can. It means making sure that you have a book that is well-written and needed—a viable product. How do you know if your book is a worthwhile project? One way to find out is to write a book proposal. A book proposal asks a lot of questions, but it requires much more than yes or no answers. How you respond to certain questions could mean the difference between the success or the failure of your book. What do you need to know even before you start writing that book? Here are the three main considerations:

1: What is the purpose of the book and why are you writing it? Are your reasons for writing it valid or are they frivolous? Is the purpose of the book reasonable or unrealistic? If you aspire to change minds, you are probably off base with your project. If you’re interested only in personal gratification, this book is probably not a good idea. On the other hand, if you hope to provide entertainment, enlighten legitimate seekers or help a segment of the population in a meaningful way through your book, you may be on the right track. Many businessmen and women and professionals in various fields are writing books related to their expertise. When your experiences and knowledge are highly marketable, this is another potentially valid reason for producing a book.

2: What is your competition? Are there other books out there like yours? How many? Is the market inundated with books on this topic or is there room for one more with a slightly different focus and angle? Once you’ve studied the books available on your subject, determine what makes your book different or even better. This could be an “ah ha!” moment. Let’s say that you were planning to write another run-of-the-mill diet book. Once you become familiar with what’s on the market, how these books are selling and what seems to be missing on this topic, THEN you can start planning a book that will actually meet the needs and requirements of the dieting public.

The thing is, most of us approach a book project from an emotional perspective when we should view it from a business angle. Rather than thinking about how cool it will be to see your words in print and how much you want to express yourself to the world, you really must consider your audience and their specific needs. If their needs are being met by numerous books already on the market, you’d better rethink your project and do the research necessary to find a niche you can fill.

3: How will you promote this book? This is something you should be thinking about even before you start writing the book. You need to find out what promoting a book of this type entails? What are the time and energy requirements? Do you have some ideas for promoting your book? Do you have skills, credibility and/or connections in your field or genre that will aid you in book promotion?

You should know two things: No matter which publishing option you choose, you will be required to promote your own book. And, book promotion is darn hard work. In order to sell hundreds of copies, you pretty much have to get exposure in front of thousands of people. Actually, the exposure ratio varies from book to book and from venue to venue. Using my book, The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book, as an example, if I am pitching it in person at a book festival, the ratio of exposure to sales probably averages 50 to 75 instances of exposure resulting in 1 sale. When I am giving a personal presentation, the ratio is more like 5 or 8 sales per 20 people. Less personalized exposure such as when it is showcased at a website or in a bookstore, results in probably 1 sale per 1,000 people. My point is that it takes an incredible amount of promotion to the right audience in order to sell copies of your book.

[Author's Note: Right Way has been retired. See my most recent books in the left column of this page.]

Competition for Published Authors

If you are an author who is promoting a book in this competitive climate, you will need to be more proactive and creative than ever before. Do more of what you’ve been doing if it’s working. Try some new promotional tactics. Expand your horizons by participating in a webinar or teleseminar on book promotion, for example. Study good books on the topic.

Competition for Freelance Writers

If you are a freelance magazine article writer, continue submitting your work to familiar publications, but also reach out to new paying magazines, newsletters and websites. Revisit those publications that rejected you in the past. Some of them may have new editors who will love your style and ideas.

If you do writing work for corporations, organizations and agencies, approach them with new ideas for promo material, brochures, etc. Ask your contacts to recommend you to other companies. Spend time researching other businesses that might need the services of a freelance writer.

Join Appropriate Organizations and Participate!

No matter where you live or what your writing/publishing interests are, there is a group for you. Check out regional clubs and organizations where you can meet other writers and authors face-to-face. Join national/international organizations such as SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) (for anyone who wants to publish his/her creative works and/or build a business or career through publishing); IBPA (formerly PMA) (for publishers and authors).

Competition in publishing and book selling has been tough for quite a while, but never so much as it is now. As I see it, you have two choices: You can give up and go back to your previous line of work or you can arm yourself with knowledge, pull up your big boy/girl pants and meet the challenges head on.


Patricia Fry is the Executive Director of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) and the author of 35 books. See her most recent books in the left column of this page.

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