Indie Writers and Competition

If you’re old enough to remember the government’s bail out of Chrysler in the early eighties, you’ll remember those weren’t happy times for any car dealers, especially Chrysler dealers of which I was one.  If you aren’t old enough to remember those times, here’s a fact that might surprise you – 10,000 Chrysler dealers closed their doors for good during those days, and yes, I was one of those also.

This blog isn’t about closing the dealership, I’ve already told that story.  This post is about our perception of competition, which usually manifests as a reluctance to help, and, in turn limits our own success.

Here’s how I know that.  At the time I became the managing partner of Walker Chrysler Dodge, in Laurel, Mississippi, my two main competitors, the local Ford and Chevrolet dealers, had just moved their operations from downtown Laurel, to the by-pass, some three or four miles away.  When my partners were selling me on joining them in the business, they said the competitors’ move to another part of town was a good thing.  I didn’t question them about that, or anything else.  I was too new to the car business to have any questions.

I cut corners everywhere I could and managed to budget enough for local TV advertising, entering an annual contract for “less than prime time” advertising.  I couldn’t afford actors, so I did my own spots.  My ads weren’t Cal Worthington’s My Dog Spot, or Trunk Monkey caliber, but they did draw a lot of prospects to the dealership, and my sales staff converted a number of them into buyers.

I mistakenly attributed my success to being all alone in the downtown area.  Imagine how I felt when I heard that a used car dealer was opening a location across the street.  Yep, that’s what I thought too, until the grand opening of my new “competitor.”  The first weekend he was open, I sold five new cars and seven used cars.   The used car dealership, that I thought would be competitor generated traffic to my dealership I would have never been able to draw, and that weekend wasn’t a fluke.  In fact, to be honest, the used car lot across the street kept me in business.

So what does that have to do with writing?  The answer is simple.  It has everything to do with writing.  If you are a writer, you have no competitors.  Every other writer is an associate who is driving buyers to you.  My friend, Stephen Woodfin, has written a masterful legal thriller called Last One Chosen.  John Grisham has written nineteen legal thrillers.  I’ve read every one of Grisham’s books, and because he opened the genre for me, I’ll read every one of Stephen’s Woodfin’s legal thrillers.

James Lee Burke’s character, Dave Robicheaux, is a detective and a Vietnam veteran who has appeared in nineteen novels, two of which have been made into movies.  Every one of those books invites prospective buyers to check out Southern Investigation, the story of three Vietnam Vets and the widow of a Vietnam Vet who operate a private detective agency.  Frankly, I can’t afford advertising like that.   What a deal for me!

If you believe that everyone who writes in the genre you have chosen to write in is a competitor, I invite you to reconsider that perspective.  And, when you’ve done that, go a step further – help every writer you can, especially the ones who write in your genre.  A long time ago, Zig Ziglar coined the phrase, “If you help enough people get what they want, you will get what you want.”  That is not a statement without merit, and its fine advice for all indie writers – all 700, 000 plus of us.  If that number overwhelms you, divide it by the number of Kindles that have been sold and are being sold every day.

Competition is not a concept that applies to writers.

My Amazon Author Page 


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17 Responses to Indie Writers and Competition

  1. Lynn Boston says:

    Bert – you are right on the button about viewing our fellow authors as facilitators, not competitors.

  2. What wonderful advice!
    It honestly doesnt make sense that people should think to bring a machete to a writerly competition, or to twitter.
    I actually have a friend who I think would benefit from this.
    She has a blog called Zapslobstertank and pretty much goes through how we writers are competing against each other. It would be real nice if you could give her some words of wisdom personally.

  3. The notion of competition is an outgrow of fear. Imagine thinking that that is the best possible interaction we can come up with in every situation in which we interact. Unfortunately, that’s what we’ve been conditioned to believe. Perhaps writers as segment of society could demonstrate a new way.

  4. Alisha Paige says:

    Awesome blog post! I’m going to pass this one along! I’ve been helping other authors and many authors have helped me along the way and I’ve also been asked why I’m helping the competition…you just answered that question! Thanks! Happy writing!

  5. Caleb Pirtle

    You are absolutely right in every sense of the word. The reason we writers aren’t competitors is that readers don’t just buy one book. They buy many. Many people I know, especially those with Kindle or Nook, buy one or more a week. The more we help each other, the more we can actually succeed as authors. Keep the pot stirred. Give writers all of the exposure they can receive, and if we all receive a little spill over, then we can sell books.

    • Bert

      We have been so well-trained to fight, that fighting has become our first reaction. It’s time to think, not time for more mindless reaction, and that holds true in far more than writing.

  6. Bert:

    Thanks for the mention of LAST ONE CHOSEN. I am glad you are enjoying it.

    I couldn’t agree more that writing is not about competition. One of the really cool things about writing is the collegiality we share with our fellow authors. There are plenty of readers out there. All we need to provide them is a good book.

    Thanks again.


  7. Excellent article, incredibly encouraging for those of us first time authors, who are overwhelmed at the volume of writing out there. Now more than ever I feel that true authors write with no other desire than to have someone read our words and take something from them. Thank you

  8. Love your stories, Bert! They always ring true and can be applied to life in so many ways. Thanks for reminding us that we are all in this together…so we might as well make it good!
    Mary Kathryn Johnson recently posted…Hitting Negative Where it HurtsMy Profile

  9. How in the world did I miss this post?! I sooo agree with you. I completely understand the concept of the used car dealer across the street – and had a similar experience with my own small business. I’ve always been repulsed by the attitude I sometimes sense in other writers that we are in competition. While there are a lot of writers and books out there, no ONE writer can keep a real reader happy for long. We just don’t write that fast. So, when we support each other in bringing all our works to the attention of that reader and the one standing next to her and her husband and his best friend…we can’t help but be successful together. We feed their need – together.

    Thanks, Bert – Luv ya’ man.

  10. jvonbargen

    Hear, hear!! Fabulous write, Bert! I’ve never understood jealousy and competitiveness among writers, though it seems to flourish right along. I adore my fellow wordsmiths…whatever their genre. So many of them have been unbelievably supportive of me and my work, you and Christina above all! Where would any of us be if not for the hard work done by others on our own behalf? Perish the thought. We get from life what we are willing to give. This is a truth that has withstood the test of time, without an iota of doubt!
    jvonbargen recently posted…RemnantsMy Profile

  11. Great advice and I totally believe it. I have an editing business and I have helped so many other small business people like me. In turn some of them helped me too. (I didn’t expect it though because I just wanted to share what I know.)
    Thank you for your wonderful wisdom.
    Kimberly Fujioka recently posted…Dissertation Writing Blunders or Top 10 Errors That Make Your Dissertation Advisor ScreamMy Profile

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