by | Feb 26, 2011

Twice recently the subject of competition has come up.

“Are you competing with Madame X, (another book designer)?”
“Will I be competing with you if I start to offer services that are similar to yours?”

I was surprised each time. I gave up on that kind of competition a long time ago.

That’s not to say that I don’t want to do well, because I’m working as hard as I can to make sure that I do. And it doesn’t mean that I’m not going to try as hard as I can to win a project I really want to do. Because I will be dogged in pursuit.

And I have some clear goals for myself, too. That’s where the competition, such as it is, comes for me now: with myself.

Hey, if you have 20,000 Twitter followers, I’m glad. You showed me it could be done, and I’m grateful for that. But your Twitter followers aren’t my Twitter followers.

If you pick Madame X to do your book, even though you talked to both of us, I’m glad. If Madame X is what you want in a book designer you made a great choice and saved us both a lot of trouble.

I couldn’t possibly compete with Madame X because I’m incapable of doing what she does. Just as she’s incapable of doing what I do.

It’s really more about knowing for yourself what you want, and being able to recognize how to get it.

So where’s the competition?

Photo by alecea

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  1. Michael Lipsey

    I was in the plumbing and heating business. Very tough and competitive, but there was a kind of code that you did not compete with your friends and you helped them as much as possible. If a friend was going after a job I would generally not bid it, or not go after it with a low number. And if I got in over my head on a job I could ask someone more experienced to tell me what to do. And I did the same for my friends. When I went into business I was told that if I needed anything, a tool, part or a helping hand, I should just ask. I don’t know if this is still the case — I’ve been retired for 11 years and it’s a more difficult economy now than anything I experienced in my quarter century in business. Writing this is giving me an idea for a chapter on competition and I’m copying this comment into a note to myself….

    • Joel Friedlander

      Michael, one business that’s like that is indie publishing, don’t you think? When it comes to businesses that may be considered commodity busineses, branding becomes even more important. Finding the thing that makes you stand apart from the competition can be a powerful part of branding, like the local plumber here who promises to pay you if they are late. Being on time is a big part of their brand now, and I’m sure it brings them business.

    • Michael N. Marcus

      I had a similar experience when I was in the phone system business. There was an informal network of small mom-n-pop businesses that could never close for vacation without knowing that they could depend on freindly competitors to cover emergency service if necessary.

      We also served as an early warning system to notify each other about crackpot customers and deadbeats.

      When I was young and hungry I ignored a warning and accepted what seemd to be a lucrative job — and quickly regretted it.

      There are now online forums in various tech fields where competitors help each other, and teach the newbies.

  2. Michael N. Marcus

    Since the number of dollars is finite, every book — and therefore, every writer — competes with every other book and writer.

    This can affect book reviews.

    In late 2009, when I published my first book about self-publishing, I initially decided that I would no longer review other books about self-publishing.

    A good review for a competing book could help the competion and hurt my book. A bad review might be regarded as unseemly or “bad sportsmanship” — trying to hurt the competition.

    I remembered an incident during the election for class officers in third grade. The teacher told us we were not allowed to vote for ourselves. The ballots were supposed to be secret so the rule could not be enforced, but I challenged the teacher.

    I said, “If we don’t think we are the best for the job, we shouldn’t be running for office.” Mrs. Solomon recognized my logic, and changed her policy.

    I changed my policy about reviewing competitive books, too.

    I felt that I would be doing a disservice by not telling people about good books, or by not warning them about bad books (I even present a mostly funny “Bad Book Week” on my blog).

    And, while the number of dollars is finite, budgets are flexible. Before I did my first self-pubbed book, I bought about two dozen books about publishing (and I’ve bought many more since then). I assume that other writers will buy at least two books. If they’ll buy just one, I’m not afraid of the competition. Like in third grade, publishing my book is my vote of confidence in it.

    Michael N. Marcus
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series:
    — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),”

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks for that, Michael. I’m still not competing because I don’t start from the premise that “the number of dollars is finite” and rather than hurting sales, I see sales of similar books as good for the subject matter as a whole. People who buy diet books don’t just buy 1, nor do hobbyists who tend to buy everything they can on a subject. If each person puts their best product out there that really represents what they have to offer, I think they will complement and help sell each other.

      • Michael N. Marcus

        ]I think they will complement and help sell each other.[

        I agree. It’s that way with history, hobbies, travel, food and certainly with self-publishing.

        Despite its recent growth, there is still tremendous room for additional growth in self-publishing. Many potential book buyers have not yet bought even one book on the subject, and certainly not all of them.

        On real problem in S-P and some other fields, is that newbies may buy the wrong books (some terrible books have great reviews on Amazon), follow bad advice, and turn out bad work.


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