A few days ago I stumbled across some commentary — from a politically progressive, award-winning fantasy author — wherein said author somewhat viciously lamented the “fact” that other authors were actively wishing (and working!) for the award-winner to be kept out of the marketplace.
I smiled, not because the statement was true — it’s not — but because the statement reflected an all too common false-dichotomy paradigm that is prevalent in authorial circles.
Going beyond the old saw that award-winners covet money, and money-makers covet awards, I think it’s worth pointing out (for the umpteenth time) that the marketplace is not a zero-sum game. I know it’s very easy to believe that the marketplace is a zero-sum game. If you have an apple pie on the holiday feast table, when the last slice of that apple pie has been taken, there is no more apple pie. It’s gone. That’s just common sense. You either get to have a piece of the pie, or you don’t.
But readers are not slices of pie. When one author “takes” a reader, that reader does not vanish from the stream of commerce. (S)he is still there. And very probably going to be buying other books. Because (s)he is not satisfied enjoying a single story, by a single author. Most people who read for recreation, have a range of favorite author(s) and genre(s). As with their cars — which always have to be tanked up — recreational readers have to “tank up” on books. In an average lifetime, a single recreational reader may devour thousands of volumes by hundreds of different writers. And there are millions of recreational readers, with more being added to the world every year. There has never been a better time for more authors to be supplying more readers with more enjoyment.
Yet, the “finite pie” perspective persists. Why?
First, I think there is an undying and (completely superstitious) notion among authors, that what’s popular necessarily tamps down or shoves out what’s good. For any and all definitions of both “popular” and “good.”
Second, artists of all stripes tend to be competitive by nature. Writers are no different from anyone else on the artist spectrum. Even those writers who actively work to keep and foster a generous attitude — in their own lives, and in the lives of others — are aware of the fact that writers exist on a sloping surface. In terms of readership. In terms of monetary success. In terms of critical acclaim and notoriety.
Third, many people thrive when they believe there is an “againstness” working in their lives. Human beings were created (or evolved, if you prefer) in an environment of entropy. By the dust of thy brow, thou shalt earn thy daily bread. The marketplace is vast, and uneven. It’s easy to look at the whole thing, and assume it’s a hostile force to be reckoned with.
Fourth, people also want to prove they’re good enough. That they’ve got what it takes. That they deserve to stand among those who are above. Which connotes that there are people — the majority — who are below.
All of which creates the false impression that authors are jammed together shoulder-to-shoulder, jostling and scuffling for their share of the take, and if you’ve got more and somebody else has got less, that’s just because you’re better at competing. You’re the superior artist. Or, in the eyes of the person with less, you’ve benefited from unfair advantages. You’re the poorer artist, who simply has superior connections, or who rode the “popular” wave, versus what’s obviously “good.” And so forth.
I would like to place in your minds, this simple thought: everything above is bunk.
Your peers are not taking away all the pie. In fact, pie is exactly the wrong way to look at it. It’s more akin to being a catch-and-release fisherman. The marketplace is a huge reservoir. In it swim a boundless variety of beautiful, hungry fish. You have your pole and your tackle — your skillset as a storyteller — and your job is to cast out into the water again, and again, and again. Catching as many fish as you can. All along the shore, are countless other anglers just like yourself. But instead of tossing their fish into a creel, they’re putting the fish back into the water as rapidly as they’re taken out of the water. A fish that bites on the lure of the fisherman fifty yards east of you, is as likely to bite on your lure too. And you promptly throw the fish back, which then swims fifty yards west, to bite on the lure of still another fisherman. And so on.
A voracious fish might chomp on many lures in a short span of time. Slower fish will be pickier and/or not as active. The point being: nobody is ever going to run out of fish. Your only real obstacle, is figuring out which lure(s) are working on any given day. Because not all lures work on all kinds of sport fish, in the same season. Be they pike, or muskies, or bass, or trout. Pick your lane. Hone your skills. Get good at knowing what the trout are chasing, and when. Then, if you’re ambitious, develop an additional skillset for a different type of fish. Nothing says you have to fish for only one kind. Knowing how to catch one type, usually gives you a head start on knowing how to catch another.
And again, nobody — no angler — is ever going to run out of fish. Readers don’t “belong” to any single author, and the marketplace doesn’t either. Readers swim freely throughout, and you’ve got a near endless number of chances to hook somebody on your latest book, or story. At no point is the reservoir ever “used up.”
Now, this is not a perfect analogy.
But it’s a helluva lot better than the finite pie. Right?
It’s truer, too.