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Unhealthy competition; damned Spotify; invisible ads — Newsletter 13 December 2023

Newsletter week 22: Stop slagging other authors, will Spotify crash audiobooks?, AI copyright posturing, three people to follow, three books to read, and some very lame ad copy.

The myth of personal market share

A shocking and tragic story rattled the publishing world this week. Cait Corrain, a fantasy novelist who had secured a two-book deal with Random House, admitted that she’d created fake profiles on Goodreads to boost her own book and to post poor reviews of those of fellow authors. Random House revoked her deal. She has blamed alcohol and substance abuse for her poor judgment.

Corrain’s troubling behavior seems extreme. It’s easy for any of us to think, “What a sad case, that’s not how normal people behave.”

But in my experience, every author has had similar thoughts, even if we haven’t actually set up fake personas to boost our own standing and run down others’.

After a year or more working on a book, we desperate to “win.” After all, we are all trained since childhood to compete. We want to be the best. Since there is only one “best,” that means being better than the other pretenders. You want to have the top book on building confidence, or the go-to book on cybersecurity, or the new bible on generative AI. That means the other books in that space must be shown to be inferior.

If you’ve ever worked in a corporate environment, you’ve been constantly bombarded with the goal to build market share. It is easy to believe there is a fixed amount of business to be done. If somebody else gets it, your company doesn’t. So your job is to boost your market share at the expense of the other guy. Competition is the constant backdrop for every activity.

So it’s no surprise that all of us authors want to suck up that personal market share — to have our books occupy as much of the potential reader’s mind space as possible, in the process shoving aside the other books on the same topic.

It’s a lie.

Your biggest problem as an author is not other books. It is lack of awareness.

If you are on a panel with other authors, that raises all of your visibility.

If your book is reviewed in a roundup of similar books, that’s great for all of you.

If someone gives you a call-out as the second best book on a topic, that’s a lot better than failing to be mentioned altogether.

There is no such thing as an author’s personal market share. The reason is that people buy lots of books on a topic, not just one. Books are cheap. It’s not a choice between your book and another book. In fact, if people learn about an idea from another book, they’re then far more likely to hear about your book about a similar idea.

Don’t believe me? Then why does Amazon put that little reminder about “People who bought this book also bought these other books” at the bottom of every book page? Amazon can calculate the value of screen real-estate to the last pixel. Their certainty that people buy more than one book on a topic is profitable for them. Why can’t it be profitable for you?

As an author, I don’t have personal competitors. I have professional friends. If you liked their books, you’ll like mine. And if you like mine, you’ll like theirs. (See my recommended books list at the end of this post if you don’t believe me.)

We need to stick together. Because we’re a lot more likely to succeed (or fail) together.

Even if you’re not an author, consider that the same reasoning applies to coaches, consultants, and public speakers.

Stop scratching and clawing for market share. Start elevating your ideas along with your “competitors.” They’re probably pretty smart people, just like you.

News for authors and others who think

In the New York Times, Kim Scott whines about Spotify commoditizing audiobooks: “Will Books Survive Spotify?” For nonfiction authors, any additional exposure is likely to generate supplemental income from other services. And frankly, anyone who competes with Amazon’s Audible is welcome. I’d like to see bookshop.org get into this market — it’s far more likely to treat authors fairly.

The Association of American Publishers has piled on to the fight about AI and piracy with a brief for the US Copyright Office. At this point, everyone is just posturing. The Supreme Court is going to have to rule on one simple issue: is a large language model “reading” and learning from a massive collection of copyrighted books considered piracy? If the machine were a human, it wouldn’t be. If the machine kept copies of everything it consumed, it would be. It’s not an easy baby to split. This will be the most important Supreme Court decision about content since it took on file sharing services like Napster.

According to a study by the Association of National Advertisers, advertising on common ad-distribution platforms is mostly wasted. It found that “35% of every dollar was spent on either nonviewable, nonmeasurable, or made-for-advertising inventory, or on nonhuman, bot traffic.” And so many of the ads following me around the internet and social media are so crappy. We’ve efficiently created a machine for distributing drivel at scale.

Three people to follow

Catherine Morgan, counterintuitive guru on the future of work.

Mitch Joel, dean of insightful podcasters and founder of the innovative startup ThinkersOne.

Alison Jones, publisher and host of the Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast.

Three books to read

(Note: Most of these are bookshop.org links and I receive a small affiliate bonus if you buy from them.)

Everybody Writes: Your New and Improved Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley (Wiley, 2022). Updated edition of one of the best and most readable corporate writing manuals.

Great Founders Write: Principles for Clear Thinking, Confident Writing, and Startup Success by Ben Putano (Damn Gravity, 2022). Starting a company and spreading an idea have a lot in common.

Write Useful Books: A modern approach to designing and refining recommendable nonfiction by Rob Fitzpatrick (Useful Books, 2021). A short and useful manual for nonfiction that serves readers well.

Poorly written last chance holiday plug

Holiday discounts on the five-star rated Build a Better Business Book end Friday. It’s the perfect gift for the author in your life. (I promise, I write a better book than my ad copy).

Print edition 23% off with code “author” at checkout.

Ebook now only $3.99.

Audiobook at Audible: one credit for 7 hours and 47 minutes of me talking!

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One Comment

  1. I’m curious, so a somewhat off-topic question, Josh. You’re so thoughtful about so many little details that there must be a reasoned reason behind this… At the bottom of your daily email — which is a brief tantalizing snippet of the day’s topic — the “Read more of this post” link is a simple text link (in color), and the “Comment” link is a big, bright, green button. Of course I want to read the full post before I comment, but I invariably click the “Comment” button instead of the “Read more…” text link, slap my forehead, then have to scroll back up to read the article. What’s up with that? Why’d you set it up that way? Not a big deal but just wondering…