I once sat down to lunch with a New York Times Best Selling Author who complained that another author had stolen his idea, and now he couldn't write about that topic because that author's series was so successful.
For some reason, like that author, in our author community, there is a terrible scarcity mentality. Coined by Stephen R. Covey, scarcity mentality means a destructive and unnecessary competition based on the idea that if someone else wins or is successful in a situation, that means you lose; not considering the possibility of all parties winning (in some way or another) in a given situation. This mindset is rampant in our author community, and it is also WRONG!
I know it's not easy for us creative people, but let's switch the the yucky side of our brain and look at this from a business perspective. Whether you're selling books or giving them away for free, your book is your product (something that is bought, given away, or exchanged.) In this post, we're going to look at two types of products: consumable and non-consumable.
Consumable products are usually things like food, makeup, toiletries, cleaners, etc. that you use and replenish over time, after you use them. Non-consumable items are products like furniture, clothing (for some of us ;), appliances, etc... Things that are expected to last forever or at least for a really long time. Which describes your product (book)?
While books really do last a long time and may be kept forever, books are technically a consumable product because once a reader is done with a book, they'll eventually read another. Unless you absolutely never read, you're not just going to read one book in your life and say, "Ok, I've read a book, I'm good..." and never read again. Do you see what mean? Books are a consumable product, the demand for new books will never end. Even if your book is a historical nonfiction or instructional, it can always been updated.
This is one of the main reasons that scarcity mentality is so damaging to authors. Whenever we assume we can't write something because it's already been written or can't sell our book because a rival is successful, we limit ourselves. Think of how many books have ever been written. Chances are, your story has been told in some form or another. Generally, there aren't many new ideas, just new creative ways to present them. As a writer, your job is to make whatever you write sound new and exciting, even if "it's been done before."
I've seen two main attitudes among authors: that competitive scarcity mentality and an abundance mentality. Yes, another Stephen R. Covey term. (If you haven't ready The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, do it now, it can change your life. It changed mine.) Abundance mentality is "a concept in which a person believes there are enough resources and successes to share with others. Individuals with an abundance mentality reject the notion of zero-sum games and are able to celebrate the success of others rather than feel threatened by it."
Author, illustrator, and business owner Deirdra Eden, of Eden Literary, related an experience she had with another cover designer:
"She was my biggest competitor in our niche market, we both created quality covers at a decent price. I got a new client in New York. It was a huge job, and a great opportunity, but I knew that I couldn't do it with my workload at that time. So, I contacted this rival and asked her if she wanted this job, because I knew that she did comparable work at a comparable price, and I trusted her to do a good job. She took the job and was happy to have it, and she even paid me a referral fee. After that, we both talked about how we had a lot of work, we were backlogged. To this day, we still give each other work when we've got too much going on, or if there's something I know she'll enjoy, I'll send it over to her."
This working relationship that Deirdra developed is a perfect example of this abundance mentality, it's a win-win (or if you're a fan of The Office, win-win-win.) Both cover designers got something out of it, and the client was happy.
As authors, we have a very unique community. I've seen authors sacrifice and work to promote the work of others. (I've also seen authors do really mean things, but let's not get into that.) When I meet a stranger, and we find out we're both authors, we're instantly friends, if not family. As such, we have the opportunity to build each other up through competitive collaboration.
What in the world is that? Your competition can help build your brand. Working together and helping each other, like family or friends, we actually sell more books. Let's say your rival is selling a similar book to the one you're promoting. The world is ending! Right? Heck no! Selling a similar book is actually a powerful marketing tool.
Why do you think you see so many movies come out with similar plots at the same time? People want to see which they like best. Yes, you will be compared, but to compare your books, they need to read your books. Have you noticed the ads on Facebook or sites where you're looking at books? Notice they'll say something like, "If you like this book, you'll love this book!" Use it to your advantage! Their fans are your fans.
Don't alienate your coworkers and clients with a bad attitude. We're a community, be a good neighbor.