There is a sinister myth that there is a writer competition. The idea is that somehow my fans can’t be your fans. Or perhaps it’s that the fans only have so much time to spend reading. That strikes closer to truth, but it’s not quite accurate. I think Jeff Bezos nailed the truth about the real competition. (Please note that this article is about making books cheaper, which I disagree with. Good books should be worth a good sum.)
What Jeff Bezos said is that books don’t just compete with other books. Instead, books compete with video games, television, magazines, and more. It becomes hard to justify to the reader why they should sit still and pay attention when they have a laser sound zapping inches from the head (television). It’s hard to keep a reader as immersed in a universe vs when they get to choose each movement of a character (video games). It’s difficult to take a phrase and make it crackle vs when a large glossy illustration speaks a thousand words (magazines).
Readers/Humans don’t have a built in preference, they simply go with the easier system toward reward. Our brains are wired to work like water: the path of least resistance. We aren’t simply in a writer competition with other writers.
So how do authors compete against such an onslaught of sensory delights?
- Know the medium: Boundaries
- Television, video games, and magazines have budgets. They may not be able to show an intricate scene with complex machinery and aliens. A writer doesn’t have this boundary. So long as they can describe a scene, it exists. It’s as cheap to write a scene about mountains as it is to write about a shopping mall. So, take the readers to a place television can’t go.
- Polish elegance into a fine mirror
- Writing fiction is sometimes closer to poetry than it is to screenwriting. You can spend time finding the perfect phrase. You can write and re-write a scene quickly. That allows an author to keep polishing a component until it shines with an elegance that television and video games often can’t match. Television can re-shoot scenes over and over, but they are still kept within the boundaries of the background and budget.
- Know the medium: Pacing
- Movies and TV are kept to a foreign measure of how long they should be. They need to fill a specific amount of time between commercials or in the theaters. Too short and people feel ripped off. Too long and people feel frustrated. Books force the pace of action to what the story needs. There is no measuring stick that says you need to meet your villain within 5000 words. There is no guideline that says a conversation must be more than five words. Books can force the pace to what the story requires. That means if you can predict the stories proper pace, you can keep the readers engaged in a way movies and television can’t.