Know Your Enemy

by J.J. Hensley

I was once asked to work with a marketing expert who claimed authors should never do anything to help promote other authors.  “They are your competition,” she claimed.  “And you never help out the enemy.”

She continued to spell out some of her rules for author marketing:

  • Never let anyone guest post on your blog.
  • Do not mention other authors on social media.
  • Do not help advertise other writers’ events.
  • etc., etc.

I never bought into this philosophy and apparently many others felt the same way, as this “expert” did not stay employed for long.  It is impossible for most writers to consider other writers the competition when we have so much in common with each other.  As a group, we have a set of shared goals, shared frustrations, as well as shared stories of disappointment and achievement.  Not to mention, when we have driven our spouses completely crazy by talking about writing, we can turn to each other, knowing writers can rarely drive each other crazy since most of us have taken that drive and are still roaring toward the cliff like Thelma and Louise (for the younger writers out there – Google that reference).

While I may think it is ridiculous to give other writers enemy combatant status, I have to admit many authors, myself included, are competitive by nature and can be driven by the need to outperform another.  So, this begs the question:  Who is our enemy?

Now, I’m not talking about the internal or personal enemies many writers are forced to confront:  Self-doubt, perfectionism, time management, or the inability to set up a proper coffee IV.  No, I’m talking about external enemies.  I tend to think these enemies are our true competition and the sad fact is authors and publishers are currently outmanned, outgunned, and out-financed.  We are not battling with other writers for the time and focus of readers as much as we are battling other forms of entertainment that come in thirty to one hundred twenty minute bursts.

Our competition is not the author of the hottest new mystery.  Our competition is the newest reality television show.  Our competition is the weekly television drama that people spend one hour watching, but another two hours tweeting about.  Our competition is NCIS Los Angeles, because the team on that show has shot (and mostly killed) approximately five people per episode for seven seasons, making them a death squad to rival any South American version from the 1980s.  Our pool of potential readers has become immersed in an entertainment industry where it is perfectly acceptable to make seventeen Jurassic Park movies, twenty two Rocky films, fifty seven versions of Spider-Man, and one upcoming remake of Road House (which is just sacrilege). 

Our enemy is the fact that originality has become less profitable than predictability.  If we want our readers to discover unique stories from unusual perspectives, who – other than our fellow writers – will help us promote these attempts to capture the imagination of the public?  Some publishers will take chances with stories that are original, but they are businesses that are subject to the demands of the marketplace.  If the general public yearns for the predictable, then publishers will continue to market the predictable.

This is why it is up to writers to assist each other in any way possible when it comes to lending advice, helping with publicity, and supporting online and live author events.  Groups like the International Thriller Writers, which encourages author support, are somewhat rare and perhaps this is because some writers really do shy away from helping others.  I hope that is not the case.  Because the hard truth is when a writer starts believing other writers are the enemy, she has forgotten our true competition is sound bite entertainment in which we are perfectly okay that L.L. Cool J always wears long sleeve shirts in Los Angeles – even in the summer. 

J.J. HENSLEY is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.  He graduated from Penn State University with a B.S. in Administration of Justice and has a M.S. degree in Criminal Justice Administration from Columbia Southern University. Hensley’s works include the novels Measure Twice and Resolve; the latter was named one of the BEST BOOKS OF 2013 by Suspense Magazine and was a finalist for Best First Novel at the 2014 Thriller Awards.

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