Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Zero-Sum Game

Publishing is NOT a Zero-Sum Game

A zero-sum game comes out of game theory and basically means that when one person wins, another must lose.

Writing and publishing does not work that way. There is not a finite number of readers who can read one book a year or a finite number of readers who read fifty books a year and everything in between.

And readers come into genres, read for a while, and then go away, or new readers every year are grown and others die. A niche explodes, a niche dies. Nature process of reader’s tastes.

No one book in the history of the world has reached every reader.

So one of the reasons I try to help writers with craft and business is because I believe that another cliche applies. A rising tide floats all boats.

The better the craft of a storyteller, the more books a quality storyteller can release, the better the expectation of readers for other higher quality stories.

Publishing is just not a zero-sum game. If I put out a novel, that does not mean that some other writer can not. That I published 70 major books and 65 short stories in my 70th year does not mean I hurt 70 other writers.

And that’s where the worry and thinking about AI goes sideways.

Because some writer somewhere dumbs down their books, makes them more boring with AI does not mean they are hurting another writer. Nope, just hurting themselves.

Also, as a few said in the comments on previous posts, thinking AI books will sell or even get through the sales process does not trust readers. (Traditional thinking again.)

Readers spend money for a book, it is dull and boring and sounds like a computer wrote it, that reader will not buy another book from that author. So the market will take care of them just as it always does over the centuries with those wanting to take shortcuts.

Kill the thinking that writing and publishing is a zero-sum game and work to help other writers and support them. That way we all win.


  • S. H. Miah

    A big reason why those writing gurus push the idea of high advertising budgets is precisely because they think no one can find their books in the sea of competition.

    But it’s not really competition at all. J. K. Rowling’s success probably created millions of new fantasy fans that will move onto other books in the genre.

    Her success is a win for everybody!

    • dwsmith

      Yup, no competition in anything in writing. Granted, sometimes in things like Writers of the Future there are limited slots to fill, but it is still not competition, it is one editor’s tastes (and in the case of Writers of the Future) the luck getting through a bunch of judges. Never a competition in writing. That’s why writers help each other.

      You don’t think Brandon’s fantastic Kickstarter didn’t help all writers, you haven’t been paying attention. So I agree, S.H., no competition. But I don’t think competition drives writers to spend huge amounts on advertising. I think it is two factors. One they do not believe in their own book and two they are in a hurry.

      • C.E. Petit

        It’s also worth remembering some things that the publishing industries desperately try to pretend don’t exist: Conflicts of interest and tunnel vision. Consider, for a moment, just how many “publishing gurus” (indie or commercial, and whichever segment of/role in publishing their guru status arises from) obtained the capital base they used to support themselves as authors/gurus before the consulting money and speaking fees started rolling in. Consider, for a moment, that the commercial sales model hasn’t changed since 1968 — despite changes in marketing, sales channels, reader profiles, product characteristics, etc. Conversely, consider the number of indie authors still obsessed with decoding how many sales another author’s sales rank at the ‘zon means were sold, and who think there are only a few influential places to get new-book publicity (not coincidentally, that all require payment).

        And the less said about vanity-press scam-publicity operations, the better.

        Rule of thumb: If someone has a Secret Process and you can’t understand either how it works or the relationship between the cost to you and the predictable benefits to you, either learn more or run away. (Every victim of Bernie Madoff, and every investor in Theranos, did neither.) And as you learn more, keep asking yourself “why is this process secret?”

      • Annemarie Nikolaus

        I think, mostly they are in a hurry. We see that, as they complain after a year or two that they consider to stop writing, because so far they didn’t make it. Though they should have, because they spent so much – time and money – in marketing … I then think, their bottom line would have be the same, hadn’t they burdoned themselves with all that marketing stuff.

  • Philip

    Thanks for weighing in on this. All the usual suspects are heralding AI as the indie savior. I suspect in another 1-2 years you’ll be adding a new Myth to the list.

    As a reader, I have zero interest in a soulless book written by a half-finished robot. Ray Bradbury is rolling in his grave.

  • Brady

    I attended a songwriting workshop once that John Mayer did. A student asked him about market saturation and worrying if there was “room” for his music. John said “when was the last time you heard someone wish there was LESS good music in the world? Just write your songs and make them as good as you can and don’t worry about it.” Same applies to books and stories I think.