Sunday, November 25, 2007

There is no such thing as literary competition

When creating trade book proposals, it is standard to include a "competition" section examining other similar books in the marketplace and demonstrating that there is room for yours. The concept of competition is an especially keen one in the university press world, where scholars are supposed to make original contributions to their various fields. Authors are urged to check Forthcoming Books in Print and make sure that nothing too close to their topic is on its way. A gap in the literature is supposed to indicate room for a new title.

I beg to disagree, however, and now Harvard University Press has offered some backup. According to Publisher's Weekly, HUP originally planned to publish Jeremi Suri's Kissinger and the American Century this fall. But last Spring they moved the pubdate earlier. Why? To capitalize on the appearance of a HarperCollins title by Robert Dallek, Nixon & Kissinger: Partners in Power.

Conventional wisdom would say "Oh no! Competition! Two Kissinger books in one season!" But HUP knew better. Books tend to sell each other by demonstrating the viability of a market. Interested readers may want to pick up both titles. Booksellers have an easier time displaying multiple titles, and so-called competing publishers can even team up and share the cost of in-store displays. Apparently HUP also hoped that Suri and Dallek would be invited onto the same talk shows. You can even buy the books together at a combined discount on
If you have a big book planned and then you learn to your horror that another one is coming out from a competing publisher, relax. Or better yet, pop some champagne. No two scholars will ever write the same book anyway, and literary company is a fine excuse to make a new friend of the other author and combine your resources to promote your books together.

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