Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, July 30, 2007

No Such Thing as the "Competition"

by Jeffrey S Savage

For nearly twenty years now, I’ve worked in high-tech sales. I’ve detoured occasionally through marketing and have taken brief side trips into other fields, but pretty much since I got married, my paycheck has been tied to how much money I generate. In some ways, being in sales is great. I’ve taken my wife on wonderful trips to many places, brought home bonuses of all types, some pretty sizeable commissions, and managed to support my family without having a college degree. I know exactly how to close a deal and how to make sure my employees do the same. I’ve never failed to increase my employer’s sales numbers and have been compensated for my efforts.

That’s the good news about being in sales. The not so good news is that sales is a very high stress job. If you don’t close the deal you don’t get paid. Your job performance is available for everyone in the company to see all the time, and job security is only as strong as your last month’s numbers.

What that has done is to change me from a fairly laid back person who was not the most organized in the world, to a serious type A. I research my competition ruthlessly. I learn everything about their products and teach my salespeople how to exploit the weaknesses I discover. While I am honest at all times in my dealings, nothing makes me happier than to take a sale away from the companies who compete against me.

Some of the things I’ve learned over the years have been very beneficial in my writing career. As soon as I set the goal of one day becoming a full-time writer, I researched everything I could. I learned the market, and tried to duplicate what I found. I’m not the most talented writer in the world, but I studied hard and worked at improving my skills. I’ve also worked hard at marketing my books.

The one thing I didn’t bring with me to the writing world though was the desire to take down my competition. In fact if I’ve learned one thing about the publishing market over the years, it’s that you really don’t have true competitors. Don’t get me wrong, I check all the metrics I can find, and nothing would please me more than to be the top selling fantasy author Shadow Mountain has. (Selling exactly one book more than my good friend James Dashner.)

The difference between my current day job and my writing job is that when another author sells a book, it isn’t taking food from my family. In fact, if another author succeeds in selling more books, it can have a very positive effect on me, and visa versa. Take Stephanie Myer of Twilight fame, for example. She has sold a lot of books. People who may not have read a lot of fiction (and certainly not speculative fiction,) have come up to me and commented about how much they love her books, and wanting to know what other books I can recommend.

Look how many readers have been introduced or reintroduced to fantasy because of Harry Potter. It isn’t like all the other fantasy authors suddenly stopped selling books when HP came out. Quite the contrary. When readers finished an HP book, they went looking for other books to continue to feed their hunger. The same is true in the LDS market. People who never picked up an LDS novel, may try a Julie Bellon book and discover that LDS fiction really is good. What will they do next? Hopefully go try another LDS author’s books. I’m totally cheering on Brandon Mull and Obert Skye, because if they succeed my publisher will have an easier time helping me succeed.

Not only that, but who do you think are the top recommenders of good fiction? In my neighborhood, people come up to me all the time and ask what books are good because they know I’m a writer. I’ve got a library of LDS and national novels that I share out all the time, giving people a taste of this mystery author or that romance novelist. One of the best proponents you can have for your books is another author.

Once you realize that we are all in this together, your next question should be, what can I do to help the other man or woman? It’s not just enough to avoid slamming your “competition.” If you really want to succeed in the long run, you should be looking for ways to help everyone else succeed. If for no other reason than, what goes around comes around. Here are a few ideas.

1) Buy other authors’ books. Read them, recommend them, and share them. If you are not reading what others in your space write—if you are not supporting the very industry that pays you—you have no business writing. Sound harsh? Maybe. But the truth of the matter is that good writers read a lot. And if they want improve they should know what other writers in their space are doing. I was so dang impressed to hear that Stephen King himself was going to be waiting in line at midnight to buy HP 7. He is the man.

This is especially important at book signings. Always, always, always, buy another author’s book if you are doing a joint signing with them. I don’t care how tight on money you are, do it. You will make a friend; you will look classy in the eyes of the store employees; and you will support the cause. Yes you could probably get the book cheaper if the author is with your own publisher, but that’s not the point. It’s like encouraging the other runners when you are out training together.

2) Speaking of book signings, only rude, arrogant, or unknowing authors recommend just their own books at signings. If you are sitting beside another author, take the time to learn about their books and recommend them to people browsing. If you are signing alone, ask the shoppers what kind of books they like, and know enough about the stock (see item 1) to recommend other authors. Of course your main job is to sell your own books. But if you lead a customer over to Michele Holmes new novel because they love a good sweet romance, the customer will almost always ask you to tell them about your book. And believe me, those recommendations from other authors will come back in spades.

3) Spend time noticing other people’s accomplishments and giving other authors a pat on the back. I guess probably all of us spend a lot of time checking for our own reviews, sales stats, etc. But it means a ton when you drop an e-mail to another author congratulating them on making the DB top ten, or telling them what a ward member said about their latest book. We all need that kind of encouragement.

4) Use your connections to help other authors succeed. When I was in the process of getting my first novel accepted by Covenant, I sent an e-mail to Chris Heimerdinger, asking him for advice. He was the top man at Covenant and I was a nobody. It would have been easy for him to blow me off. But he didn’t. He went out of his way to give me good advice. I noticed in the back of Brandon Mull’s new Fablehaven book that he thanked Orson Scott Card for giving him advice on the business of writing.

Let me tell you right now, that it also makes a world of difference if you—as an established author—hand carry another author’s manuscript into your publisher and recommend it. I know not everyone is in a position to do that, and not all manuscripts merit it. But if you are in a position to do so, help them get out of the slush pile. That will help them, your publisher will appreciate you, and you’ll garner good karma. If you have an agent, recommend them too.

5) Give blurbs freely. Okay, I know I’m going to tread on touchy ground here. But I’ve been known to create controversy in the past. (See LDS Pub a couple of days ago.) So why stop now? I like to give a blurb to anyone who asks. Even if their work might not be the genre I write in or something I would not normally pick up to read myself. We all have to ask other authors to give us blurbs. I’m actually hoping that with my Farworld series I can get some pretty high profile authors to say something nice. Even if you absolutely hate a book, there is always something good you can say. It may help that author’s sales, and I highly doubt that you’ll suddenly lose all credibility if you blurb something that isn’t as great as you think it could be. (Fortunately I’ve never had that problem. Everything I’ve blurbed HAS been great.)

6) Share the knowledge and expertise you pick up through your own trial and error. There will always be somebody ahead of you on the road to success and there will always be somebody behind. Lend them a hand, by telling them what you’ve learned.

And equally important, don’t be offended if they chose not to take your advice. What worked for you may not work for them, and no matter how tried and true you may believe a rule to be, there are going to be other people who see exactly the opposite. That’s all good. The point is offer advice freely in forums, in classes, on blogs, or in person. I’ve learned a ton by listening to other, more experienced, authors. LDSpublisher is a great example, as was Miss Snark. They didn’t gain anything for their efforts, since they offer advice anonymously. But they help tons of other writers and make the publishing world a little better.

7) Promote literacy. As I may have said on this blog before, I hate the word literacy. It makes reading sound like work. It’s like calling basketball exercise, or calling RISK strategy and logic training. Reading should be fun. But for some reason lots of people don’t read. I keep a shelf-full of can’t miss books which I recommend to people who for whatever reason never try fiction. The Outsiders, Ender’s Game, Where the Red Fern Grows, A Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter, Redwall, To Kill A Mockingbird. I know I can find something that will open their minds to how cool books can be.

I go to library events, often donating part of my sales back to the library. I am also involved in the Storymakers literacy program, where LDS authors go to ward enrichment nights and give five minute presentations on the importance of literacy. These do not promote our own books, but rather stress the importance of reading as a family, the value of scriptures, the prophets’ words of the importance of having a home library. In September, James Dashner and I will be speaking to a young mens’ group. And in particular to one boy who is not really into sports or scouts, but who loves to write fantasy, and would like to be an author when he grows up. Julie Wright just got back from speaking to a three stake youth conference.

Again these programs are not to sell YOUR books. They are not church sponsored infomercials. They are about helping other people, and giving back a little. If you want to get involved in a program like this in your own area, let me know. You can come to one of our upcoming nights, or we can send you a copy of what our program is like.

8) Point would-be authors in the right direction. Whether it’s your local writing league, a good class, a conference, or a critique group, it is important for beginning authors to meet other people in their same position. Many times, a writer feels like she is the only one out there who stays awake at night with scenes running through her head, or who listens to dialog in the shower, or talks to his characters over breakfast. Help them network with others so they can realize they are not the only odd ones.

Finally, don’t forget what it was like when you started out. Once you’ve been in the business for awhile, you realize that writers are not these demigods sitting on gold thrones listening to their muse play the harp all day. But remember how amazing it was before you had your first book accepted to talk to a “real writer.” Even a little encouragement from someone who had his name on the cover of a book went a long way. It won’t kill you to take a few minutes on the phone or in person to provide some direction and encouragement. You don’t have to volunteer to read her whole manuscript. But just a few tips, some advice on how you made it, and a “Go get ‘em” Can really help.


At 7/30/2007 10:06 PM, Anonymous Jennie Hansen said...

Jeff, you're beating my drum. For years I've been a Johnny-one-note trying to convince authors that we're not competitors, we just each have a different paddle in the same boat. Anything we do to attract more LDS fiction readers helps us all, anything we do to improve LDS fiction helps us all, promoting each others' books pays off big. There are enough really good writers in the field that it shouldn't be hard for any of us to rattle off a list of favorite authors or titles or suit a title to a particular interest. (Signing in St. George when a group of temple workers came into the store made promoting Annette Lyon's last book a natural, Matthew Buckley's book was a great gift for a friend who just gave birth to her fifth boy, etc.)
Your list of suggestions for helping each other is great, we might not all do all of them and some of us may add to the list, but your point is great. We may take different approaches, but we build the market when we build each other.

At 7/30/2007 10:42 PM, Blogger Michele Holmes said...

Jeff, This is exactly why I tell people that everything I know about writing I learned from my critique group.

I cannot express how much I appreciate ALL the help, advice, encouragement---and hand-delivering of manuscripts---that you guys have given/done for me. And I've absolutely loved the few opportunities I've had already to start passing that kindness along.

Great blog from a great person.

At 7/31/2007 12:04 AM, Blogger Candace Salima (LDS Nora Roberts) said...

Great, great, great advice, Jeff. Thanks for blogging on this today.

At 7/31/2007 1:17 AM, Anonymous Marlene said...

Jeff, the only thing that would have made todays blogg better would have been if you'd added a few more beginning writers' books-like my book, Gr.... I'm kidding.

It really is hard to be a beginner, and being out of the Mormon culture in Massachusetts, I find marketing requires a lot of creativity and can be tough. Even my own town library requires a legitimate, published book review before they will carry more than one copy of my book--law suits they say! The closest bookstore carrying LDS books is in another state, and local book store owners won't order the required number of books necessary to distribute merchandise from my publisher. I have a tendency to stress when I hear the word marketing or think of DB ratings. Kerry has been a great help and given me lots of good advice and encouragement, helping me stay sane. I do appreciate the rest of you who are out there doing it for us as well as yourselves. Thanks. The blog helps too, Jeff--another thanks.

At 7/31/2007 1:27 AM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...


That does make it hard. Have you gotten your book review? Why qualifies as legit? Are you sure the publisher won't work with you on the local book store?

At 7/31/2007 2:03 AM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Okay, just for fun, let's use Marlene, and her novel Grave Secrets, published by Covenant as a test subject. Anyone have suggestions for her?

I mentioned talking to Covenant about doing a special smaller order for her local bookstore. Have you had Covenant send out copies for book reviews? Also I noticed that LDSPublisher is looking for bloggers. What aout guest blogging about how hard it is to write LDS novels when you live so far away,like you guest blogged here? Have you asked Covenant about their monthly bookworm thing and getting on that?

What else could she do?

At 7/31/2007 8:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for the blog Jeff,
Having worked in the sales field myself, I applaud your use of your knowlage in marketing yourself. You are the master.

Keith Fisher

At 7/31/2007 10:30 AM, Anonymous Jennie Hansen said...

uh, Marlene, I usually don't announce what I'm reviewing ahead of time, but you'll have your review in August.

At 7/31/2007 11:12 AM, Anonymous Marlene said...

Oh, Jeff and Jennie, needless to say my day is made! and,(wonder of wonders!) I am speechless! I will whine no more!


At 7/31/2007 11:23 AM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...


At least half of what I am promoting here I learned from you. You are the embodiment of authors helping other authors.

At 7/31/2007 11:51 AM, Blogger Josi said...

Marlene--did you send out an announcement to everyone you know, like a postcard or e-mail, directing them to where they can buy it?

Ask covenant who they send review copies to, they should give you a list. Then ask other writer's for leads on other reviewers. If Covenant didn't send a review copy to them, send one yourself. Find bloggers who review books and send them a copy. I did this a few weeks ago and the blogger ended up posting the review on four different blogs. I hadn't expected that.

have you joined a nationwide writer's group that can help you develop literacy nights in your area--LDStorymakers has members all over the US and since you're book was published by Covenant, you'd qualify for membership if you want it.

Do you have a website? Even if it's just a blogspot that tells about you and you don't want to post on, at least people can find you.

Certainly being in Utah helps with in person marketing--but online, and mail can be done anywhere.

Posting on this blog and others helps as well--I must sheepishly confess I had no idea you had a published book even though I've read your comments several times.

Now I better go buy a copy :-)

GREAT post, Jeff, many of us owe you a great deal in our own careers.

At 7/31/2007 11:52 AM, Blogger Josi said...

Oh, and about 85% of what I do to market is done at my desk at home.

At 7/31/2007 11:53 AM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Fantastic advice, all. EXCEPT: I have blurbed a book I hated, and I deeply regret doing it. (I blogged about it somewhere on this site, about a year ago.) While I don't think it hurt my credibility (because the book sold poorly and likely very few people saw my blurb) I've still never felt good about it. While I took great pains to say something honest about the book--I highlighted one particular thing I thought the author did well--there's no getting around the fact that by blurbing I was endorsing the book. And that's dishonest, pure and simple. It was a terrible book which I hated, and I was effectively saying "Buy this book!"

Now fortunately, I've never been asked blurb a crappy book since. All the other books I've blurbed have been great. But I won't be shy about saying "no" next time, if I don't like it.

At 7/31/2007 12:42 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

I'd say 90% of the marketing I do is at home. I send out a ton of books for reviews (in addition to what my publisher sends out). I also send books to published authors and ask for reviews/endorsements that I can put on my website and they can put on their blog.

I would compose a nice letter and send it to several LDS bookstores that are the closest to you (even if they are in another state), along with a free copy of your book. I'd also mention you'd be happy to come if they have an bookstore event.

You can also send promotional letters/press releases to ALL bookstore managers at any LDS bookstore across the US. I've also sent bookmarks in bunches of 50 to 100 for them to put by their registers.

I've also donated books to libraries. And I've held contests for free books on my website and on podcasts.

For me the 2 things that I think make the biggest difference is: Bookmarks to hand out & leave in stores, and a Newsletter list so that you can build a clientele.

Help others promote their work (like Jeff suggests) and it will come back to you 10-fold.

At 7/31/2007 12:46 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

Oh yeah, and you absolutely need a website if you don't have one already. And blogging helps a lot too.

At 7/31/2007 1:30 PM, Anonymous Marlene said...

Thank you all! You really do deserve the Thoughtful Blogger Award. I have sent handmade cards to a lot of bookstore managers and friends, but I haven't taken advantage of online things like I could--and will. Thanks for the all the excellent suggestions.

At 7/31/2007 2:18 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Jeff, this is just more evidence of how cool you are. Like we needed more evidence -- we already knew it.

I've found that my greatest joy in being an author is supporting other authors. Yes, I love it when people buy my books and gush over them, but the real satisfaction for me has come in helping someone else or promoting someone else.

And as far as recommending other authors goes -- my most successful booksignings have been those where the authors I was with recommended my books, and I recommended theirs. It's sometimes easier to chat up someone else's work than your own (you can gush without it seeming self-serving) and it's a lot of fun besides.

At 7/31/2007 3:09 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...


I totally get where your coming from, and it's a hard decision to make when you're asked to blurb something you don't like. This is totally my personal opinion, but I think I'd rather live with the consequnces of finding something I could honestly say was good rather than knowing I'd told another writer that I thought their book was so bad, I couldn't put my name on it.

In my life I have said many really stupid things I regretted, but none of the things I wish I could take back were compliments.

At 7/31/2007 5:08 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

Thanks for all the great advice guys. I learn so much from all of you, an it is comforting to know that authors are out there to help each other and not compete against each other.

At 7/31/2007 7:51 PM, Blogger Rebecca Talley said...

Marlene--You're probably already aware, but over at there's a place to list your book. You can also join that site and "meet" other writers.

Jeff--Great post and great advice. You always take so much time to give help and advice.

One of the things that impressed me at the Storymakers conference was how published authors were so genuinely willing to help others. I'm a firm believer in "what goes around, comes around." I so appreciate all the help and advice from all of you.

This is off the subject, but I wondered about the Whitney Awards. Is there one place where we can go to see what books have been published in 2007? Do we need to browse all the publishers' sites? It'd be nice to have some kind of list. Just a thought.

At 7/31/2007 11:08 PM, Blogger Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen said...

What a wonderful blog. Thank-you for putting into words what I've begun to feel.

At 8/01/2007 9:25 AM, Blogger Julie Wright said...

Jeff, I've said it a millions times and I will say it again--You are the author version of knight in shining armor. I couldn't agree with you more. My best and most fun signings have been where I sell books for other authors.
It's funny when I go to a bookstore and the employees have never heard of me, but I can pick up a jeff Savage or Jennie Hansen book and say, "I sure do love this book!" Most of the time the employees have read what i've read and it gives us something to talk about for the two hours I'm in their store.

Marlene, you should definitely join some writer's groups. Storymakers would love to have you so we can help you connect to the lds market here, but you should also join your local writer's group in massachussetts. Find a conference or two in your area to attend and see if you can hook up there. I do signings all the time at science fiction and fantasy conferences and my book is so Mormon, when you close the cover green jello squirts out (JK)(What town are you from? I lived in Northborough for a little while . . . loved loved loved it!)

At 8/01/2007 12:58 PM, Blogger Shanna Blythe said...


Thanks so much for this blog. I couldn't agree more.

At 8/01/2007 1:40 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

Tons of good advice here, so I'll ditto almost all of it.

But (as you know, Jeff) I have to agree with Rob on this one. If I endorse a book that I think is poorly done, then my credibility is at stake for future readers. If I support a book, I want to do so in a way that readers can trust me. To do otherwise, in my opinion, is dishonest.

IMO. :)

At 8/01/2007 2:06 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Thanks for all the great feedback. It's nice to have such a strong family of writers. Jules, you are way too nice. (Rob will pay you later.) Annette, I was waiting for you to chime in on that one. I'm not written in stone on it. Maybe one day I'll get asked to blurb something I truely hate, and I'll have to struggle with an answer. But even then, I'm not sure I could say no.

At 8/01/2007 2:19 PM, Anonymous Marlene said...

Rebecca, I wasn't aware of that and many other blog sites. I feel like I am making a confession here. I am still pretty computer illiterate as in, I didn't learn how to email until two years ago when our daughter went to Romania to work with handicapped orphans and that was the only way I could contact her. I googled for the first time less than two months ago, and the only blog I have ever interacted in is this one. (I was pretty sure if they took in frogs they wouldn't mind me.) All this advice is wonderful. In fact, I have been jotting down notes through out. This is great, and your guys are the best! I really do appreciate it all.

Julie--Northboro?!!! I've been there several times doing research on my Morse/Sibley/Shattuck family lines, and the area is lovely. I live in Westford, almost directly north of Northboro near the New Hampshire border. By the way, the first time I helped with a family funeral dinner and thus became a full fledged and initiated Relief Society member, I took the green jello with cottage cheese and whipped cream special. Now one of my visiting teachers said she puts fruit cocktail in it! I thought the unofficial RS rule was that you could only put fruits in non-citrus flavor jello, you know the red berry kinds! Have I missed a whole generation of changing rules since I came out here? Is it still mandatory to grind your own wheat, or in an absolute emergency can you use ready ground flour?

Thanks again, everybody. I'll get busy (or unbusy so I can read) and catch up on your books so I can talk them up out here!

At 8/01/2007 2:31 PM, Blogger Janette Rallison said...

Great advice, Jeff. You are absolutely right. A person doesn't think: "I am only going to read one book this month, so I'll find the best one out there and read it." A person reads a book if it seems entertaining. If they find 2 or 5 or 10 great books, they'll read them all.

At 8/01/2007 5:36 PM, Blogger Jennifer Leffler said...

Jeff and the other contributers would you like to contribute to the LDS Readers blog? It is a place to say what you like so others might find good books also. You can check it out at Also, no required weekly blog, just post as you read a good book.

At 8/01/2007 10:41 PM, Blogger Lu Ann Brobst Staheli said...

A brilliant piece of advice, and it fits so well with my understanding of The Secret---there are no limits when it comes to the number of people who can experience success. Thanks for posting for everyone to see. As for those of you who are looking for a reviewer or who need legitimate press, I have been adding reviews of LDS novels to some of my recent newspaper columns (Josi Kilpack, Dean Hughes, Orson Scott Card, Chris Heimerdinger, Richard Paul Evans), have long reviewed national market books by LDS authors (Carol Lynch Williams, Chris Crowe, Rick Walton, Martine Leavitt, Mette Ivie Harrison, Randall Wright, Michael O. Tunnell, Stephenie Meyer, Shannon Hale, Caralyn Buehner, Obert Skye, Tamra Norton, Laurel Stowe Brady, Ron Woods, Laura Torres, Louise Plummer, Kristen D. Randle, A.E. Cannon, Virginia Sorensen, Kimberly Heuston, Beatrice Sparks, PhD., Barbara Willaims, Thelma Hatch Wyss, Rebecca Tingle), and most recently, I've been podcasting (Jeff Savage) and writing feature articles (Michele Holmes) about LDS authors. I'm willing to read either your ARC or book and try to work it into an upcoming column. No promises and I'm always running behind, but my columns are published in two Utah newspapers and go out in e-zine format to subscribers (both LDS and not) all over the U.S. Some of my reviews appear in national magazines geared toward English teachers and librarian which have been quoted in reviews as well. Hey, I'm offering and it's one more place for you to get free publicity. Let me know if you are interested (and Janette, I promise to get one of yours in soon!)

At 8/03/2007 3:34 AM, Blogger C. L. Hanson said...

Regarding credibility and writing blurbs for books that aren't your cup of tea:

In almost every case I think there's something interesting and unique that you can point out about a book. My policy in book reviews is to avoid saying things like "everyone should read this book!" because I don't feel that way even about my favorite books. I'd rather give information that helps readers decide if they'd likely be interested in the book or not. I'm probably just being a crazy idealist here, but I'd be more annoyed to see my name attached to a sentence that could just as easily apply to hundreds of books than to see an insightful comment on a book I was lukewarm on. That said, if I feel like I can't in good conscience recommend the book to anyone at all, then I won't review it.

J. S. Savage: This is an excellent article overall. It's easy to look at someone else's success and feel jealous, but it's better to see building an audience for a particular genre as being a team effort and a rising tide that lifts all boats.

p.s.: Don't worry that I'm expecting you guys to see my work as necessarily the same genre as yours -- I'm just commenting because this article contains good advice.

At 8/04/2007 8:51 AM, Blogger Anne Bradshaw said...

Great blog, Jeff. I couldn't agree more with everything you say here. And those literacy nights are super fun evenings. Even the presenters enjoy themselves :-)

I love your attitude re giving blurbs when asked. Wish I'd sought yours on my new short story book, but didn't think to ask because it was a different genre. I'll know better next time :-)

Two excellent female authors obliged, but every male author I approached declined without even reading the book. Knowing how that stung, made me determined to help others if asked for a similar favor.

At 11/02/2010 7:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Jeff,
It's Dawn... sis in law. I'm not really sure how i stumbled onto this site... i think i was trying to figure out if a certain author was lds. I read your article and think that it was all great advise! Kindness brings kindness right back to you! You are an amazing author... and I love that you are so encouraging as well! enjoy your day :)



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