I usually write these blog posts on Sunday afternoon, after my regular stop at one of the local bookstores in the Albuquerque area. Today was no exception. The first thing I check after entering is the magazine rack of news journals to see what people are saying about national and international politics. (Right now that’s the 2016 election.) Then I begin to wander around the store, examining such areas as the hobby magazines (especially model railroading and woodworking), beginner’s guides to the increasingly sophisticated electronics products out there (phones, tablets, computers, cameras—you name it and there’s a magazine for it), some of the art and artist magazines, and eventually I wander into the book sections. My first stop is always the science-fiction area.
And what an area it is. One of the largest sections in the bookstore. I especially check the new SF/F. I tend to pay little attention to the regular stacks of books because they don’t appreciably change over weeks and months, though I might scan them just to see if anything has been added. It’s the new releases which interest me. For two reasons: primarily I want to see what’s just come out, but secondarily because they’re the ones my books will be competing against if I ever get them published. At first glance, that can be daunting.
Science fiction and fantasy seems to be a booming genre. The colors of the various book covers, often in shades of red and black, compete with the customer’s eyes for attention. I get the impression that most of the books are either fantasy, with lots of swords and knights and jousting and killing and all that, or dark sci-fi wherein wars are being fought and planets destroyed or decimated in some way. I tend to look for the less violent titles. I’m interested in internal conflict, as opposed to external warfare, but I’m not sure that’s too much in vogue at the present time. It’s so easy to write about wars and monsters and so forth, and more difficult to write about the battles and hostilities that take place within the human soul. But that’s what my books are about. (I have to admit, however, the third book in my Anthanian Imperative series does have some battle scenes. Small ones, though.) Warfare sells, I guess.
But the sheer volume of new titles in SF/F brings up another point, that of competition. Can my books, I ask myself over and over, compete with all these new titles? Eventually, I expect my books will be new, too. So, how will they fare next to those in the present display? That can be disheartening, seeing all those books and expecting mine—one more in a rack of fifty or more others—to compete. But then, I tell myself, that’s the wrong question to ask. The real point to be made here is not so much that there is intense competition among authors for the sale of their books, and there certainly is, but that each book should be considered as a title all by itself. Of course mine can compete, I say. I maintain that what is important is not whether a book competes well against established authors, but whether it is any good in the first place. Books—and I believe many people will agree with me here—should be judged by themselves, not as a contestant in a race for the highest sales that can be obtained. I trust my books to be the best I can make them. And if they sell, all well and good. If not, then I’m back to the drawing board and I’ll try again.
Then I go to the Starbucks in the back of the store and look at all the goodies.