Below are some concerns that you will answer when you review your competition. Sniffing out your competition is a worthwhile effort and will yield you knowledge that will help you go forward in becoming a published author. You will also find that the information you glean will help you to sharpen your own presentation and writing style.
I Am Not a Competitor, So Why Compare?
Yes, it can be argued that the Baby Boomers are not consciously presenting this threat or that it even has anything to do with competition. Such may be the case. But the end result and the ultimate impact on the up and coming generations is that you WILL be forced to compete and it will happen either here or abroad. It is best to simply face it, accept it, and scout out your competition.
Who Are Your Competitors?
In order to compete, you must know who your competitors are and you must understand how to best them in the eyes of your editor or business person. Once you have a clear view of who competes with you for the nonfiction writing that you hope to publish, you can then create a personal strategy for winning influence with your editor or decision maker.
Things to consider when identifying your competitors:
- Am I a beginning writer? Have I well developed my own style? Do I write in such a way that my reader quickly and easily understands me?
- How much education do I have, and what is the level of education that other writers in my field possess? Am I willing to return to the schoolhouse in order to sharpen my skills or in order to obtain a degree if my editor requires it?
- How upset do I get if I don't win a contract? When I do not win a project, do I blame others or do I look at my own presentation for ways to improve it?
- Have I mistaken the idea of cheapest for competition? How am I qualifying what I offer when assessing my competitive position? Do I guarantee my client or editor a high quality manuscript?
- What do my competitors do to make themselves stand out to editors and clients? Have I posed as a potential client to get myself into conversations with my competitors so I can find out what they say?
- If I haven't talked with my competitors, then how will I offer a better writing, a better service, or a better finished product?
- Just who, indeed, are my competitors? Do they live near me? Do they live in my neighborhood, city, state, or country? Are they full time writers or freelancers who use their writing to create spending money for their kids? Are they educated stay-at-home moms, or professionals who view their nonfiction writing as a second job?
- Does my competition exude a professional attitude, an all business attitude, an easy going artistic attitude, or what? What is the attitude of the writers that my targeted editor responds to?
What Do Your Competitors Have in Common?
When looking at what your competitors may have in common, it is vital to examine your actual competitors rather than those you imagine as your competitors. How many times have you assessed someone from a distance only to get to know them and discover that you judged them wrongly?
Here are some questions to consider about your competitors:
- Do they come in early and work late all the time?
- Do they give the customer what he wants regardless of whether it is a slight imposition on their time?
- Are they focused on their client or editor and on what he or she wants produced for them?
- Do they put all other things in a secondary position when trying to please their client or editor?
- Do their clients continue to use them on a regular basis? Do editors call them month after month for another assignment?
- Do they give their client a heavy dose of MMFI (Make Me Feel Important)? Are they sensitive to the editor's or client's need to feel important to the writer?
- Do they get it when it comes to relating to their client or editor? Do they connect the dots between giving and showing their editor or client a heavy dose of respect and gaining repeat assignments?
If your competition does not meet these ideals or exceed in these areas, then you are indeed already ahead in the eyes of your editor or client. Many of these concerns can only be assessed by a personal interaction with your competitors. Although it may seem scary or perhaps rude to feel out your competition by specifically questioning them, it is in your best interest to make the effort to do so.
How Do the Writing Styles of Your Competitors Compare to Yours?
A serious nonfiction writer must have a view of his or her competitor's writing style. What does that mean? Your writing style is the flow of your writing which most accurately reflects your personality or voice. To explain a writer's writing style is a bit challenging because it is such an intangible thing, but in many ways you can get it if you just think personality.
What Are Your Competitors Charging? What Are They Paid?
To give you an idea of what you should charge and what you should accept, consider these things in evaluating your own position:
- What is my education level?
- Am I writing to an audience at or below my own education level? If not, am I willing to research, research, research and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite?
- Is this my first writing assignment? My first year as a nonfiction writer?
- What can I point to when an editor or client asks for writing samples?
- How persuasive am I when presenting myself as a professional nonfiction writer?
- If I have never written professionally, then what do I have in my past that I can point to as a natural dovetail to this profession? For example, did I ever serve a company as an in-house ad writer, even just a couple of times, or without the official title? (Hint: Use it as an "old" work sample).
For first time writers, you can expect to be paid pennies for your work. It is not uncommon to spend a number of years on assignments that pay $10 to $50 for the whole deal. It may be a 500 word article that pays $10. Do not be surprised by this type of an offer. Oh, and don't be sloppy about it just because the pay is so little. The only way for a writer to make more money is to become a better writer. There are no shortcuts to better pay in the nonfiction world. If you do a sloppy job as some personal protest to the lousy pay, then you hurt yourself and no one cares about your protest. If you don't like the pay, then don't accept the assignment; it's that simple.
On the flip side, after a few years and a heavy string of work samples to point to, you can make a decent living as a nonfiction writer. Earlier in I said $4 per word is not a realistic pay to expect in the U.S. I will, however, say here that you can regularly earn $0.08 to $0.15 per word writing everyday nonfiction articles and projects once you have some years behind you. You can make even more if you venture into writing books or ghostwriting for others.
When checking out your competitors, try to find out what they are actually paid on their regular assignments. It is very likely the pay will fall into the $0.08 to $0.15 per word range rather than whatever they quote as their rate. But, if they are staying busier than you and writing material that you want to write, then they are your competition and it does you good to never discount their rates.
Apples to Apples, Oranges to Oranges
When you research your competition, be sure to compare apples to apples so to speak. If you talk to someone who is primarily a ghostwriter and you want to make their higher rates, then consider giving up the digest articles for larger, more time consuming efforts.
WORDS TO KNOW
- Generation X. The U.S. population born between 1961 and 1980.
- Generation Y. The U.S. population born between 1981 and 2000.
- Baby Boomers. The U.S. population born between 1941 and 1960.
- Writing style. The flow of the writing in a given manuscript.
- Flow. Also known as cadence or smoothness.
- Voice. The author's personality as reflected by the flow and writing style of the author.
 Contrary to popular and widespread ignorance, a generation is defined by a twenty-year period rather than by who was born in pre-war or post-war periods. American marketers who want to shorten a generation actually serve to disenfranchise that generation by alienating a portion of the group. This has the effect of cutting off the generational wisdom and economic power of the group and creates hostile intergenerational attitudes which serve those in power.
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