The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

A Question Of Authorial Respect

Posted by BigWords on January 22, 2011

Playing a little game of “What If” now, because I want to ask a question, but I don’t want to be completely open about exactly what I’m up to. Those of you who know the general elements of what this is regarding may want to take a back seat, as I don’t require more calls of “Bloody hell man, get on with it already.” This isn’t another attempt at delaying the inevitable approach of the-thing-which-must-not-be-referred-to. Really. Honestly. It is a valid question which I haven’t seen pondered enough, and as it has some passing relation to the things I am currently going through, it seems a decent enough time to raise the issue with people who may have a more objective viewpoint from which to approach the suspect. I’ll get to the big question in a moment, but first I’ll set out a hypothetical situation from which I will move on.

If a title is on the market – irrespective of its’ provenance (traditional vs. self-published, paperback vs. digital book), and ignoring the qualifications of the author – and has been for some time, how long (if a time frame is to be brought up) is the correct period to wait before a similar title might be considered? For our imaginary title, lets stick to non-fiction (as there really are no new ideas in fiction, merely variations on a theme) as that is where the issue really gets tangled up. Are we, as writers, subject to some unspoken rule about not interfering with another author’s work by bringing out a competing title for a certain amount of time, or are we beholden to readers, who demand choice in their purchasing habits? Is there even an issue here?

Adding to the problem:

  • If both books are about a specific sub-section of an area which has not been fully documented to date, does this matter?
  • If the sole book on the market is from a respected author, what are the obligations the second book must make towards the first?
  • When preparing for publication, are we obliged to inform the author of the competing title of the imminent approach of a new title?
  • If there is sufficient reason to believe that an updated edition of the first book is going to be released, should work on a book be stopped, or postponed, until the other title has had a chance to recoup its’ investment?

This is normally the place where I screw around and have fun, but this question has been nagging at me for a few weeks. I take the rights of authors seriously, and the idea that, by omission or ignorance, I might negatively affect someone else is really pressing on my mind. I know there is a call for a definitive work about the thing I am thinking of (which some folks will already know), yet I keep backing off because of a title which appeared a decade ago. It’s far from a perfect reference work (this is no slight on the author), and I keep returning to the prospect that my work on the subject might actually be important. Not important as in world-changing, but important for those interested in the subject.

So here’s the issue – Am I stepping on anyone’s toes by continuing this project? It’s not as if the purpose of the two books would be a problem, as the one I am writing is more in-depth, as opposed to the shotgun approach which the extant title took. I’m also going to completely ignore a few of the quirks which the existing book presented. It’s an entirely different approach, though there is room to believe that they would be seen as competing entries to a small market. If there had been a few different titles out there, this would be less of a quandary, but the fact that my book would be the first to openly tackle the same subject makes things all the more complicated. Maybe I’m over-thinking things wildly, and making a problem where none exists…

Having looked at areas where people have been the first to publish a book in competition with an existing title, I have noticed a tendency for things to get… Well, “messy” would be an understatement. The accusations which arise when people enter so small an area of publishing, no matter if they have a perfect reason for presenting their work, makes prolonged consideration of the pros and cons a requirement rather than an afterthought. It really matters to me that I do not anger the individual in question, as his work – whatever I think of its’ presentation of the data – is a landmark in certain geek circles. Going forth with the project is giving me headaches which no fiction has ever managed, and some degree of impartial commentary on this would really be appreciated here.

I could say “fuck it, I’m going ahead whether people like it or not,” but that leaves me with the possible conflict I wish to avoid if at all possible. I’m not even sure there would be a problem should this be brought to the attention of the individual whose work I may be threatening (which is, in itself, a pretty big statement I really don’t want to make this early), as they seem to be genuinely love the subject. If someone is so enthralled by such a (relatively) small interest area, then further information should be welcomed… Right?

Jeez, I can’t believe I’m trying to talk myself out of completing the damn book after so much work. As it stands at this moment, there is nothing to say that there could be some degree of collaboration should events require it. I’m willing – with caution – to share further details of what I am working on, but I really would prefer this to be handled in a way which does not drag undue attention to something which needs (at least) another few weeks to get all the pieces in place.

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7 Responses to “A Question Of Authorial Respect”

  1. Jamie D. said

    Okay…so I was with you on all of your concerns until this part:

    …yet I keep backing off because of a title which appeared a decade ago.

    Seriously? If the title was out that long ago, I’d say give a nod to the original in your preface or acknowledgments if you wish, and get your book out there! After ten years even the original “expert” on the subject is bound to have changed views somewhat, and honestly, reference materials/non-fiction that old are generally considered out of date anyways.

    One thing I *would* do is to get yours out there *right now* before an updated version of that one comes out. Because that could present a problem, IMO.

    So while I have no idea what you’re talking about (did I miss something?), I’ll add my call to, “Bloody hell man, get on with it already.” 😉

  2. bigwords88 said

    LOL. It’s something I planned on releasing last summer before everything hit me at once and forced me to concentrate my energy on RL concerns. The aspect of it being out of date is interesting as there is ten years of things which I’m going to have to cover in addition to the overlap. A quick word about the original seems like a smart option, especially as I’m ignoring certain aspects of that publication.

    Edits are continuing, irrespective of whatever I end up doing with the book. 🙂

  3. I also say, “Go for it!”

    There are so many similar titles out there. What matters is what is inside.

    Of course, I would caution against using a famous title for obvious reasons. But other than that…

  4. oops. I hit the “send” button too quickly. That happens when one needs a cup of coffee.

    I just wanted to add that I agree with Jaimie D. If you used the other book as a reference, then yes, include it in your acknowledgements.

    But it does sound like you are causing yourself unnecessary stress over this. There are countless books with similar titles, countless books on the same subject matter…

    Just put your own expertise and spin on it.

    Good luck!

  5. bigwords88 said

    You’re probably right. The big issue which is playing on my mind is the fact that the guy (for it is such) doesn’t seem to be online. I’ve put out feelers on the QT through the geek community (a tactic I have employed in the past for information), but in this instance it is simply turning up tumbleweed. Having direct confirmation that there is no problem here would probably alleviate the concerns I am having.

    Yeah. I know. “Take a chill pill and concentrate on the work at hand.” All the same, it’s disconcerting to have my first major piece of non-fiction hanging under such a cloud of doubt.

    It’s cool that you used the word “expertise” there – I can only think of (maybe) a dozen people in the UK who would have any hope of laying out such a body of work. This is one area where I feel I really have something unique to offer the geek community… If only the niggling voice at the back of my head would shut up and let me concentrate on finishing it.

    I really do appreciate these comments. 🙂

  6. Bill van Oosten said

    I agree with Jamie D. and I thik his suggestions are worh considering.There are many books covering same subjects. Perhaps there is acrimony behind closed doors, but who cares? You believe in what you do (have researched and written). Your hind brain would have pulled the plug long ago if this was not a ‘real’ accomplishment. Go for it, to not will come back and haunt you. Good luck on your mission.

  7. bigwords88 said

    Thank you. This is the first non-fiction work I am completely comfortable with, so it’s important I don’t screw it up by trying to dodge anything. Being forthright about the possible problems which might arise has shown (via these wonderful comments) that I should concentrate on the book rather than things which are completely out of my control.

    I will update on progress soon. 🙂

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