I’m competitive by nature, have been my entire life. I always wanted to be the best and still do. Even as a Girl Scout it was never enough to just sell cookies, or sell the most cookies for my troop. I had to sell the most cookies for the entire town. And I did. So I know firsthand the good and the ugly of competition. What I’ve learned is that there’s nothing inherently wrong with competition; it’s comparison, competition’s ugly best friend, that we need to be afraid of.
You can’t compete unless you know what you’re competing against, and while competition can be good (in controlled doses), comparison can be deadly. And don’t try to tell me that you never compare yourself to others. We all do it: writers, agents, publishers, moms, dads, even dog owners spend their days comparing themselves to others. And while it doesn’t hurt to look at others and see the comparison, it does hurt when you start to value yourself based only on that comparison.
On a regular basis I’m fielding calls from clients who have heard that Author X was getting this and “I’m only getting that.” And regularly I’m reminding authors that they can’t compare. While you might know that Author X got a four-billion-dollar advance, that’s all you know (or at least think you know). You don’t know anything about the rest of the contract, her book sales, or even what the marketing and publicity campaign will be, if any. The only thing you know is what you are doing and what you are getting. That’s the only guarantee.
So go out there, compete with Author X. Make sure your books are edgier, funnier, and just plain better. But don’t try to compare your career to hers. You can’t control what she’s getting or doing, you can only control yourself and your writing and what you should be getting. The less time you spend comparing yourself and the more time you spend doing, the more success you will have. I can guarantee that Author X doesn’t give a lick about you. She’s too busy working to perfect her own career and make sure she’s the best.
So as an author, published or unpublished, what do you see as your biggest competition and what do you do to make sure you rise above it?