The Pros and Cons of Comparing Yourself to Other Writers

We all start at the beginning

We all start at the beginning

 

Being a fiction writer can be much like working in a bubble. While smart authors keep an eye on trends in the market, ultimately they each must create the best book they can and then hope it finds an audience. Since each work is an individual piece, and each author has their own distinct voice and style, are fiction authors really in competition with one another?
The Trend Chasers
When a trend is hot, and many are jumping on the bandwagon with similar titles and themes, then yes, those authors are competing for the audience that is buying that type of story. However, those situations are usually temporary because trends in fiction come and go. Tropes, genres and sub-genres rise and fall in popularity. Authors rise and fall in popularity (or notoriety). But thanks to a little invention called the e-book, published stories can now remain on the virtual shelf until they become popular again or are discovered by new readers (which may still require marketing and promotion, but at least now there’s an opportunity for resurrection). For more on the topic of writing to market vs. the story of your heart, see this excellent post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Readers may have a huge TBR (to be read) pile, and the self-publishing gold rush may be over, but that doesn’t mean there is no chance for any given book to find an audience and gain sales. Whether self, indie, or traditionally published, a good story deserves a chance to be read. It’s not like we already have all the authors we can handle, or there are too many books in the world. The pipeline needs to be fed!
Author vs. Author
Does another author’s success or lack of success really affect you as an author? Only if you let it, by comparing yourself to others and feeling as though you are in competition with them. But there are times when comparing yourself to other writers can be helpful; it all depends on why you are doing it.
Reasons Why You Should:
For inspiration- Your favorite authors are your favorite because something in their voice and storytelling abilities resonates with you. It may be worth exploring in depth why that is so, to understand what touches you as a reader. It will likely be part of why you want to write in the first place.
To learn- So much can be learned from observing successful authors- craft techniques, marketing ideas, story structure, and more. You can also learn valuable lessons on what not to do by observing what goes wrong. Even bestselling authors have flops now and then, or well-known authors behave badly. You can also learn from emerging authors you know, what to try and what to avoid.
To strategize- From other writers, both new and established, you can learn how they handle things like marketing, social media, relationships with their readers, and how they network with professionals in the industry.
In short, discovering what other writers are doing and how they are doing it (maybe even why they are doing it) can help you along your own career path.

However, there can be a downside to comparing yourself to other writers…
Reasons Why You Should Not:
To judge yourself, or others- You should assess where your skills and accomplishments are, in relation to where you want to be, and act accordingly. You should not compare your skill level or accomplishments to your fellow writers, whether they are established authors or unpublished critique group members. Each person has their own path to follow, and there is no “right” way. Interview ten best-selling authors, and each one will have a completely different story of how they arrived at that status. Feeling inferior to another who seems to be ahead of you in progress, or feeling superior to someone who seems to be lagging behind you is pointless, because it is constantly changing, and you may not know the whole story of why they are where they are. Both attitudes, believing you are lagging behind, or that you are levels ahead of someone else, may actually keep you from reaching your own potential.
To use as an excuse- As explained above, there are plenty of readers to go around. There are ways to be discovered. It may take work, it may take time, it may take investment, but every writer has a chance. Focus on your own progress, don’t waste your energies worrying about how you compare to someone else. Don’t let someone else’s lack of success scare you away from trying, and don’t let someone else’s success intimidate you into thinking you can’t do the same.
As an industry, authors are well-known for assisting other authors. Which is as it should be; being kind and helpful to each other is beneficial to all. Competing with other writers doesn’t really help anyone. When it comes down to it, the readers decide who is worthy of their time, money and attention.
What do you think? Have you ever felt in competition with other writers? Was it a positive or negative experience?

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