There, I said it. Okay? They’re just always going to be there. Selling more books, getting better reviews, using prettier words, winning more awards, gathering more Twitter followers…there will always be someone who seems smarter, more accomplished, more talented, and better equipped to navigate the rocky shoals of the publishing world.
This is a thought that has paralyzed me more times than I care to admit. Sometimes I look at my half-finished manuscript, my characters wandering into some dead-end cul-de-sac of plot, standing around aimlessly as they scuffle their shoes in the dirt and wait for me to start making sense again.
“You really suck, you know,” they say, sighing resignedly as they lurch sideways into a brick wall.
“Yeah, I know,” I reply, before getting up from the keyboard and carrying the half-eaten bag of potato chips into the bedroom, where I curl up in a ball and cry a bit. “The thing is,” I whisper to the ceiling, “there’s always someone better.”
I can’t be the only one who has felt deflated by my Twitter feed on Hugo night, or be the only one whose demons start swarming every time I read about that peppy, pretty 20-year-old with the Eragon knock-off who just signed a six-figure deal. Writers can be mean and jealous creatures, overly-competitive but sometimes too shy and internally-focused to do anything but beat themselves up about other people’s successes. But that’s like feeding hemlock to your muse, and it’s both counter-productive and tiring to always feel inferior to your peers.
Because unlike sports figures who have to compete for a limited number of spots on a team, the book-reading audience is unlimited. People don’t just buy one book, or align themselves with one author and shun the rest for the remainder of their lives. They buy lots and lots of books, and are always looking for new writers to spark their interest. They’ll buy top authors and they’ll buy unknowns. They’ll take a chance on someone who might not be great, or someone who just thinks they might not be great. It doesn’t matter if there are people better than you are, because there’s still a market for you, too. All you have to do is capture their interest – and we all know that the quality of a book isn’t necessarily a predictor of its popularity.
So relax. Put the potato chips away. Learn to admire, accept, and emulate the people who are better than you are instead of dooming yourself to being defeated by them. I know it’s hard, and I know there will always be days when I feel the crushing weight of fantasy giants and their big gold trophies and fat paychecks bogging me down.
Sure, there are people who find instant fame and a movie deal with their first book. Sure, there are the household names who have barely gotten through puberty. But just because I’m not the best (yet) doesn’t mean I’m not good. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. You have to start somewhere, and it’s really hard to type when your fingers are covered in chip grease. So get up and get over it. There will always be someone better. But if you close Twitter for a while and reread what you just wrote, you might find that you’re halfway to greatness yourself.