Writing a novel takes a long time.
You spend months, even years, wrestling with an idea you love. You slog through revision after revision after revision, because publishing is a difficult game that demands nothing less than your best. You work so hard, for so long, with so little reward. But you know that if you just keep going–if you just get through one more draft, one more revision–it will all be worth it.
And then, when you’ve finally finished the book of your heart and are ready to query, you see it. Somebody who was faster–and obviously better–than you has sold a book about YOUR SAME CONCEPT!!! And you’re hit with a flurry of thoughts: oh my god no one is ever going to buy your thing now, you may as well burn it all because all your work has been for nothing, and why would anyone buy your thing when they could buy this MUCH BETTER THING?!
Or maybe you’ve actually “made it.” You have that shiny new book deal! You’ve achieved your dream. You announce it to all your friends–and then two days later you see the news. Somebody’s else book is coming out that same month, maybe even the same day. And they got more money and more buzz and more likes on their Twitter announcement and oh my god no one is ever going to buy your thing now, you may as well burn it all because all your work has been for nothing, and why would anyone buy your thing when they could buy this MUCH BETTER THING?!
The good news is you’re not irrational and you’re certainly not alone. We get it. It’s totally understandable to feel this way at any stage of the game, whether you’re a new writer just dipping their toes in the querying pool or someone who has multiple books already published. Comparing is inevitable, and professional envy seems to never truly go away–just change shape.
The bad news is we can’t tell you that your fears are actually unfounded. If you’re a writer from a marginalized background, for example, a publishing house might in fact turn down your book because they already have an Asian Fantasy or an African Fantasy or a Queer Fantasy or Insert Broad Category Here Fantasy even if your book is nothing like the one they’ve already acquired.
More bad news: we also can’t tell you that your envy or tendency to compare will just magically disappear one day (though here is a great post on how to work at not comparing).
But what we can tell you is that there are ways to deal with those fears and worries. You can’t control the industry or anyone else’s actions. What you can control is yourself, and here are three things to remind yourself when you feel that jealousy start to creep in.
Take control of your envy
We all know jealousy is bad and we shouldn’t feel it, so we have this tendency to lie–especially to ourselves–and just pretend it doesn’t exist. Out of sight, out of mind, right?
But here’s the thing. Often, the people we’re jealous of aren’t strangers on the internet but people in our community–our friends, even. And often, we’re not saying, “I don’t want Person X to have this thing” but rather “I also want to have this thing that Person X has.”
And those feelings, if you let them fester, can really affect your relationships not only with other people in the community (and kidlit, especially, is a small community), but also your relationship with writing.
So what can you do?
Well, accept it. And then remind yourself that it actually isn’t about that thing Person X has. It’s about how YOU feel about it. And while you might not always be able to control how you feel, you get to decide how you’re going to act based on those feelings.
Sure, you can sit around and put down Person X to make yourself feel better, like “Well, their book probably sucks anyway.” But while that might momentarily make you feel better, it’s not going to change how fast you write your book or how fast your book sells.
Instead, try and use other people’s successes as inspiration and as motivation.
As Susan Dennard says in this fantastic post on envy, “So I want a 7-figure deal? That’s totally out of my control. But the author that GOT that deal must’ve written an amazing book. So I will write an amazing book.”
Acknowledge that others have worked just as hard as you, and that if they can get there, so can you. Acknowledge that while their successes are not in your control–or theirs for that matter–their work ethic and dedication are something you can also cultivate.
A unique story is a myth
As writers, we are forever in search of that elusive Never Been Done Before, Totally New story that will shock readers with twists and turns they couldn’t have possibly imagined.
But a unique story is a myth.
Everything has been done before. Every type of story you can imagine, someone else has already thought of. But that doesn’t mean we should all give up on our writing dreams, move to Norway, and start a reindeer farm now.
It means you recognize that while a story can’t be unique, every writer brings a unique perspective. No one else in the world has your specific combination of experiences, inspirations, ideas, or world views–not even that author who just announced a book that sounds exactly like that manuscript you put hundreds of hours into.
So when you find yourself worrying that your ideas seem too similar to another writer’s, remember that:
- As Kat and Christine said in this post on online pitching: a pitch is not your book. We’ll repeat that because it’s so important to remember: a pitch is not a book. A pitch is a way of hooking readers, a way of getting a book’s foot in the door. A pitch often lacks nuance. It doesn’t mention most things that make your book stand out from the rest. On paper, two ideas might sound identical, but when you get down to the books themselves, they’re going to be extremely different in terms of writing style, characters, world, lens, and even themes.
- Comp titles exist for a reason. Readers want them because we are always looking for something similar enough to what we already love, but different enough to feel like a totally new experience. Publishing professionals want comp titles so they know where your book fits within the current market, where they would shelve it, and even how to get it into the hands of people most likely to read and love it.
We’re all in this together
Every writer deals with these messy feelings. Yes, even That Person on Twitter. You know who we’re talking about. They write in the same genre as you, and their book sounds vaguely similar to yours, and while they don’t know they’re your nemesis… they definitely maybe are. And every time you log on, they have an announcement. They signed with an agent! Or got a new book deal! Or won a new award! As if they need anything else to make their perfect life even more perfect.
Sometimes, in publishing, everything will go wrong for you. Your book will flop, or you’ll have to shelve it, or any other number of previously unforeseen things could happen. You feel like you’ll never be successful again. And you might even hate That Perfect Person a little bit. They have everything you want, and you can’t understand what they did that you didn’t.
But, if you keep at it long enough, sometimes everything will go right for you. Sometimes, all at once, you’ll get what you’ve been working toward. And to the outside observer, it will look like it happened overnight.
And then you’ll be That Person who has everything.
When you scroll through your social media and see joyful announcement after joyful announcement, you’re seeing everybody’s highlight reel. Most of us don’t want to talk about that time we sat at our computer for ten hours and didn’t manage to write even a single word. Most of us don’t want to publicize the day we got three heartbreaking rejections in a row. And most of us really, really don’t want to share that we parted ways with our agents or had to put away a manuscript that wasn’t acquired after months on submission.
People whose lives and careers look perfect and shiny from the outside are just humans who have entirely human moments of failure.
Writing is more than just hitting milestones or chasing that next I Have News post. Every writer is going to have ups and many downs in their careers, even those big bestselling authors who seem to sell every book idea they ever have.
Publishing is slow, and a lot of victories are tiny and personal. And only focusing on those moments of visible success is going to make publishing a very frustrating and painful journey.
But publishing also isn’t The Hunger Games, and writers don’t have to treat each other like enemies. We’re all on our own bewildering journey of ups and downs. And as frustrating as it might be to accept, we’re all going at our own pace. So embrace your writer friends, whether they’re currently in the thorny pits of publishing despair or on the top of the highest mountain.
So yes, sometimes you feel like you’re falling behind or like you’ll never compare to everyone else. We’ve all been there–and we’ll continue to be there.
This is a noisy industry full of talented people, and it can sometimes seem like there’s no way your little book could ever make itself heard above the din.
But we hear it. And we can’t wait to read it.