Writers: Competing With the Best of Them

There are a lot of jobs that come to mind when people think of competition. The obvious is sports, but there are others, like being a musician or actor—or doing something in sales. While I have always known that writing and getting published is highly competitive, Business Insider‘s recent list of “10 Competitive Jobs That Everyone Wants But Hardly Anyone Gets” put just how competitive writing truly is in perspective. Poets, lyricists, and creative writers were number two on the list, with a competitiveness score of ninety-five out of one hundred.

Basically, if we all weren’t already scared shitless of putting our work out there, we are now. There are so many reasons why writing is competitive. In my experience working as a submissions editor (which I wrote about here), I can tell you a few of the reasons why I rejected short stories, things like an excess of grammatical mistakes, unrealistic dialogue, beginnings that failed to draw the reader (me, in this case) in, and endings that came too abruptly. Truthfully, though, the editor reading a piece may reject it for reasons entirely outside of the writer’s control, like the fact that they’re having a bad day or that they may have read ten stories about the same topic right before reading yours.

Those of us aspiring to become the next [insert your favorite author here] have to compete even more because of the very authors we admire. [Insert your favorite author here] has published many books, is known for their ability to write, and has a name that everyone’s heard before. In other words, publishers know that their titles will sell. We, on the other hand, are a risk.

So how do we stand out of the crowd? Because, lets face it, nowadays it seems everyone’s a writer. Welcome to the digital age. That’s a tough question to answer, and there is no one path to “success,” however you define that word. More than one author has self-published their novels on websites like Amazon, where they sold hundreds of thousands of copies and received contracts with publishers. Other authors have used social networks (like Tim Manley) to develop a platform for fans, making them more attractive to literary agents. Which brings us to the traditional route: getting a literary agent. A good literary agent doesn’t charge for their services. Instead, they receive a portion of any advances or royalties from book sales. So if you get an agent, the chances are that they believe in the manuscript they read and have publishers in mind to pitch it to.

If it makes you feel any better, choreographers have a competitiveness score of ninety-six—a whole extra point. Yeah, I didn’t think so.

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Melanie Figueroa

Melanie is the Editor in Chief at The Poetics Project. Having earned a masters in writing and book publishing from Portland State University and gained experience as an in-house editor, she now works as a freelance editor and writer. Her favorite book is The Bell Jar. You can follow Melanie on Twitter or Instagram @wellmelsbells.

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