Recently there has been a new meme circulating on Facebook showing US gold medal-winning swimmer, Michael Phelps, in the lead during a race, looking straight ahead at the finish line. In the next lane is the silver medalist with his head turned, watching Phelps. The meme reads, "Winners focus on winning. Losers focus on winners."
While calling the second place finalist a "loser" might seem a bit harsh, it illustrates perfectly what some writers feel when their books aren't selling well or a less than stellar review pops up on their amazon page. It's heartbreaking to see a book that isn't well-written showing up in the Top 100 list on amazon while your own languishes somewhere in the millions.
As writers, it's essential for us to read, not only in order to keep learning, but to give ourselves a break. The problem is, it's hard for us to keep the reader's opinion from being tainted by our experience as a writer... and vice versa. I have a hard time reading a book that is rife with grammatical errors, with typos, with cardboard characters and stilted dialogue, with poor writing. It's even harder when one downloads the book and finds out the reason why it was free.
What is easy, unfortunately, is to fall into the habit of comparing those authors' work and rankings and sales with our own. Their books are always ranked in the thousands, not millions... like mine. Their book has seventy-eight five-star reviews, not twenty total reviews... like mine. And their book is nowhere near as good as mine.
The point we have to remember is this: So what? So what if their book is full of mistakes and is poorly constructed? So what if they have ten times as many reviews as our books do? So what if their book is ranked in the Top 100? So what if their book is just another tired, done-to-death, latest fad sub-genre, complete with recycled storyline and setting? It's not our book. We have no control over the content or (brace yourself) how other people perceive it. Just like we can't control how people perceive OUR OWN work.
What we can control is how much energy we focus on OUR OWN work instead of someone else's. Is our work the very best it can be? Are we investing energy in promoting our work (that's promoting OUR work, not denigrating someone else's, no matter how badly we feel we must warn the world about it)? And most importantly, are we wasting energy that would better be put to use writing our next book?
Focus on the finish line. Focus on the gold. Focus on making your own work worthy of it. And don't waste energy on the people in the "other lane". Save that energy for your own work... and celebrating when you win!