Most people, when they hear the word competition, immediately think of a great contest of will and skill, where there can be only one victor and all the rest are losers, doomed to a career of obscurity and wasting a life waiting tables just to scrape by. Quite the bleak outlook.
Fortunately, it does not have to be that way. Yes, you are writing in competition; any time you submit a story, so have dozens of other authors. Editors can’t just take every story they come across. There are several things they need to take under consideration: quality of the writing, sell-ability, and whether or not the editor him/herself even likes the story. These are things you as a writer need to be considering yourself, and you can be damn sure that your competitors are considering these things as well.
So what can you do to get an edge on the competition? The absolute best thing you can do is read. Reading is how you learn what your competitors are doing, and what editors are interested in. Reading is how you learn what you yourself like. Reading is how you learn which techniques are successful, and which ones don’t work for you. You should be reading new releases, as well as older more established books. If you’re not reading, you don’t need to be writing.
In addition to your reading, you need to be helping your fellow writers. I know it sounds counter-intuitive; your fellow writers are your competition, after all. Join a writing group anyway. You’ll find we writers are a very supportive group. We want to see other writers succeed. Another writer’s success is more reading material for you to draw from (or reject) for your own writing. What’s more, helping someone else with their writing helps you learn more about your own.
The third thing I suggest doing is compiling a list of your biggest competitors, which is really just a list of your biggest influences. And the writers who influence you most are the writers you read the most. For example, the top of my list right now includes Rick Riordan and Kevin Hearne, followed by Anne McCaffrey, Stephen King, and H.P. Lovecraft. Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, and William Faulkner are a few others. Knowing that, you have a deeper insight into my writing style. Being aware of who your competition is can give you a deeper insight into your own writing as well, and will help you refine your own craft.