Thursday, July 30, 2009

It's Hot (oh yeah, and don't compare yourself to others)

An agent colleague is having a big auction today. I'll be honest: I don't see it. I cannot for the life of me understand why publishers are throwing obscene amounts of money at this project.

And that makes me feel bad. Am I a bad agent? Why don't I see it? Why aren't I in a huge auction having vast sums of money thrown my client's way?

I tell you this because sometimes I think authors think we agents have it made in the shade (it's my day to use very dated expressions I guess). But the fact is that we experience professional jealousy and insecurity just like you do. And the fact is that we shouldn't. It doesn't get us anywhere, and in fact, it probably gets in our way.

If you're feeling bad because your friend is getting a book tour and you're getting bupkus, or your friend sold their book for six figures and you sold yours for 15K, or you haven't sold at all, or you don't have an agent, or you don't even have time to write even though you love it but you're working two jobs just to make ends meet....well, you're not alone.

I know because I spend a fair amount of time talking to authors who feel this way. And of course, because I sometimes feel this way myself.

I think my point here is two-fold.

One is that it's all relative. I often tell my discouraged authors to realize what their careers look like to others. Mostly, they look pretty damn good.

Two is everybody feels like this some of the time.

And three (I added one) is that we ALL need to avoid this thinking as much as we can because it's negative and destructive and crazy-making (another terrible expression, sorry).

You hear it all the time, but it's so true: there's an unlimited amount of success and good things out there. If your friend makes a book deal, that doesn't mean there's one less book deal out there for you. If your friend hits the Times list, that doesn't mean you won't too.

Okay, yes, once in a while you're allowed to feel shitty and get into bed and eat lots of sugary candy (that's me anyway) but really, try to limit feeling shitty not about others' successes, but maybe just about the fact that you haven't met your own personal goals.

And that, I think, is the antidote to all this obsessing about other people's success. Set goals for yourself. Figure out a plan so that you can meet them. Don't think: he got a NYT book review. Think: I want to sell 10,000 copies of my book. How exactly am I going to do that? Here is step 1, here is step 2, etc. etc.

Come from a positive place--what do I want to achieve--and not a negative one--why don't I have what he has?

I can't promise you'll be more successful--but you'll certainly be happier.

And I'm going to (try to) move on. I have a list of about 20 things I was supposed to get done today and I don't think that obsessing about this auction was on it. Onward and upward!


  1. Nice post.

    Goal setting and "glass half-full thinking" are both important skills to have/develop.

    By the way, selling 10,000 copies of my book is, in fact, my goal. Any tips? :)

  2. Yay, Jenny's back! I couldn't agree more. In fact, my latest post is very much in line with your sentiments. Here's an excerpt:

    "It has taken me years to perceive not only in my head, but in my heart, that living anything other than an authentic life is meaningless, useless, petty, and perfectly uninspiring. The life I choose involves a breathtaking explosion of creativity, self-expression, intentionality, and vulnerability.

    The greatest gift we artists can give ourselves and each other is permission to explore our talents fully, authentically, and intentionally, and to applaud and support each other in this ever-evolving endeavor.

    So, to all my artsy friends - may your expressions be real, your inspiration be bountiful, and may every single one of your sweet dreams come true."

    Jenny, thanks so much for letting us writers know you agents experience the same things. After all, we're all human and we're all in this thing together.;-)

  3. Jenny,
    This is agreat post!

    Celebrating the successes of those around you is a wonderful way of getting over that nasty twinge of jealosy or envy. Sometimes it is hard, especially when you're hitting walls instead of open doorways but I truly believe good karhma comes around when you cheer on you're friends and focus on putting your own plan of action in place.

  4. I really appreciate a sincere post from an agent. I just wish I could relate to these "insecurities" you describe. Or are you writing fiction now too? hehe

  5. So ... does this mean I should take the pins out of all of my NYT bestselling and auction-worthy author voodoo dolls?

    *ducks head in shame and kicks butt with own foot for having similar negative/discouraged thoughts.

    Thanks for the post, Jenny. I don't wish discouraging thoughts on anyone, but it does help to be reminded that others get into the same funk from time to time, even the almighty Agent.


  6. On a business course I went on recently, one of my colleagues turned to me and said "Your life is a series of happy accidents". I was somewhat nonplussed, as I work damn hard for the things I had, so I went and spoke to the course facilitator, who put it in a different light. The facilitator said that what to some people are "happy accidents" are just other people taking advantages of opportunities, being on the lookout for new things, and generally making your own luck.

    That was ickly motivational.

    Re the auction, good for you that you can't see it and are not seduced onto the bandwagon. If I ever get an agent, I would hope it is because they LIKE my writing and can market it, as opposed to "oh this fits current acquisition criteria and I can use it as a doorstop".

  7. Can't tell you how much I needed to read this today. Thanks. :)

  8. Great post :)

    One: I would be grateful to get paid for doing something I love to do. Who are these ppl that are glum about "15k" ????

    Two: If a friend makes it, why on earth wouldn't one be ecstatic for them?! If you wanna look at it selfishly then a possible benefit is they may mention you or reccommend you.

  9. One of the hardest lessons in life is to learn to get out of our own way and professional jealousy is the biggest roadblock of them all. Well said Jenny.

  10. This was a nice post. One of the keys to success is to keep at it. Don't give up. Keep going. You'll get there.

  11. This is exactly what I've been thinking lately, that I need to be the writer I'm supposed to be - fill my little corner of the universe like I'm supposed to fill it. And that's success. Obviously, this great, insightful thought of mine was also born from all out envy and wondering when it was going to be my turn. It's a mountain around which we humans just keep on marching.

  12. As always, Jenny, a worthwhile read. Funny but it's true, I have never considered the idea of agents slogging through the same self-esteem slush as writers. Hmmm...

    The way I learned to temper the envy that popped up was to twist my perspective into a new shape. "Ah-ha, more proof that my quest is not impossible!" So now when I witness the success of my colleagues, my conscious focus is, "If they can do it, so can I."

    On my motivational blog, I scrape up quotes that affirm that what we want can be achieved. It's even better when I get direct quotes (Allison Brennan's offered up some great snippets over the years) which reveal that some prominent NY Times Bestselling authors did write four or five books before they escaped the rejection pile.

    Personally, I love the phrase Crazy-Making because it so neatly sums up what negative thinking is all about. *laughs*

    Most telling is the fact that if we pour our energies into negative thinking, we are in essence putting ourselves in the hopeless position of needing to seek out 'proof' that our dismal view is correct. That's the very meaning of the term self-sabotage.

    Again, great post, Jenny. Thanks.

    --Chiron O'Keefe
    The Write Soul:

  13. I was so happy to read this post. (Mostly because I check this blog daily, and it's nice to see you blog again.)

    This IS a great post. I've been guilty lately of "comparing my insides to other's outsides", as someone once put it to me, both professionally and personally. It's difficult, sometimes, to get out of that space in my head.

    This is my favorite thing about reading what other writers/bloggers have to say: I feel less alone when I know there are others out there who feel the way I do and aren't afraid to admit they don't have the world by the tail.

    (Talk about dated expression! Oy.)

    Thank you, Jenny

  14. Writing is a little like golf, you need to play against the course, not the other players. Concentrate on hitting the ball clean and square, down the middle. Look at the roll of the green, not the leaderboard. You can't control when another player makes a birdie or an eagle or when they haul home a trophy, but you can control your own swing. I don't worry too much about the other players. The Sucess of one writer should encourage all of us. I gotta go hit some balls...

  15. I think I like you. You use shitty as often as I do when describing how I feel about my work and attitude on many occasions.

    Write on, sister. I'm following you.

  16. I enjoy you. I've been told about you. Don't be scared, that sounded way creepier than I intended it to be. Your honesty is refreshing, and it's nice to feel a little less alone in this world.

  17. Fantastic post. Best advice I ever received was "Colleagues aren't competition." It applies to every aspect of life, and it frees me up from feelings of inadequacy and professional jealousy.


  18. I envy this post. Look at all the people who commented. sigh.

  19. Great post. Set attainable goals, we all can't be best sellers, but we can work hard to do the best we can. We live in a I want it all now society, but that is unrealistic. Sales can and will build over time if you keep at it.