Monday, March 29, 2010

On Confidence, or, WWDTD?

An old friend of mine who's worked in publishing a while recently became an agent. She said to me the other day, "you know, I never realized how hard this job is on your ego."

Understatement of the year. Here are some of the ways that we agents can beat ourselves up in this job:
1. You have an auction. Nobody comes. When editors asked you what happened to your auction you have to tell them that nobody came. You feel like a loser.
2. You're shopping a book. One editor buys it. Why didn't more editors like it? You feel like a loser.
3. You pass on a book. A month later you're reading Publisher's Marketplace and you see that it sold. To a prestigious editor. At a prestigious house. You feel like a loser.
4. Your friend who is an agent makes a huge deal. You haven't made a huge deal in a while. You feel like a loser.
5. You pass on a book. A year later it hits the Times list. You feel like a loser.
6. You have a submission in and the author tells you five other agents want it. You want it too. The author signs with someone else. You feel like a loser.

And so on. You get the picture. There are a million and one ways that this business can make you feel like a loser. And don't think I'm whining, because as you know I love this job and consider myself fantastically lucky to be making a living doing what I love. My point is simply this: as confidence-crushing as my job can be, I think it's a thousand times worse for you, the writer. If I'm not successful selling a book, that means that my taste is in question. Given that I base my livelihood on my taste, that can feel disconcerting. But writers put their heart and soul on the page. If that's rejected, in many cases over and over again, well, I can't really imagine what that must feel like. I imagine, in the understatement of the year, that it feels pretty crummy.

Okay, so where do we go from here? How do we maintain confidence? How do we train ourselves to keep trying, to focus only on ourselves and not compare ourselves to others who we feel are more successful (for this is the trap of low confidence)? How do we feel happy and even successful in the face of rejection?

Well, I have a new mantra my friends, and it goes like this (drumroll, please): WHAT WOULD DONALD TRUMP DO? Yes, you heard right. I am invoking the name of the Donald. If you are not familiar with the legend of Mr. Trump, go here:
My (metaphorical) friend Donald has faced catastrophic failure over and over again in his career. And each time, like Phoenix rising from the ashes, he makes his comeback. Because you know what he has? An almost blinding, pathological belief in himself no matter what. If you watch The Apprentice on television for about five minutes, you'll see that he also has an ego the size of Toledo, and of course, I'm not advocating that. But the fact is that Donald (if I may) doesn't see his failures. He only sees success, even when reality doesn't exactly mesh with his vision. And because he does this, his vision of success becomes his reality.

Be like Donald. Believe in your success. And if you don't believe in your success, fake it until you make it (sorry, you know I love cheesy sayings). Act like you believe in yourself until one day you'll find out that you actually do. See rejection as a test of the strength of your confidence and let your confidence win. I can't say it enough: believe in yourself and your talent and your strength of will. That belief will carry you through failure to success, every time.



  1. A timely reminder. Yes, focus on the success and move on from the failures.

    Hard to do at times, but always true!


  2. Wonderful post. ^_^

    @Robin: I think I may just have to design that bracelet.

    I'm thinking bead weaving. It's been a while since I played with my beads. ^_^

  3. Thanks, Jenny! This hits the spot that needed a bandaid. ;D

  4. Oh yeah - that's so my new saying (apart from when I go to the hairdresser!!!!)

  5. Wonderful post. Am struggling with a lot of self-doubt right now so I needed to read that. Thank you!

  6. I bet your other agents have the same track win some, you lose some. Is the glass half empty of half full. It's all about believing in yourself. There is a great video clip I just came across called Act As If. It's about a coaches philosophy for her team. If they act like champions and believe they will become champions. The coach has consistently put together a winning team.
    I want to be like your friend Donald!

  7. You and I are on the "same page." I just said in today's blog post, "One of the best things you can do as a writer is trust your instincts." Being confident is key. I always love your posts. You hit the mark every time. ;-)

  8. I don't think I've ever commented on your blog before, but this post is worthy of my first note! Thanks for making me laugh with your loser list -- and you are so right-on about faking it until you make it. Confidence is what puts each of us ahead.

  9. Thanks for a great post. Sometimes we all need a good kick in the pants, er, reminder.

  10. Wonderful post! I think the only rejections I've ever felt bad about were the ones I got about 15 years ago. I had no idea what I was doing. Now, after several years of studying the industry, I look at rejection as a step closer to publication. I appreciate it when I get words of advice in a rejection. It's all about looking for the positive.

  11. You go girlfriend! Great post. I'm doing a happy dance.

  12. Wow. I never thought I'd consider The Donald in my self affirmations, but it is a new day and a great comparison. Thanks for a timely post!

  13. Imagine a hammer crushing a tomato on TV and a caption that says: this is your heart after receiving a rejection.

    Crushed is the word.

    But then, you read a quote like this: "If I had to select one quality, one personal characteristic that I regard as being most highly correlated with success, whatever the field, I would pick the trait of persistence. Determination. The will to endure to the end, to get knocked down seventy times and get up off the floor saying, "Here comes number seventy-one!" - Richard M. Devos

    Afterwards, everything feels right again.

  14. What a wonderful post. I'll smile every time I think WWDTD, but I'll take it seriously.

  15. As long as we keep our own hairstyle, though - right? *smiling*

    You know, I never thought about it from this point of view. Not that I thought an agent's job was easy by any means, or that agents didn't have bad days or whatever; however, I never thought of you all feeling like losers in situations that sound familiar to the writer.

    A lot of this publishing business is psyching out our psyches . . . !

  16. At first glance, I thought you wrote Donald DUCK. I'm thinking I'll go with the know...just to be different.

    Actually, Donald Duck has a pretty big ego, too. He's just more goofy than the other Donald, and I think that makes him more human.

  17. My back is killing me today, but this roused a smile. You are a gem!

  18. Great to read this inspirational post after a dispiriting day. Thank you! I can do this. After all, we are what we think. Can't remember if that's the Buddha or another cheesy saying.

  19. I'm familiar with your track record, and had the pleasure of meeting you. A loser you're not. Reassuring, however, to know everyone has their self-doubts.

    And as a Toledo native, I'm expecting some of the Donald's metropolitan-sized ego to rub off soon.

  20. Great post. And it's nice to be reminded that this business is hard on agents, too, not just on writers.

  21. Thanks for the uplifting post. Not only has it helped my lowly self esteem, but it's "unblocked" me. I'm in the midst of constructing a ten commandments for self-preservation in my latest WIP, and this idea encapsulates my heroine's struggles. Thank you, thank you, bowing head reverently.


  22. Love this!

    I especially like hearing the agent's side of how soul-crushing publishing can be. Makes me want to send flowers to my agent.

    And thank you for the WWDTD mantra. I'm having it tattooed on my forehead tomorrow.


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  24. I truly got absorbed in your post. Mine for today is amazingly on a similar subject : criticism {ouch} and how to handle it. If you're wondering, I usually handle it badly for the first few moments. Thanks for the effort you put on your blog. Roland

  25. Thank you for being brave enough to share your perspective. As writers, it is easy to forget that we are not the only ones in this industry with delicate egos.

    One of my favorite quotes is, "Don't let your successes go to your head or your failures go to your heart."

  26. Hello, Ms. Bent!

    In my research for agents, I stumbled upon your website and then your blog. What an awesome discovery!

    In all the agent blogs I've followed over the last several years, this is quite possibly the most touching post I've ever read. It might be the fresh taste of the words in my mouth, but I nonetheless wanted to tell you how heartfelt this was.

    No agent that writes this should ever feel like a loser. You truly reminded me why I'm on query draft #7. This business isn't about throwing basketballs through agent-hoops; it's about never giving up on your dreams and finding that perfect author-agent-publisher match.

    Thanks so much for the inspiration!!!

  27. I love this post! Thank you so much for sharing it with us. Sometimes we forget that agents can feel like losers too.

    We're all little fish swimming in the big publishing shark tank, and once in a while we get bitten. Yeah, it hurts for a while, but it heals in time (though sometimes leaves a scar).

    As Dory (Finding Nemo) would say, "Just keep swimming." =)

  28. Brilliant post, Jenny. I've always been a closet fan of Donald Trump. I don't want to be on a desert island with the man, his hair, or that "ego the size of Toledo" but he definitely gives the term "survive and thrive" a whole new meaning.

    Thanks for some great reading.

  29. I was happy to read your comments as I will be facing you this Friday and pitching my book to you at the Pennwriters conference. If you hear me mumbling WWDTD, pretend you don't hear me.

  30. Agreed. Reality is overrated.

  31. You are 100% correct! I just mentioned this to a person I was sitting next to while waiting for my car to be repaired.

    Donald Trump believes in himself. As he has repeatedly stated: He's built a brand. He is the brand.

    You are in sales. This is a tough occupation and one where you have to believe in yourself each and everyday. You have to also believe in what you are selling. I say this as a person who has over two decades of sales and marketing experience.

    Sure you may get knocked down every now and then; we all do. You simply have to pick yourself up, get right back out there and remember what works.

    This means, think like Mr. Trump. If you think it's great and you believe in your product others will too. It's infectious. They will see and feel your energy when you're attempting a sale and they won't want to miss out. It's their loss if they do. You have to take on that type mentality.

    My eldest daughter was chosen for the show "The Apprentice". It was an incredible experience.

    I need to keep all of this in mind as I have recently sent out my first round of queries!

    Good Luck!

    We're all in this together!

  32. This was so timely for me. Got 2 rejections this week and I turned to my writing friends for solace. Their advice? It only takes one YES to make it all work. So, Universe, I am patiently (or is it impatiently) waiting for you, or The Donald (ugh) to say a big emphatic YES!

    Great post. Here's to agents and writers handling rejection well.

  33. Great post--thanks for sharing the agent's perspective. I think often writers don't think about the fact that agents face rejection. too. We could all stand to be a little more "Donald." Though when you asked, "Because you know what he has?" my brain immediately filled in, "Bad hair. But really, really expensive bad hair."