Yup another resolution post. Everyone's writing these. Everyone's making them. Why not jump on the bandwagon? I like the music they're playing and it's being pulled by horsies.
So, here's mine:
Stop comparing myself to others.
And there's kind of an interesting story behind coming to this conclusion. It has been something I've been thinking about for a while (and um maybe have been told a few times by others), but what made it finally click was the following:
Before the holidays many agents, as has almost become tradition, posted their stats for the year. How many queries they got, how many full manuscripts they requested, how many clients they signed. Here, for example, are some of the lovely Kristin Nelson's stats -
number of new clients (Kristin & Sara combined)
estimated number of queries read and responded to (and yes, that is up from last year)
full manuscripts requested (down from last year)
These stats I think are always interesting as a glimpse into the world of publishing. And yup. The numbers do paint a pretty intimidating picture.
How do I know they are so intimidating?
Because for the two weeks of holiday that followed the agent round up posts, writers on various forums spent hours upon hours analysing what the stats meant. Some were depressed by the odds, others invigorated, many many were overwhelmed. And then there was me.
I couldn't have cared less.
Well yes you would say that Adrienne, you have an agent, you've been published.
But, lest we forget, I didn't always, and I'm still trying to get other stuff published out there and still trying my hand at this insanity that is acting - where the numbers I imagine are ten times more terrifying.
I know the odds my friends, but again . . .
I couldn't care less.
Because they don't matter.
There is luck in the arts. Yup. Totally. You need to find the right person who likes the same stuff as you do, the market has to be just perfect for the kind of book you've written. And I will always maintain that the crazy successes (Harry Potter etc) get the crazy success because of good timing, not a good story (I think good storytelling would have still resulted in books that were published and had a following, but the degree of success of those kinds of books, in my mind, is not about talent - oh, btw, I think Rowling rocks, not trying a diss here).
But despite all the luck, publishing still isn't a lottery. It isn't. I've written about that before. There are very solid steps you can take that will get you published. You need to learn the craft, read a lot of books, write a lot of words. You need to then write a killer book, edit said book, have others look at the book, perfect the book. You need to write a fab query, submit to the correct agents/publishers. You need to be professional. You need to also not give up if the first book doesn't get you where you want it to. Perseverance is just as important as talent in this business. If not, arguably, more important.
And because publishing truly isn't a lottery, you can't look at the agent stats, or any stats, as meaning anything to you.
Yes, for Kristin, she signed 6 new clients out of 38 000 queries. But this doesn't lead to the conclusion that 6 authors get agented out of 38 000 queries. It means that this year, there were 6 authors who suited what Kristen was looking for, could write more than competently, and who in turn accepted her offer (she has blogged about writers turning her down in favour for other agents). It doesn't mean that there weren't authors out of the 38 000 queries who didn't sign with other agents.
Nor does it mean that if you submit your book to agents chances are they will reject it.
Basically the key point to all of this is: all books are not created equal.
When you buy a lottery ticket you have as much of a chance as the person who bought it just before you of winning that cash. You are equal.
When you submit your manuscript you have no idea how it compares to the thousands of other manuscripts that are submitted to that same agent. Chances are it is better than some, hopefully not worse than too many others. But I bet, if you're reading this blog as a hopeful as yet unpublished author doing some research, you are probably writing something better than 90% of the submitted works out there.
But let me do a little quiz just to make sure:
1. Can you write in coherent sentences, with proper spelling and grammar?
2. Do you do your research which agent is best for you to submit your work to?
3. Did you learn/or are planning to learn what a query letter is and how to construct one?
4. Are you professional and thoughtful?
If you answered yes to these questions, congrats! You are now in the top 10% of submissions.
Yes. You read that right. The lion's share of submissions sent agents are pure crap. Crap. Would you like to know how crap? Please read this lovely post by The Rejectionist. Warning it's a bit blunt, and meant to be cynically funny, please take the attitude as one as being a little over the top.
Here's another very famous post called Slushkiller over at Making Light (to which I've linked in the past). Scroll down to find a much more comprehensive quiz than the one I just made.
So, fine, Adrienne, fine. We get it. So we aren't competing against 38 000 queries for 6 slots. We are competing against 3 800 queries for 6 slots. Awesome.
No. No you're not. First of all, there aren't 6 slots. You have no idea how many new clients an agent is going to take on in a year. Guess what? Neither does the agent. They don't have a quota to fill. They are taking on new clients because they want to represent their work. This means they could take on no clients even. Hmm . . . that might not be that inspiring . . .
Second of all, and in my mind, most importantly, you aren't competing. You aren't. If you're competing against anyone it's yourself, but in a far more metaphorical way. To compete means there is a winner and a loser. Competing is what happens in acting. 100 actresses vying for one role. Only one person gets that part. End of. But anyone can get published - in theory. If you've written a quality book that suits the current market. Every book written by every author is different. Except if you've plagiarised. But that's wrong. Don't do it. You have agents who represent sometimes only one genre and yet have many clients. They can do that because there are enough differences between author voices, choices, characters etc. I mean look at the YA section these days, all urban fantasy romance, but look at all the different choices within that. All these authors co-exist. And sure some do better than others. But who knows, maybe ten years down the road, the roles will be reversed.
Agents want good books. Books that speak to them by authors they think they can work with for several years. The only numbers that matter to you are your numbers. How many rejections are you getting, are you getting requests for partials and fulls? Those matter because you can tell if there's something wrong with your query or manuscript. But what do those other numbers matter to you? In the end. What do they matter?
Nothing. The only thing I can think of is to point out just how many people want this and that we have to make sure our stuff is as awesome as possible. But. Were you not already working really hard on your novel? Were you not already making sure that everything in your query was so crystal clear so you won't alienate a potential business partner? Were you not intending on being thoughtful and professional?
Back to me.
After all my trying to comfort others that the stats don't matter, that we need not compete with our fellow authors, I realised that I spend far too much of my life comparing myself to others ironically. I felt like a hypocrite. And I want to change. My career is my own. And that author I'm comparing myself to has her own journey to travel. She's taking care of herself, why shouldn't I take care of me? (btw, I just used "she" so I wouldn't have to get all messed up with the "they" thing, I'm not talking about anyone in particular in case an investigation ensues post reading this)
And I hope this resolution resonates with some of you. It's so easy to get wrapped up in the lives of others, I mean, isn't that the essence of Twitter? We need to remember that we are different, and we know what works best for us, and that might not be what works best for someone else. We might want what others have, but who's to say we won't get it, in our own way. And then in turn have others comparing their lives to ours.
It's time to strip away the excess. It's too much energy taking on board everyone else's life as well. So I'll focus on the people I care about, and I'll focus on me. But the rest? It's time to let go.
It's not about the odds. It's about what I can do so they don't matter.