Showing posts with label publishing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label publishing. Show all posts

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The World Is Wide Enough: Dealing With Jealousy In Your Writing Life


Let me just start this post off with a little honesty: generosity and the celebration of others' successes is not, shall we say, my strong suit. I am by nature a jealous person; I tend to have a lot of knee-jerk envy even in situations where envy is abjectly ridiculous. When I was on the agent hunt, I felt envious of friends who found agents before I did, or even people I didn't know who found agents before I did. When I was on submission (which was thankfully a very brief time for me, and so I definitely didn't have room for jealousy!), I felt envious of friends whose books sold in two days. When I was waiting to announce my book deal, I felt envious of friends who got to announce sooner than I did. Even now, in this happy place of my-dream-has-come-true and before the full anxiety of being a debut author has struck, I feel envious of silly things, things I won't even be eligible for for a long time: starred reviews, fancy author blurbs, second and third book deals.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because I suspect that I'm not the only writer who struggles with the little green monster on the daily. And today, that's what I want to talk about.

When you're a struggling writer (and let's face it—we are all, at every point of the journey, struggling in one way or another), the sense of scarcity can be crippling. Every day, people are finding agents, getting book deals, holding their books in their hands, hitting bestseller lists. And with every author that achieves the milestone you're desperately seeking yourself, it can feel like your chance of succeeding just got a little further away.

But she signed with my dream agent, and now that agent won't be taking on new clients for awhile!

But if that editor offered on his book, surely she won't also offer on mine!

Her book is so similar to mine that surely no agent/editor/reader will want mine now!

His book is on more goodreads lists than mine, so it's sure to get more pre-publication buzz!

Her book sold for so much more money than mine, so she'll be a lead title and I won't!

I've been thinking a lot about this over the past two years, as I've battled my own jealousy demons. Often, a line from the very end of Hamilton comes back to my mind—just after Hamilton and Burr's infamous duel, as Burr realizes that their feud has cost him personally, as well as robbing the world of a fine and creative mind. I was too young and blind to see, he sings. I should've known the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me.

This is the thing I hold on to, the thing I remind myself of, when I'm in the grasp of envy. The world is wide enough. Another writer's success does not rob me of my own chance; the only thing stolen is the way my bitterness sucks away my joy, hopefulness, and inspiration. Sometimes, that reminder can be tough to hold on to—but for me, at least, it's been the only way to survive the emotional ups and downs of a writing career.

Here are my concrete tips for how I've learned to handle jealousy in writing relationships:

1. Allow yourself to feel what you feel.

Some people have the mysterious ability to take unpleasant emotions, look at them coolly, and then choose to discard them. My husband is one of these. I am most definitely not. I've found that the more I try to stuff icky feelings away, the more they tend to lash out in nasty and uncontrollable ways later. For me, a key part of overcoming jealousy is allowing myself to sit with that feeling, and having compassion for myself for feeling it in the first place, instead of lecturing myself about what a terrible person I am and trying to force myself to stop feeling what I'm feeling through sheer force of will.

2. What is the jealousy really telling you?

For me, jealousy is often a surface emotion, a glossy veneer over the thing I'm really feeling deep down inside: Fear. Fear that I'll never get an agent, or sell a book. Fear that my book will bomb and I'll lose the ability to do what I love on a professional level because of it. That fear can feel paralyzing, but often, being willing to name and confront it helps the jealousy that overlays it to subside.

3. Talk to a trusted friend.

I'm an extrovert, and I figure things out through talking through them. An important part of dealing with any difficult situation for me is finding a trusted friend or two with whom I can safely share my feelings. It's important that they're somebody who will neither condemn nor validate your feelings—they shouldn't be the kind of person who will say either "Oh yeah, you're SO much better than that other writer, YOU should've gotten the agent instead!" or "How could you be so small-minded? Just grow up and get over yourself!" My trusted friends are often fellow writers, who can intimately understand the struggles I'm sharing with them, but are enough removed from the situation that they're able to empathize without being drawn into the middle of the fray.

4. If it's appropriate, talk to the person who sparked the jealousy.

Often, this isn't the right course of action. But twice in my career, there have been times where having the vulnerability to be honest helped salvage relationships that were really important to me. Early last year, while I was at a really dark place in my agent search, one of my dearest friends got an agent in a pretty fast, fairytale scenario. It. Was. So. Hard. For days, I wrestled with bitterness and envy, until that friend and I finally talked it out. Not only did our friendship survive that shift, it grew stronger as a result. Likewise, this summer when my book sold quickly, that was tough on another dear friend who'd been on submission longer than I had. Luckily for me (since she's an awesome friend I would've been heartbroken to lose!), we both worked hard to make sure that we were on the same page in how we planned to deal with that transition.

If you're the one feeling jealous, be honest with your friend. Tell her that you love her, and that you're happy for her success, but explain why it's hard for you to hear. Try to come to an arrangement that works for both of you in terms of how, and how often, she brings up her exciting news to you.

On the other hand, if you're the one who's had success and you know your friend is struggling with it, be sensitive to her feelings. Ask her if she'd like to be kept abreast of your exciting developments, or if she'd rather not have all the details. Know that she's thrilled for you, but also sad for herself, and that both those emotions can exist together without invalidating each other.

5. Focus on the things you CAN control.

Sometimes, that might be drafting the book you're working on, or polishing up a certain aspect of craft you're struggling with. Sometimes, that might be offering to critique others' work as a way to both get out of your own head a little bit and grow as a writer—last year when I was struggling so much, I offered to crit more than I ever have in my life, and although on occasion that was tough, it was also immensely helpful both for strengthening my own writing and for feeling like I was doing something that was objectively, measurably helpful and successful. And other times, it might be focusing on something completely different: A non-writing-related hobby, or parenting, or your day job. Writing is a tough business, and it's imperative to place as much focus as you can on the things that are in your control, because—like it or not—many things just aren't.

6. If all else fails, fake it till you make it.

I won't lie, I kind of hate that advice in most contexts. Who honestly wants to be superficial and shallow in the face you present to the world? Still, there are times where this nugget of wisdom really is the right answer, and in my experience, jealousy is one of them. Relationships with critique partners, friends, and your writing community are precious; don't allow your jealousy to ruin them. If you're struggling with another's success, put on a smile the best you can and fake enthusiasm and congratulations until those feelings turn into something more genuine—especially if they're not a close enough friend for it to be appropriate for you to open up about your feelings. Recognize that jealousy is a real part of the writing journey, whatever point you may be at, and, in the immortal words of Elsa, be willing to do the best that you can and let it go.

.   .   .   .   .

Wherever you're at in your writing career, remember this: the world is wide enough. The world is wide enough for your stories and theirs, too. The world is wide enough for lots of starred reviews. The world is wide enough for you to find a new dream agent, even if the one you always thought you wanted turned you down. The world is wide enough, and being willing to cheer others along even when you're struggling is what will, in turn, ensure that you have a solid cheering section when your turn comes. And it will: Because the world is wide enough for your success.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

How I Got My Agent


For the last two years, I've been working hard on getting an agent. (If you're not sure what that means, go read this post!At times it's been so soul-suckingly hard that I've come close to quitting writing altogether. In that two years I queried three books and racked up a total of 145 rejections, 112 of which were all on the same book (that was especially soul-sucking). After querying that second book for the better part of a year and getting lots of interest, but having every single one of those interested agents eventually pass, I was at an all-time low point in my writing career. In February, I came genuinely close to just giving up on my fiction, and really the only thing that stopped me was the fact that I've tried to quit before and always been lured back by the siren song of storytelling.

Instead of quitting, I slogged my way through revisions on a new novel—a middle grade (ages 8-13) magical realism book called WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW—and, when it was as good as I could make it, I started querying that one. I sent out my first few queries in mid-April, and got a couple of full requests right off the bat, which was exciting but not nearly so exciting as it would have been had I not had the sad experience of 21 full requests all turning into rejections on my previous book. I oscillated wildly between hopefulness and despair, convinced I'd never be able to write a book that consisted of more than just pretty words (my strong point).

A week after I started querying I entered a Twitter pitch contest called #DVPit. During a Twitter pitch contest, authors craft a brief pitch (it has to fit into Twitter's 140-character limit, including hashtags that identify it as part of the contest) and tweet it several times during the day. Agents who are interested in whatever genre or specialty the contest emphasizes can scroll the Twitter feed for the contest hashtag, and favorite posts for books that they're interested in seeing. #DVPit is a brand-new, very unique contest, focused on diverse stories by marginalized authors (including disabled authors). I entered #DVPit hoping for the best, and my expectations were wildly exceeded: By the next day, I'd had requests from 21 agents.

The next four days of my life were comprised of quite possibly the most nail-biting anxiety I've ever experienced. By the fourth day, I'd hardly slept and had managed to scratch the skin off one of my fingers and one of my kneecaps through sheer nervous habit. By the morning after I'd finished sending materials to 17 of the 21 interested agents (who typically wanted to see a query and first few chapters, but sometimes requested a partial right from the contest), I'd had five full requests in less than 24 hours. The next day, I had an e-mail from an agent who was part of the way through my book, loving it, and wanted to know what other projects I was working on. While that sort of e-mail doesn't always turn into an offer, it often does, and I'd never received an e-mail like it before. The next 24 hours felt agonizingly slow, and it was all I could do to avoid checking my e-mail every two seconds.

And then, the next day, I got another e-mail from the same agent, asking to set up a phone call.

As you can imagine, the time between that e-mail and the actual phone call (blessedly only the next day) was yet more stress and anxiety. Right before she was scheduled to call, I was certain I'd either throw up or pass out. But then the phone rang, she made it clear within the first few minutes of our call that she was offering representation for WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW, and we had an absolutely delightful chat. And just like that, I was on to the next stage in my writing journey.

Because I had so many other agents still reading all or part of my book, the traditional thing to do was to e-mail them all notifying that I'd had an offer and would be making my decision on a specific day (I chose a day 10 days after my first offer). I spent several hours after that first phone call sending out my nudge e-mails. Within minutes, I started getting more requests from agents who hadn't had a chance to see the full before now but were interested in reading. By the next day, I had a second offer from another stellar agent... and nine days later, by the end of my deadline period, I'd had a whopping seven more offers (for a total of nine). When a tenth agent offered two hours after my deadline passed, I no longer even had time to take her phone call. That ten days was hands down the craziest, most exciting, most overwhelming, most shocking experience of my life. To go from being the girl with 145 rejections to being the girl with 10 offers was beyond surreal.

Due to the large number of offers I'd had, I ended up needing to take a few extra days to make my decision. And it was tough. All of the agents who had offered were top-notch, and many of them comprised my list of "dream agents", the kind of people I never in a million years would have dreamed would offer on my book. The enthusiasm and love they'd all shown for my story was absolutely unreal, and winnowing my options down felt impossible. 

On the very last day of my decision period, one agent started edging to the front of the pack. She was incredibly kind, had an unbelievable reputation in the industry, and her ideas for how WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW needed to be revised lined up very well with my own ideas about the book's weak spots. She also was very accessible and supportive, and a fast reader—things that were important to me. The clients that I spoke to raved about her (including one who happens to also be one of my critique partners and very dear friends!) By the end of the day, I knew that I'd made my decision, and I accepted an offer from Elizabeth Harding of Curtis Brown, LTD. 

Any of the agents who offered would've been incredible advocates for my book, and it broke my heart into tiny little pieces to have to send so many rejections (I have no idea how agents and editors can survive rejecting so many people all the time!!!). But Elizabeth's vision and enthusiasm for my story have been infectious, and in the few weeks that we've been working together I've already been amazed by how efficient, focused, and kind she is.

To finish this post, here are some ridiculously detailed stats, because that's what I always want to see on other peoples' agent posts:

24 cold queries sent
4-5 full requests before I entered #DVPit (One was a referral and the agent asked for the full as part of the referral, so not sure if that counts)
21 contest requests, 17 sent (some were from the same agencies)
5 contest upgrades before offer
6 contest upgrades after offer nudges
7 query full requests after offer nudges 

Total offers9 offers within deadline, 1 two hours after deadline, 1 R&R the next day. (5 of the offers were from the contest, 5 offers and the R&R from query nudges.)