I read an article some time ago wherein the author said she knew she wouldn't be a bestseller as soon as the offer came in on her first novel. Because it wasn't a six-figure advance and she wasn't going to auction.
This bothered me a lot.
First, let's roll back to a not-so-happy place in my past, last spring. To be as brief and honest as possible, I'd let some things get out of control in my life and had lost all focus of the good things going on. I realized I was in a bad place. I sought the help of a counselor at work. And he tricked me.
In the best way, of course. During one session, he targeted my writing dream and made me list everything that was bothering me. Every fear. Every rejection. Every disappointment. Then he made me write down the good things that had happened. Actual words from people who had read and responded positively to my work. I tried to counter with, "Yeah, but if I was any good this wouldn't be so hard." He pointed to my fears, which were things like, I'll never get published. I'm not good enough. I don't know if I'm even supposed to be doing this. Then back to the Good Things list. "Which of these has actually happened?" he asked.
Which brings me back to the article about trying to read into your publishing future based on what's happening to other people. We're always wanting to compare our experiences to try and figure out what's normal. Is it supposed to take this long? What if I don't get multiple offers from agents? What does it mean if I didn't get a three-book deal? And I'm telling you (and also telling me):
There is no magic formula. There is only one example I need to give here to prove it: J.K. Rowling received a £1500 advance (or about $2400) for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Couple that with her own editor's advice that she get a day job because she "had little chance of making money in children's books,"* I think you're starting to get my point. And for heaven's sake, if you're sitting there worrying your five/six-figure advance means they're overconfident and you're doomed not to sell because how could anyone really KNOW what the bestsellers will be, I'm shaking your shoulders right now. SHAKING THEM.
I don't know the future. But if you're in that place right now where the comparison devil is whispering in your ear, using all your "failures" and "shortcomings" to bury all sense of hope, trick yourself like my counselor tricked me. There are two sides to every story, and you are not allowed to block the good side out. "I'm getting a lot of rejections ... but I know so much more than last year." "A top-choice agent just told me my book made her cringe** ... but another just requested the full." Capiche?
If you're going to do any comparing, that should be it.
*These quotes/numbers pulled from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._K._Rowling
**Yes, this was an actual rejection I received.