Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Comparison Devil

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.

(See? Tricky.)

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
**Yes, this was an actual rejection I received.


  1. I'm surprised that more unpublished, aspiring writers aren't offing themselves, or at the very least taking serious mood stabilizers. I am constantly questioning my ability, wondering if I'm among those authors who had to write 5 books before even one saw the light of day. At this point, I just want to have ONE agent request a partial. I don't even care if they reject it after that. Just give me a sign that this isn't complete crap and has SOME potential, ya know?

    1. I hear you. I sent over 80 queries for my first book and it felt like I was just sending them into the void. Honestly, it was Twitter/my CPs who kept me sane - that, and forcing myself to stop focusing on what wasn't happening and only on what I could control, which was to keep sending letters, keep entering contests, keep writing. Easier said than done, I know.

  2. Natalie, thanks for this very honest post. I think it boils down to being a glass-half-full person, rather than the alternative. Easier said than done most of the time, but like you said, it's important to keep trying to be positive.

  3. This is lovely, Natalie, and so true. My CPs are constantly having to talk me down about comparing myself to others.



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