Despite the fact that I’m old enough to know better and even old enough to care, when I drive long stretches of the interstate, I can’t help being competitive with other drivers. I feel vaguely defeated when a minivan with a luggage pod on top passes me as if I’m a turtle. I avidly read the bumper stickers and the license plates, hoping to glean information on political affiliations, hobbies, where they’re going, where they’ve been.
I’m comparing. That car says Hilton Head. I’ve never been there. I’d like to go. Do they have more money than I do? That SUV has figures on the back window – four kids and two cats. I crane my neck as I pass: how does that mom handle all that? I pass a Honda with a ski rack. Those people must be more athletic than I am. I should go to the gym. I should get into shape.
It’s all pointless, of course. Comparing lives based on the tiny bit of information I can acquire from a couple of stickers and a bike rack is ridiculous. I don’t know anything about their lives. I don’t know if the mom of four has a full-time job or a fleet of nannies. I don’t know if the ski rack guy is an expert or a first-time bunny sloper.
The same is true for writing. It’s so hard to query and wonder why that other writer got an agent with her fifteenth query and you’ve sent 100. It’s a killer to get into a contest and then watch everyone else in your group speed on to publishing deals while you revise endlessly or wait forever on sub.
There is nothing to be gained by comparing your path to another writer’s—ANY other writer’s. Even if you think you’re the same in every respect: you started writing around the same time, your books are in the same genre, you’ve both done well getting into contests, you write in similar styles, and you’ve had equal success in querying or getting an agent, it means nothing. She might get a deal the first day on sub because the editor who happened to receive it happened to have time to look at it right then and happened to have a hole on her list that needed a book about a difficult mother/daughter relationship. Bam. She’s got a deal. Your book – about a difficult sister relationship – may well sit on sub for eight months with no takers.
It does not mean your book is worse. It does not mean your writing career is cursed. It does not mean your agent doesn’t know what he’s doing. It does not mean anything at all except that the publishing industry is subjective and market-based.
Right, right, I know. Not comforting. What if publishing never needs a book about a difficult sister relationship? What if your timing is terrible and every publishing house signed one of those last year? Then there’s nothing else to do but write another one.
Yep, that’s right. Write another book. You’re not dead, yet, are you? Keep writing. If you create enough of a body of work and that work is informed by your attempts at constant learning of craft, eventually, you can create better odds for yourself.
It’s all about you, though. Not other writers. Keep your car heading forward and don’t be distracted by the bumper stickers around you.