You’re great friends with all of the people in your writer’s group, or that aspiring writer you met at the bookstore has become your best friend. You get together weekly to trade feedback and gripe about the world of publishing. It’s great because you’re all chasing the same goal. And then one day it happens: One of your friends gets an agent or a publishing deal. They are no longer chasing the dream; they’ve achieved the dream. Suddenly the green-eyed monster rears its ugly head. You’re jealous of your friend’s success. You can’t believe they got a deal before you. You cannot grasp just how this person went from languishing at the bottom of the heap with you to the top, leaving you behind. It’s eating you up inside and jeopardizing your friendship. How do you deal with it? Here are some tips on slaying that ugly green-eyed monster that turns friends and colleagues into enemies.
- Be gracious. As your mother would say, “Act right.” Congratulate the person. Maybe take them out to dinner to celebrate. Spread their news on Facebook or Twitter. Offer to host a release day party for them. Don’t be a jerk and refuse to return their calls, or tell them that they, “got lucky this time.” Don’t talk behind their back about how they, “knew someone” or how they don’t deserve it. (Believe me, it will come back to bite you in the butt.) Even if you don’t believe in karma or religious traditions that preach the value of being a good person, it will make you feel better to react positively rather than negatively.
- Reach out to the successful writer. Instead of holing up in your house and refusing to talk to this person, ask them how they did it. Maybe they tried something that you haven’t thought of yet. Ask them for feedback on your work or submission materials. Maybe they learned something during their submission process that can help you. Even if they can’t help you, having asked and demonstrated genuine interest in their success can go a long way toward burying uncomfortable feelings.
- Remember that their success may give you an “in.” Your published best friend may now be able to introduce you to their agent, or to movers and shakers at a writer’s conference. They may be able to hook you up with an editor that they heard about who just happens to be looking for work like yours. You certainly don’t want to abuse your friend by constantly seeking introductions and begging for favors but, just like in any other field, writers, agents, and publishers network and recommend people that they know. The more people you know in the field, the more your potential network expands. You never know when your friend might mention your name to the right person in the right circumstances and fortune will shine on you.
- Use their success as motivation. Okay, so your best friend just got published and you’re upset. Channel that emotion and use it to motivate you to redouble your own efforts. Obviously, you don’t want to tell your friend to their face, “I’m going to beat you, sucker, and make millions of dollars while you languish on the mid-list,” but it’s okay to think that and use it as a push to work harder and improve.
- Look in the mirror. This one is a parallel to number 4, above. Beyond using someone else’s success for motivation, use it as an opportunity to examine your own work. Are you really putting in the time necessary to achieve success? Did your friend work six hours a day (after work, late at night, including holidays) while you only work for an hour on alternate Thursdays? Are you trying as hard as you can? Did your friend submit to seventy agents and attend six writer’s conferences before landing their deal while you submitted to two agents and called yourself a failure? If you’re not trying as hard as you possibly can, you forfeit the right to be jealous because you can’t even compare yourself to the successful person. Harsh, but there it is.
- Let it out. Jealousy is a valid emotion and, like other emotions, it can help to get it out. Find someone you can trust (not the person that you are jealous of) and vent it out. Or vent it into your pillow or journal. Often the act of talking about it will make you realize that you’re being silly. If nothing else it will make you feel better.
- Remember that there’s plenty of room in the marketplace for everyone. People get published every day. Self-published authors achieve success every day. People find agents every day. Writing is not a zero-sum game where the success of one person automatically means that another person cannot now succeed. There is room in the marketplace for excellent books in all genres. As long as your work is excellent, unique and/or topical, you can eventually find success. Just because one writer publishes a novel about time travel doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for your take on it, too. Who knows? One day the fans of that book could be your fans.
- Ask yourself if your jealousy is even founded. If your friend just published a non-fiction book on military tactics and you write Regency romance, what exactly are you upset about? They certainly didn’t “take your place” in the marketplace. They probably didn’t even take an open slot with an agent because it’s not likely that the same agent would represent such disparate works. It’s kind of like being jealous of the person who got a job on Wall Street when you’re seeking a job in the non-profit sector. Is their success really a threat to you? No, it’s not. Just be happy for them and move on.
- Remember that their life isn’t now magically perfect. Getting published only changes one small part of a person’s life and solves almost no problems. (True story: The moment I found out I was getting published, I was in the middle of scrubbing the toilets. My email dinged, I read the email, celebrated for a second, and then realized that I still had to scrub those toilets. Publication didn’t magically grant me a maid.) If a published person has out of control kids, hates their spouse, has health problems, or has a meddlesome mother-in-law, getting published won’t fix any of that. Life is still life and chances are this person that you are so jealous of still has problems that you don’t have. If your life is pretty good, be happy about that and remember that getting published isn’t the end-all be-all of life. It can be a nice addition to an already happy life, but it won’t magically make you happy and trouble-free.
- Let it go. In the end, you just have to find a way to let it go. Nurturing all that jealousy will eventually poison your mind and damage your writing. It will make you into a mean, bitter person that no one wants to be around (or help). It will seep out into your submissions and social media posts, turning off any would-be agents or publishers. It will destroy your friendships and professional networks. Just let it go, wish your friend success, and get back to your own work.
(Photo courtesy of geralt)
For the most part, I see success stories as an illumination on the possible. This makes them genuinely happy experiences no matter what the MC ‘s name…
Great tips! Like you’ve mentioned, I usually see the most success come to those who put in the most time. And it’s a good way to rationalize it for the rest of us who may be dabbling in lots of other pursuits at the same time.
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