Sometimes, it’s hard to be genuinely, selflessly, happy for someone else’s success, especially when you have been striving and failing to meet the same goal. In the querying trenches, writers can fall prey to the belief that getting an agent is a zero sum game. In game and economic theory, this term refers to a situation where each participant’s gains or losses are exactly balanced by the gains or losses of the other participants-- essentially, if one player obtains something of value, that means another player has lost that same item. There comes a point in every writer’s querying journey where the virtual claps and hearty congratulations we offer our fellow writers comes with a healthy dose of “Why not me?”
Why do we harbor this notion that when someone else gets an agent, your chances of getting an agent necessarily decrease? Perhaps because we know that agents reject up to 99% of queries they receive, including the good ones that they just “didn’t connect with.” (Raise your hand if this ubiquitous critique makes you want to scream) This is the reason we obsess over a typo in a query that can’t be un-sent and slap our heads in frustration at “blowing my ONE AND ONLY chance.” With that mindset, it’s no wonder that we battle with inner jealousy when our friends hit a career milestone: We assume that their success is not just their success, but also our loss. Conventional wisdom, also known as Twitter, reinforces the belief that only a select few will ever breathe the rarified air of traditional publishing. Naturally, with so many talented writers in the world, there just can’t be room for everyone, right? So if someone else gets a spot, that means one fewer spot for you, right?
In my opinion, this mindset is wrong and counterproductive. A writer connects with an agent because of timing, market trends, personalities, and a million other variables, including luck. And that’s just the first stop. An agented writer doesn’t always get a publishing deal. Books often don’t earn back their advances. Some writers get three book deals and some get digital-only one book deals. There is simply no point in equating another writer’s success with a commensurate failure on your part because everyone succeeds differently and at different times in their life. So if your “dream” agent picks up a new client, that new client hasn’t taken your spot any more than your promotion or pregnancy announcement means someone else is going to get demoted or be childless. It stinks that publishing is not always a meritocracy but still, you’ve lost nothing by the fact of someone else’s success. When your path to traditional publishing seems to be a series of dead ends, don’t be tempted to buy into the zero sum mentality and miss out on the celebrations.