The Color of Envy: Why Being Jealous of Anyone in Publishing is a Terrible Idea

In this business, the siren call of relatively vibrant plant life is a genuine and daily hazard.

Ridiculous, you say. What does she mean, you ask? In laymen’s terms, we say “The Grass is always greener…on the other side of the fence.” Sounds simple, even silly. But in my opinion, it’s truly one of the most pervasive problems in publishing.

New writers look at agented authors, eyes filled with envy, thinking, “If I could just get an agent….”

Agented authors look at published authors and secretly fester with jealousy. “If only I had a deal and a release date….”

Traditionally published authors look at successfully self-published authors and sigh, “If only I had more control over my work…a larger cut of my royalties…less time to wait in between releases….”

Self-published authors fall into bed at the end of the day wishing, “If only I had a huge publishing house full of experts and interns who could back me up with some of this work…an agent to help me fine-tune my marketing strategy…or at least a day off.”

Everyone wishes they could steal the lives of authors with movie deals, household name status, or castles in Scotland. (Because seriously, who doesn’t want to be famous? Who wouldn’t want a super awesome and probably haunted castle? Or the power to make their favorite celebrities act out scenes from a personal fantasy?–I’m talking story fantasy of course, don’t be gross.)

Sadly, at every level, this attitude persists. Agents look at signed authors, deals, or sales, and say to themselves, “If only I could be the one to sign that author/make that deal/see those sales for my client’s book.”

But here’s the thing, children. Your third grade Math teacher was right when she said that cheating off your friend’s homework wouldn’t make you any smarter. And while I fully believe that you can (and should) learn from the mistakes of others, it’s pretty pointless for you to try and learn from their success. Success is a mysterious phenomenon that happens when you combine hard work, inspiration, talent and timing. (Also, caffiene.) Because it’s so hard to duplicate, it just seems a little short-sighted to waste time thinking about how you could have maybe, possibly had the same result. Doesn’t it? Especially since, in this business, a huge part of the hard work happens behind closed doors. Or late at night, while no one is watching.

Pain and suffering isn’t pretty, which is why most people only talk about it in past tense, like “I used to be a failure.” Or, “I used to wonder if I ever had what it took.” Accentuating the positive is part of the business, which is why you have to be so, soooo careful not to fall for the “sales are better on the other side” or “life is better in the Scottish castle.” Unless you’ve actually seen the reports, or personally experienced the horrors of renovating Medieval plumbing.

If the world in general was more transparent, publishing would be a lot more fair, I’m sure. But “fair” means different things to different people, and so does “hard work.” So does “success.”

“If only” is not a recipe, or even a set of steps. It’s what you waste your time doing, when you should be collecting ingredients and planning your path as carefully (and intelligently) as you can.

Mixed metaphors aside, let’s not forget about the human ingredient. Which I personally think is the most miraculous, powerful and unpredictable in the world.
Personality quirks can turn a no into a yes.

Individual ideas can make things happen that never should have otherwise happened.

A single cup of coffee in the right person’s bloodstream can change the course of history.

Smiling at a stranger at a conference, or sharing a bit of advice, or being the weird one who does things that “will never work,” is worth while.

Wishing you had someone else’s life, or lawn, is not.

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