An old friend of mine who’s worked in publishing a while recently became an agent. She said to me the other day, “you know, I never realized how hard this job is on your ego.”
Understatement of the year. Here are some of the ways that we agents can beat ourselves up in this job:
1. You have an auction. Nobody comes. When editors asked you what happened to your auction you have to tell them that nobody came. You feel like a loser.
2. You’re shopping a book. One editor buys it. Why didn’t more editors like it? You feel like a loser.
3. You pass on a book. A month later you’re reading Publisher’s Marketplace and you see that it sold. To a prestigious editor. At a prestigious house. You feel like a loser.
4. Your friend who is an agent makes a huge deal. You haven’t made a huge deal in a while. You feel like a loser.
5. You pass on a book. A year later it hits the Times list. You feel like a loser.
6. You have a submission in and the author tells you five other agents want it. You want it too. The author signs with someone else. You feel like a loser.
And so on. You get the picture. There are a million and one ways that this business can make you feel like a loser. And don’t think I’m whining, because as you know I love this job and consider myself fantastically lucky to be making a living doing what I love. My point is simply this: as confidence-crushing as my job can be, I think it’s a thousand times worse for you, the writer. If I’m not successful selling a book, that means that my taste is in question. Given that I base my livelihood on my taste, that can feel disconcerting. But writers put their heart and soul on the page. If that’s rejected, in many cases over and over again, well, I can’t really imagine what that must feel like. I imagine, in the understatement of the year, that it feels pretty crummy.
Okay, so where do we go from here? How do we maintain confidence? How do we train ourselves to keep trying, to focus only on ourselves and not compare ourselves to others who we feel are more successful (for this is the trap of low confidence)? How do we feel happy and even successful in the face of rejection?
Well, I have a new mantra my friends, and it goes like this (drumroll, please): WHAT WOULD DONALD TRUMP DO? Yes, you heard right. I am invoking the name of the Donald. If you are not familiar with the legend of Mr. Trump, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Trump#Financial_problems_.281989.E2.80.931997.29
My (metaphorical) friend Donald has faced catastrophic failure over and over again in his career. And each time, like Phoenix rising from the ashes, he makes his comeback. Because you know what he has? An almost blinding, pathological belief in himself no matter what. If you watch The Apprentice on television for about five minutes, you’ll see that he also has an ego the size of Toledo, and of course, I’m not advocating that. But the fact is that Donald (if I may) doesn’t see his failures. He only sees success, even when reality doesn’t exactly mesh with his vision. And because he does this, his vision of success becomes his reality.
Be like Donald. Believe in your success. And if you don’t believe in your success, fake it until you make it (sorry, you know I love cheesy sayings). Act like you believe in yourself until one day you’ll find out that you actually do. See rejection as a test of the strength of your confidence and let your confidence win. I can’t say it enough: believe in yourself and your talent and your strength of will. That belief will carry you through failure to success, every time.