Author Jealousy – Is it Necessary?

As a writer who’s wanted to be published since before I hit puberty, and still looking for the Holy Grail of writing  – the Three Book Contract – now I’m in my fifties, I have to confess to getting somewhat churlish when I hear some young bright thing’s first novel has been taken up by a trade publisher.  There’s that twist in the gut and the sense of nausea, and the surge of panic that I only otherwise get when someone else hits on my significant other. It’s jealousy, of course. I admit it.

Well, serves me right for not submitting to enough agents, but I was never good at dealing with rejection. Getting over that is still a work in progress.

My next reaction is a deeper sense of panic – that if too many new authors get all the contracts, there won’t be any left for me. I’ll be left behind, forever in the slush pile, and my efforts, my loves, my dreams will be forever hitting an agent’s trash box.

Perhaps it’s a learned response. My first (and looking back rather embarrassing) efforts at novel writing came at a time when getting represented, winning a contract, getting a book on the shelves and that glorious, shiny advance was the only path to authorhood. There was a rigid structure to how the publishing industry operated – mainstream publishers were on the throne, and agents were gatekeepers to the throne room.

Over the last decade that has changed, and fairly radically. With the advent of digital books, many publishing houses (and sadly, bookshops) are in decline and agencies are falling by the wayside, while the likes of me – poor, wannabe writers – are able to sit at their own desk and publish their own books without all the waiting and (mostly) inevitable rejection to contend with.

Wait, what?

Anyone can publish their book? Surely that means… millions of other writers are out there, publishing their own stuff, just like me. That means there must be (tots it up) lots and lots of other books out there competing with mine! Cue the jealousy again, because all those other self-published writers are surely more capable and readable than me. Those readers who could be consuming my books will almost certainly be reading their stuff instead. And there are only a finite number of readers. Right?

Well, true enough. But when I think about it more clearly, how many books does one reader get through in, say, a year? An avid reader might get through dozens, while writers (even the quickest) can only push out a decent offering once every one or two years. Realisically, there are more than enough readers to keep a writer going, and if they’re any good at writing, and good at their marketing, they might even make a living out of it.

All that jealousy stuff. I really need to get over it.

9 thoughts on “Author Jealousy – Is it Necessary?

  1. Interesting article, thanks Martine! I recently read an article by Will Self claiming writers that could make a living from their work could fill a cathedral in the 1980s and only a station waiting room now. However, he also wrote a bit of a doomsday essay claiming the novel had died in the 1970s and everything since was an undead novel – not realising it was already part of a dying form. Personally I think he just wants to be the last one in that room, bolting the door on the rest of us so he can sit inside being an Emo!

    If I worry about not making it, I think of Kafka – demanding his books be burnt (pre-publishing) in his will), Woolf, where the art mattered more than praise, or James Salis (Drive) who didn’t achieve fame until into his sixties and seventies. But yeah, some cash ‘n’ recognition would be nice, right. Living like Ian Fleming, somewhere hot – type writer at the bottom of the garden by the lake kind of stuff, huh.

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    • Thanks Kristian. I’m an eternal optimist, so I always think there’s hope, or at least an unlocked door, to getting that 3-book deal. I’ve just about given up on trade publishers now, though, and with the advent of digital publishing they might be a dying breed anyway. It would still be nice, to get a contract, for vindication as much as a potential pay cheque.

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  2. Martine, I can relate entirely with you. I am in my sixty fifth year- over ten books and not a sniff from anyone so far. And in my case it was not just the young up and comers but a well established and extremely wealthy author (who I have subsequently learned does not actually pen his own books but uses a host of writers for that). Anger was an understatement when,in 2012 the book Zoo hit the shelves, the same concept and even the same title I self published five years previous. But as I did not have the same amount of naughts on my bank balance there was little I could do. So I wrote Zoo 2 – and guess what? So did he. I can hack competition, even rejection, but we as little guys can be trampled under foot so easily. I have continued writing but have lost faith in the honesty and integrity of the literary world so much that I expect nothing – and that is what I get. I so hope you can fulfill your goal soon Martine and find the light which lurks in the gloomy, murky world of publishing. Best wishes Stuart

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    • Stuart, what an awful thing to happen to you! I used to worry about plagiarism – the little guy’s novel being stolen by a mainstream author – but convinced myself that was something that only happened in novels ;). It’s theft pure and simple, but like you say, if you don’t have the means to fight someone who has money on their side, it’s almost impossible to get redress. I’ve gone down the self-publish route, too, as a) I think there’s more money in it these days, and b) there’s more chance of getting published :). I hope you find success soon, and keep at it! Writing is one of the few careers where age is an advantage – we oldies have more experience and we’ve read a lot more and learned a lot more than the newbies. Good luck, and thank you for reading my post.

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  3. I sympathize with you, Martine, although with the (dis)advantage of some two decades being in my late seventies. Having made no progress with customary publishing channels I have got into print with short stories and two novels following independent publishing channels. That done the challenge of marketing the work confronts me; not my metier.
    Maybe I have to be jealous of you, Martine, with relative youth on your side. Chip.
    http://www.chiptolson.com

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    • Thanks Chip. You’re an inspiration. All those completed novels and short stories you have under your belt, and all those competitions you do. You’re a real trooper, you deserve to have a breakthrough. Your work is far superior to many that come out of mainstream publishers. In a fair world, you’d be enjoying that beach Kristian was talking about.

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