for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in inspiration or writer’s block…

Here’s something that has left me feeling a bit awkward… While reading through queries this week, I discovered that a husband and wife had written me separately to pitch different novels — very different novels. And I find myself intrigued by the description of one and not the other. So, it looks like I’ll end up asking for a submission for one and not the other and that leads me to wondering how that day at the mailbox is going to go… Luckily, they both sound like very reasonable people in their letters. And both sound like talented writers. It’s just that one of their projects doesn’t quite click with me. I’m sure there is someone out there for whom it will resonate.

This has brought to mind a situation from a few years ago. At that time, I had been representing a talented young author and that author’s spouse approached me with a novel as well. I agreed to take it on. Things got increasingly awkward when the second writer’s book didn’t get an offer. Eventually we went our separate ways, and at this point I don’t represent either of them anymore. And it has made me very leery of such things. I have a husband-wife writing team on my list and that dynamic ends up being quite different. I also have two people on my list who are best friends and critique partners, and their careers aren’t really going the same direction at this point. As far as I know, it’s been relatively smooth sailing between them but I wonder sometimes if in their deepest darkest hearts there isn’t some envy or some pride.

A couple years back I heard an author give a speech about the green-eyed monster. I think it might have been Jennie Crusie, but I’m not entirely sure. What particularly stuck in my mind from that presentation was the issue of being in the writing community where one can be both envious of another’s success but also want to cheer them on because they have become a friend and because they are honestly working hard and also happen to be quite talented. I have a couple close friends who are agents and I suppose that I could find myself in a similar place, wondering why so-and-so managed to sell a book for such-and-such a sum when no one will bite on something particularly brilliant that I’ve been shopping. Or vice versa. I know that working with writing puts a subjective spin on everything. Naturally, I’m going to think that all my clients should be outrageously successful, collect outstanding reviews, and be nominated for every award under the sun. I guess it’s not in wanting it that the error lies, but in fretting over-much about that greener-looking grass.

8 responses to “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in inspiration or writer’s block…

  1. My husband and I both write, but the only overlaps we have right now are in the short story market. He’s been published by markets that have rejected me and vice versa. It *is* very difficult at times, but it’s part of the price you pay for getting to live with someone who understands your every neurotic thought process, and who will do the dishes without complaint for a few weeks when you have a deadline. Every relationship has hurdles, this is just the writer/writer hurdle.
    Friendships too, I think. Instead of being envious over a girlfriend’s figure or her new boyfriend while you sit at home alone with Ben and Jerry, jealousy stems from her latest sale. It’s the same obstacle every friendship faces, merely disguised to fit our particular interests.

  2. Have you considered sending the rejection a couple three days before sending the request for a submission?
    I suspect that all writers have their bouts with envy and egomaniacal pride. The wise ones press those feelings deep down until they form a little acid ball that no one ever knows about. They can work it out by abusing and humiliating their characters at (hopefully) five cents a word.

  3. I don’t think the issue is that you’re representing both halves of a set…it’s that one or more of those halves has unrealistic expectations and professional insecurity.
    If someone’s going to be jealous, they’re going to be jealous, regardless of reason. They’ll always find someone richer, thinner, more popular, better looking, with a more well behaved kids, getting better press, winning bigger awards, etc. In this case, the reason just happened to be book deals.
    On the other hand, if someone’s got an abundant attitude, then they know one person’s success does not diminish their own success.

  4. When my CP and I started out, I was by far the more experienced. I’d done freelancing and written for television, edited and taught editing. Well, she worked harder than I did, slaved really, and sold one story after another. Now, she’s invited to submit stories, queried by book editors at big houses, and I’m still trying to get around to selling a first novel. :G:
    I can’t be jealous of her because she worked HARD. I didn’t make that effort. But, even if we’d both put in equal effort, I know that we write very differently and come at things from very different directions. So, we still might not be at the same place. When you’re in a relationship, whether marriage, friendship/CP or professional acquaintances, you really have to put aside jealousy and be happy for the person, and hope they’ll be happy when it’s your turn.
    If your husband and wife can’t manage that, then it’s really not your fault. You’ll still feel bad about it, but it’s their issue to resolve.

  5. I’m married to another writer (not so obvious when we submit, since we have different last names and different business mailing addresses), and I agree with everyone else that this is the couple’s lookout, not yours.
    My husband and I have for the most part sold to different markets–the one time we sold to the same small press magazine was delightful, but that was in part because we both knew it was unusual and unlikely–our work and careers have different shapes, for all that of course we influence (and critique) each others’ work. In general though, when I have a story rejected by a market that my spouse has also submitted to, my reaction tends to be, “Well, if I can’t sell to that market, it’d be really cool if he could.” It’s the next best thing to making a sale oneself, really.
    Besides, if he makes that sale, I still get to go out and celebrate and eat sushi, and that’s not true if some stranger sells instead, you know? 🙂
    I’m not sure having the same agent would be a good career move for most couples, actually (collaborators/teams being an exception–but a team is effectively one client). Each career requires its own strategies, and it’s probably best if the strategies that work best for one person don’t get muddled up with the strategies that work best for the other. And if an agent-author relationship doesn’t work out for a writer, it’s also important for them to know they can leave without worrying (legitimately or not) that they’re somehow damaging a partner’s career.

  6. …which is why I married an illiterate woman, keep her away from internet and tv, and tell her that books are only good for fuel for the fireplace. (not really)
    Hey if you really wanted to start trouble you could always address the envelope to the spouse that you aren’t requesting the ms from and the letter inside addressed to the spouse you are requesting from. Homewrecker. 😉
    Then the R should be handwritten, ” Dear Mr/Mrs _____, Thank you for submitting your query on _____. I am sorry to say that we are not interested at this time in seeing novels of this genre. However, if you set aside your inflated ego just long enough to learn a bit from your husband/wife, we may have something to talk about in the future.”
    You see, it could be much, much worse. Though…I’m not trading shoes with you today. Bit of a spot to be in. “I deal with the #$&damned writers so the editors don’t have to…I have people skills!”

  7. A nifty post on an interesting subject. I can certainly attest to occasional bouts of envy between best friends who are writers. I won’t deny that the monster now and then visits me when I think how successful has become. But then a day or so later I calm down and realize how she has rightfully earned it. Plus she writes different material from me. If I had attempted the same genre I might have sold more too – so it was my own conscious decision that limited me. Plus, Holly is one of the nicest people around and we’ve been friends for so long. I’m fortunate that her personality has not changed from success (but her generosity has doubled).

  8. Been there, Done that, Have too many t-shirts
    I think it was Jennie Crusie, since I think she had an article about it in the RWR. I remember reading it and agree with her statements on the matter.
    I’ve been writing for 30 years now, got my first rejection letter back in 1975. I’ve seen several of my crit partners and many friends get published, have careers and win awards while I’m still struggling. Am I happy for them? You bet. They’ve worked hard too and deserve whatever success they can achieve for themselves. Am I envious? You bet. I’m human and they’re getting what I want for myself. But that hasn’t stopped me from being friends with them, for cheering for them, or from them supporting my own efforts to fulfill my dream.
    In my decades of seeking publication, I have watched friends kill their careers and their writing spirits by being envious to the point of jealousy and jealous to the point of competitive obsession. I’ve seen friends work themselves up to a rabid lather because crit partners got an award and they didn’t. Or a better deal. Or hard cover, or or or or or or. That’s beyond envious. That’s also beyond friendship. Not what Jennie was talking about at all, IIRC.
    Sometimes it’s hard to remember that this business isn’t really a competition. Just because my friend gets published, doesn’t mean I have no hopes at all. One slot out of many is filled–there’s still chances for me. My crit partner gets more money than I do. That doesn’t mean that’s all the money a publisher has, there’s still more for me. A reader will read more than one author, so there’s plenty of readers out there for all of us. No need for competition, no need for jealousy.
    That’s the theory I’m working on, at least. 😉
    –Cassandra Ward

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