Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pay No Attention to the Numbers Behind the Curtain

Okay, so tackling another tough (or touchy) subject today. Numbers. Most of us hate math -- not me, I minored in it. But most of us. Yet somehow, we get all wrapped up in the numbers.

For the pre-published:

  • How many queries did he send?
  • How many agents offered?
  • How many rejections?
  • How long did it take her to write that draft??
  • How long did it take to sell her book?
  • How many editors did you submit to?
  • How many publishing houses offered?

And it doesn't stop there. Even on "this side" of the fence, there are numbers to obsess over:

  • How many books has she sold?
  • How much was her advance?
  • How many books were in her deal?
  • What's her print run?
  • How many ARCs did she get?

And on and on. And on. AND ON.

I want to stop the madness. Today I declare that the freaking numbers do not matter. So what if she can write a book in 11 days? Does that really matter? Does that mean that she's somehow better than you, because it takes you 11 weeks or 11 months or 11 years to write a draft?

I want to climb on the table and shout: "That's ridiculous!"

I think we all know it's ridiculous, but deep down inside, it matters to us. But it shouldn't. It shouldn't.

It doesn't matter if someone sends 5 queries Or 50. Or 500. If they get a request, yay! It doesn't matter how many agents offer on your manuscript. Just because someone gets two offers, or five, or ten, doesn't mean their book is better than yours.

IT DOESN'T. (Repeat it. Repeat it again.)

Just like it doesn't make a bit of difference if a book sells in 1 day or 1 year.

Seriously. Both books sold! They'll both be published. They'll both have covers and be enjoyed. It matters not how long or how many of something the book has under it's belt.

Now, it might make the journey easier or harder for the author, but TIME/QUANTITY does not influence the QUALITY of the book.

And I think it's time (ha!) we gave up on the freaking numbers. Stop using them to compare ourselves and our work to someone else. That's a dangerous game with a slippery slope. I know. I've played it before. It's not fun.

So today, I'm advocating that you spend your time doing what matters: writing your next best-seller.

Are you all hung up on numbers? Do you think faster = better? Or more = better?

The only thing I want more of faster, is bacon. And sour patch kids. And summer.

65 comments:

Janice Hardy said...

And let's not forget the social media numbers: how many blog followers? Twitter followers? Hits per day/month/year? It gets crazy. I have moments where I'm hung up on numbers, but I try to ignore them as best I can. It's all out of my control anyway, and the most important thing is to focus on writing the best book I can. That IS in my control.

Great post!

Christina Lee said...

You jump on that table and I'll join you! :--))))

Oh yes, Janice, those numbers too. I used to care so.much.more.

And now I'm just: meh. Glad I got there, actually. But I might have some more moments of crazy coming up, so bear with me!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Janice is right too about the focus on social media numbers. It's easy to get caught up in it all, like followers growing, how many comments you get, etc. I like your declaration not to care. And to focus on what we can control.

Laura Marcella said...

I don't like math (probably because I'm just no good at it!) so I don't care about the numbers! Love this post since it's encouraging me to keep on forgetting those numbers, woohoo!! :)

Em-Musing said...

I know that in order to attract ONE agent, I have to submit to many. I just put my mind a happy place while submitting and I don't count...or care.

Anita Saxena said...

YES. Thank you for this, Elana. As much as I try not to compare my writing journey to other's, it's still there in the back of my head sometimes.

Mary said...

I think we all get caught up in the numbers game at some point but you're right. Numbers shouldn't matter. Numbers shouldn't be what we focus on. A solid, quality product should be. Write on! hehe

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm with Laura. The numbers don't mean much to me. It's the outcome that counts. Or as Mary put it, the quality of the final project.

(wow, I just had to copy and paste bits of everyone's answers to create my own). :D

Nicole Mc said...

Amen to that last line!! :)

And yes, I agree. I try not to think about what anyone else is doing. Sometimes it surfaces, but I try to shove it away!! This helped! :)

Talli Roland said...

Great post, Elana, and I couldn't agree more! Now if you could only come up with something to stop me obsessing...

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Hooray for bacon, sour patch kids, & summer!

Down with numbers! My eyes glaze over when I see them anyway. Good thing b/c otherwise they'd really mess with my head. ;)

~ Wendy

Christine Fonseca said...

Such a great post! And yep...the numbers are irrelevant!

Leigh Ann said...

"The only thing I want more of faster, is bacon. And sour patch kids. And summer." <--BAHAHAHA

Oh, Elana. You slay me.

Okay. So. I'm in the query trenches right now, and my request rate is abysmal. I've also been in some contests, where I seem to be having a similar lack of success.

So. If this project eventually gets representation, will all those numbers matter? NOT AT ALL. But right now, they're mighty discouraging. Right now, numbers mean a lot. I wish they didn't, but they do. Because unfortunately, there's only so much validation and encouragement your critique partners can give you. Eventually, you need some requests to keep your spirits up, that you're on the right track. Or I do, at least.

But, that's from the trenches. It's a weird perspective.

Great, thought-provoking post, as always. :)

Liza said...

I just think practice, practice, practice and don't put something out there until it is 100% the best you can make it.

Marta Szemik said...

Writing all day today, but I must admit, the past couple of days I've been stuck on the numbers game. In fact, I'll have a post about it tomorrow:) But today, just writing (with minimal blogging of course).

Kelly Polark said...

Yes! It is the outcome that matters!
I do get caught up in numbers occasionally. Mostly wordcount. I'm a alow writer at times, so this can be frustrating. But I figure it WILL get done, just will take a few more months (a year? :) longer than others!

K.T. Hanna said...

I agree. It doesn't matter how long anything takes if the end result is a published book. First draft in 11 days is only a first draft. Might take another 11 years to finish.
Getting taken on in 5 queries might be a yahoo moment, but so would it if it was the 150th.

What gets to me? Is the blog, the reach, the social media platforms that are all given so much 'worth'. Those are the numbers I find it hard to deal with.

This was an amazingly timed post.

Thank you.

Linda Jackson said...

Thank you! I really needed this today. This morning I was just thinking about how it takes some writers a few months to write a book and still get published (Stephenie Meyer), while it takes others years (Jonathan Franzen).
I'm with you. Let's not get caught up in the numbers. ...unless it's Math, of course, which I loved enough to MAJOR in.

Matthew MacNish said...

I only do this in my own head, but I need to stop that too. Thanks, Elana!

Julie Daines said...

This is perfect. My friends in my writer's group (who shall remain nameless! :) ) keep sending out emails to our group with a tally of their numbers. Queries sent etc, just like you mentioned above.

In this case, I think it's simply a way for them to deal with the rejections. Even if they didn't get an offer from such and such agent, at least they feel productive because they got ____ full ms requests.

When life gets discouraging, sometimes any little thing helps.

However, numbers for the sake of comparison=bad idea. As you pointed out, everyone is different and there will always be someone with better numbers anyway, so stop worrying about it.

Ishta Mercurio said...

Oh, mans. The numbers game, especially when it comes to time and social media. I'm really bad about getting hung up on that stuff - but if I do the best I can, then that's all I can do.

Thanks for this very timely post!

Patti said...

When you write it down like that it makes so much sense, but when you read that some wrote a book in a week and it's taken you a year it's hard not to get bogged down in that.

Comparing yourself to others is one of the hardest things not to do.

LindaK said...

Great post! We should definitely get on with what we do best and not worry about the numbers! Easier said than done, but probably really worthwhile mastering!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

*shakes pom poms and jumps high into the air* Sing it, sister!! You are SO RIGHT and this post is SO GREAT!! I couldn't agree more. :-)

P.S. I just scored a digital ARC of SURRENDER!!!!!!! Squee!!!

Daisy Carter said...

Three cheers for bacon! Love this post! It's a great reminded to keep my eye on the ball. Thanks!

Carolyn V said...

Who needs numbers?

Sarah Allen said...

I think I definitely catch myself thinking too seriously of the numbers. It is so tempting...but really ridiculous. You're absolutely right. We can only write the best we can and hope good things come to all of us.

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Angela Brown said...

I've been becoming less obsessed with the numbers. I'm not focused on the number of followers on my blog or twitter. I've slowed down so that I can enjoy a bit of life more so not so obssessed with the time table of churning out my current WiP I'm focused on.

I know we shouldn't have the obssession over the numbers, but it's natural and we can't help ourselves. We shouldn't associate the speed with which someone finishes a novel and gets it published with the quality, but we do. We think if the novel gets picked up really fast then it MUST be high quality. But we see best selling authors putting out novels that are "questionable".

Kelly Hashway said...

Great post, Elana. You've convinced me to stop watching how many people have added my book on Goodreads. I needed to hear this.

Jessie Humphries said...

You are always such a breath of fresh air Elana!

Sara B. Larson said...

I saw a quote today that is so true and something I need to work on that relates to this:

Comparison is the thief of happiness.

Wow, right?

Cherie Reich said...

I sometimes get a little too hung up on the social media numbers more than the writer's life numbers. Heh, I wonder what this says about me. Lately, in writing, I find that I'm competing against myself much more than others. Sometimes I think it is easier to compete against others, though. ;)

Lori Ann Freeland said...

Thanks for this. I reposted to Facebook and Twitter. I needed to hear that today.

Stacy Henrie said...

The title reminds me of the Wizard of Oz. Doesn't he say something about not looking behind the curtain? :)

Great post! Suggestions on how to avoid the comparison game are fantastic.

Madeline Jane said...

So true! I think each writer has their own little universe of numbers. Maybe one writer writes 10,000 words a day, and another only writes 100. That may be a lot for the both of them. The best part of being a writer is the fact that math doesn't matter. (Well, coffee is a good part, too.) :)

Magan said...

Thanks, I needed this post today.

Jemi Fraser said...

Thank you! It's good to hear someone say it. I'm tired of some folks trying to tell me I need to do/be certain things in certain ways. This is my journey, not theirs - it'll happen my way (... or not, but it'll still be my way! :))

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Numbers don't matter to me.
For most of those things listed, only a single number matters - ONE. As in, doesn't matter how many queries, just the ONE that was accepted; doesn't matter how long it took to sell the book, just the ONE time it did. (You get my drift.)

Nicole Zoltack said...

To compare yourself to others is always only going to lead to disappointment. There's always someone faster, stronger, prettier, smarter, etc. On the other hand, there's also someone slower, weaker...

All that matters is writing the best story you can, getting feedback, editing, polishing, and shaping that story into the best story it can be. Nothing else matters.

Riv Re said...

Sorry, but I only half agree. 100% more acceptances and faster selling time doesn't make the book better.
BUT, at the same time, knowing those numbers is the self-confidence boost I need. When I just got back my seventh rejection, it helps to think about how J.K. Rowling got 45 (or whatever) rejections. It tells me that she did it, and so can I!
(Mind you, I'm not even up to querying yet, this is jut my impression.)

I must agree with you though. We need to stop comparing to see whose book is better.

Krispy said...

Amen! I think numbers are easy to get hung up on because they're the easiest way to make comparisons, but books are not really "like" things - not in a way that can be compared in that manner anyway. I fall into the trap of thinking faster is better, but that's because I'm a slow drafter and I just want it to be DONE. :P

June G said...

Oh Elana, you've done it again. This is exactly what I was thinking about today and talking myself out of doing. It is so meaningless and demoralizing. Thanks for being on the pulse of a writer's angst! Love ya, girl!!

June G said...

Oh Elana, you've done it again. This is exactly what I was thinking about today and talking myself out of doing. It is so meaningless and demoralizing. Thanks for being on the pulse of a writer's angst! Love ya, girl!!

Christina Farley said...

Amen sister! You couldn't have said it better. The whole madness is driving me crazy. For once I'm glad I'm too busy to think about it too much!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Definitely more summer! And soon.

This is such a great post, but you're really fighting human nature with it - which is why it needs to be said. Again. And Again.

Comparisons just suck the love and fun out of things, and who wants that? No one.

More bacon!

BECKY said...

Elana, I think my stopping by your blog tonight is one of those Twilight Zoney kind of things! I've been beating myself up for so long, that it's taking me so long, to write my memoir...and here you are...telling me it's okay...and not think about the numbers! THANK YOU! Hugs! :)

Deana said...

This is one of those common sense things...but we still need reminders for it. So thanks for that because I HATE math and still get caught up in those stupid numbers from time to time.

Melissa Sarno said...

I was playing this numbers game earlier in this week, really letting it get it to me. You're sooo right. And I needed to hear this today.

Laura said...

I love. So love this post...amen, sister.

Theresa Milstein said...

Thanks for the reminder. If a book is good, what does it matter how long it took to write or how long it took to land an agent or sign a publishing contract. I learned long ago that there's always someone smarter, faster, better, etc. Instead of comparing and feeling like I failed, I try to just keep doing my thing.

Heather said...

You go girl! I want to stand up and cheer for this post! You're so right, the numbers don't matter. And people get far too hung up on them.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Now that I'm querying, the only thing that matters to me as far as numbers go is to get to ten rejections so I can take my hubby out to dinner. Can't wait!

Melanie Conklin said...

i love this. thank you for posting it.

Alice said...

It's interesting how you're good at writing and math. Most writers hate math, but it's also interesting how if you're a writer, there's lots of numbers involved. Go figure!

Angie said...

Oh, those horrible numbers! I have wanted to write a post like this myself. The one killing me right now is the "talking about this" on the facebook page. Evil, evil number!

Caryn Caldwell said...

Oh, man. I am SO guilty of this, too! I know I need to keep my eyes on my own work, but it's so hard not to want to hear all the stats. As if they will have any bearing on my own journey!

Nichole Giles said...

Amen, and amen. And yes to summer, too.

So what you're saying is that I should quit stalling and send some freakin queries already, yes? How many? Wait. Doesn't matter as long as I send them.

*trembles* Wish me luck!

PJ Hoover said...

YES!

Peggy Eddleman said...

Numbers can definitely induce stress, feelings of inferiority, and jealousy! I don't think they're always bad, though. Hearing someone can write a book in 11 days when it takes me so much longer? That tells me that if my deadlines are really tight, I CAN DO THAT, TOO. Because they've proven it can be done. At the same time, I imagine how much of life (and my kids' life) I'd have to check out of to accomplish that, and it makes me that much more okay with the fact that I take longer. But knowing that I COULD go quicker if I needed to: stress reliever.

Carol Riggs said...

Oh my goodness. This is SO true. It honestly doesn't matter! I'm curious about numbers and others' journey, but we really should not compare ourselves. We're in this TOGETHER, all writers. :D

tahlianewland.com said...

Well said. I totally agree.

John Waverly said...

Awesome post.

I'm a numbers person too. And I proposed that we begin measuring everything in units of bacon. "My latest story only took me 312 slices of bacon and 1/4 cup of bits. How about yours?"

I did have a serious question though. I'm all for bacon and sour patch kids and summer, but what about Oreos? I think Oreos would be a good unit of measure too.

L.T. Elliot said...

Sometimes the whole "she writes a book in 17 days!" thing throws me over. But I've been telling myself a lot lately that my journey is my own. I have to accept it, own it, and be okay with it. Because it's MY journey and if I waste the time bemoaning my own journey, I'm really just wasting the experience, right?

mshatch said...

I completely agree about summer: I wants lots more of it :)

Leslie Rose said...

I've always been a language arts girl and not a math one. Numbers make me sweat and increase my potential for hives.

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