Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Where's my $1M advance? The pitfall of Optimism Bias

First off, an announcement of a new blog chain, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog! We'll be posting each Wednesday, and today Laura Diamond gets to smash the champagne bottle on the subject of "What keeps you writing?"

Okay, on to today's topic.
I just heard of the term "Optimism Bias" recently for the first time, but I KNEW exactly what it was. Every writer has, maybe.

Optimism Bias: The tendency to be overly optimistic and underestimating the likelihood of negative events. (From Wikipedia)

Did anyone write their first novel and think, "Easy. Then I'll write a query letter. Agents will beg me for the manuscript because my idea is so fantabulous. It will go to auction, end up on the NY Times Bestseller list for 500 weeks..." et cetera.

And then you started to write the novel. Hmm. Not as easy, but you get it done. Then your betas read it. Hmmm. It's not as perfect as you thought. Then the first 30 agent rejections come in. Revisions. More rejections. Hmmmmmm.

The pitfall of optimism bias? The reality of failure can feel ten times more painful.

And it doesn't just have to be about the whole package--being a successful, published author. It could just be finishing the manuscript. Or the outline. Or getting an agent.

Now that I'm writing a lot more and have learned a lot about the publishing business, my current level of optimism is much more level with my pessimism.

I no longer see the glass half full or empty. I'm just glad there's water in that silly glass.

How about you? Been a victim of optimism bias?


Jen said...

I would say when I first started writing even before I started my blog I was definitely a victim of optimism bias! Luckily when I started blogging and found all these amazing writers I learned that it's very much a game and a lot of hard work to get where you need to be in fact I've recently helped others who had fallen vicitim as well!

The problem is that all your family and friends say that you'll get accepted right away and they'll love your novel but that doesn't always hold true in fact more or less it doesn't and it makes it hard at times to not have your self so high on that pedastal!

Jaydee Morgan said...

Guilty here as well. Writing a novel is a whole other thing than writing short stories. I'm adjusting to the slow process.

Shelley Sly said...

Absolutely. My situation was pretty much the scenario you described in your post. But luckily I've learned from my mistakes and familiarized myself with the publishing industry, and now I think I have a bit more of a realistic view on how this works. Great post.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I think I'm down to the last drops of water. You know, the kind that circle the bottom of the glass and refuse to head toward my tongue?

Well, at least I've got another bottle chilling in the fridge. ;)

Great post!!!

Lydia Kang said...

Oh, no Laura, that's pessimism bias. A good remedy for that is writing friends who'll pour some water back in the glass :)

Kirsten Lesko said...

I have fallen prey to the optimism bias. While I've seen enough friends undergo the query process to be realistic about that, I just CANNOT shake the feeling that I'm going to be able to make lots of money!

All reason tells me I won't. But despite that, I keep believing this is going to be a real job for me soon. I don't even have a back-up plan.

Anna said...

Hm, interesting point. My level of pessimism has definitely increased over the years. I wonder, though, if writers actually need that over-inflated optimism, otherwise we'd never have the courage to try it in the first place? Or we at least need to be able to bounce back, even after stacks of rejections.

Talli Roland said...

Oh yeeeeees. Definitely. When you don't know the ins and outs of any industry, it's so easy to ahve child-like expectations. Once you 'grow up', the reality starts to sink in!

Cynthia Reese said...

Silly me, I thought once you got that first novel pubbed, everything else was gravy. Submit a proposal? And get a no??? Ack. I've probably got as many "no" answers as "yes" answers in my published career.

But without optimism, the bumblebee would have never flown. It hurts to hope and fail, but, oh, at least we've learned something along the way -- we've learned how to fail better! :-)

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Great post. I'd say I was a cautious optimist with a healthy dose of pessimism. My family and friends would say that I am the worst pessimist in the world. lol.

So how full is my glass? No freaking clue ;)

Kat Harris said...

So like National Lampoon's and Clark Griswold's idea of a good old-fashioned family Christmas before the in-laws and Cousin Eddy show up?

I've definitely been prone to optimism bias, and not just about writing.


Anonymous said...

I started out very naive about the publishing business, and therefore much more optimistic than I had a right to be. I've learned a lot the last few months as I've begun to query and read editor/agent blogs.

Deb Salisbury said...

My optimism level rises and falls like the water line of a half-full cup carried by a drunk. Really bad days happen when the drunk trips. It's nice to have friends around to refill the glass.

Great post!

DaniSue said...

I think witnessing my mom's experiences in the publishing world made me pretty realistic about what my own experience would be like. I can't tell you how many times I came home from school to cheetos and dr. pepper when she got yet another rejection letter :) Still, I'd say I'm probably more optimistic than I should be since I haven't started querying yet. We'll see what happens when I have a few rejections under my belt.

Lauren said...

I still don't know where the pieces of the puzzle are gonna fall... thankfully, I've got quite a few years to take it places! I've been a frightening realist throughout, though. Well, except for that getting published at 15 to get back at my brother thing. That was just rivalric delusion. It's all past now. ;D

~Cipherqueen ( (It's still calling me Lauren for some reason....)