Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Non-Linear Success

Nature is full of non-linear processes; in fact, nearly everything in nature is non-linear. It occurred to me recently that one of the most non-linear processes is evolutionary fitness or, in more general terms, the success of any endeavor.

It is conceivable that some perennial plants have a more or less constant (linear) number of successful offspring each year. But often all of the seeds that a plant produces in any given year (which, for an annual, is its whole life) die. And then once in a while there is a bonanza year, in which dozens or even hundreds of seedlings germinate in a lucky location, perhaps after a fire or other disturbance. There is more to the story, but my point is that if that plant were to use its past average annual success rate as a gauge of its future success, it would get pretty depressed.

Of course, this applies to animals as well, and to everything we do. Right now I am seeking a literary agent to represent my new book projects. As you can guess, I have not yet had success. But I refuse to be content with the four books I have already published (see my website for information) and project this zero success rate into the future. All the rejections have been unnecessarily polite. But I do not know whether to believe that this is each agency’s boilerplate rejection, or if they actually made positive comments about my work. How can I know?

But one thing is abundantly clear from these “I am going to pass on this project” letters. As one of them said in italics, opinions of agents vary considerably for any one project. Agents can only represent the books that, for any reason or no reason, capture their enthusiasm. They simply cannot represent every worthy book, and they say so. If I were an agent, I would not represent a novel based on sports, even if it were the best novel in the world. That’s just me.

So I continue to send out query letters, my equivalent of seeds, believing that once I find an agent, it will not matter how many I do not find. And one success opens the door to others. So at the moment I refuse to conclude that my endeavor is likely to fail (especially since my failure rate is currently only 20 percent). Meanwhile, I have to keep the numbers up. That’s what a plant would do.

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