Tuesday, May 01, 2007

More Green Eyed Monsters

See? I told you I'd get back to multiple blog entries per week.

I've blogged about the dangers of envying peers before, but I feel it's time to take a closer look at this topic.

For the uninitiated, success in this business comes largely from luck. Yes, you can write good books. Yes, you can promote like crazy. But the magic balance of the right book at the right house at the right time remains largely beyond the control of the writer.

In some cases, success if the result of hard work and talent.

In some cases, success comes when the publisher isn't expecting it.

In some cases, success comes because a few key people at the publishing house force it.

But in most cases, it's an unrepeatable combination of events that leads to a whole bunch of folks buying your book for some unforeseeable reason.

Lately, I've been watching the success of some of my peers. By success, I mean:

1. Lots of books selling.
2. More money/bigger contracts being offered.
3. More opportunities presenting themselves for more sales and more money.

Publishing mimics most other facets of life, in that the more successful you are, the more successful you are. Why this is true is beyond the scope of this blog.

What is within the scope of this blog is how we, as writers, should react when someone we know lands the big deal that we would ritually sacrifice our entire family for.

I believe that envy and jealousy are useless, because they dwell on things that have to do with other people, not with us.

Unfortunately, part of being a writer is being imaginative. It's super-easy to imagine a million dollar movie deal, a #1 bestseller slot, and a seat on Oprah (on her show, not on her personally.)

We all have the lottery dream; the huge life-changing success that transforms our lives and ourselves.

When this dream actually happens to someone we've heard of, or someone we know personally, it's a natural reaction to wonder: Why not me?

But just because the reaction is natural doesn't mean it's correct. Or healthy.

Your critique buddy, who just signed a contract for more money than you've made in your whole life, simply got lucky.

It doesn't matter how hard they worked to get this deal. And it REALLY doesn't matter how hard they worked compared to you.

They got lucky.

Besides, that's their life, not yours. Envying it won't make you a better person. Wishing for it won't compel the forces that control the universe to make things fair. Dwelling on it won't make your books sell more copies.

So how do we handle it when everyone around us is flourishing and we must deal with tragedy after tragedy?

Remember the following:

Life is a race with yourself. The only person you should be comparing yourself to is you. Every time you write, speak in public, or promote yourself, it is within your power to do better than the previous time.

No one deserves success. If you believe there's some grand scorekeeper who is keeping track of how hard you're struggling, you're wrong. Luck determines who wins the lottery. Stick your sense of entitlement in your ear.

Luck favors the prepared. All you can do is try your best. The more you do, the more chances you'll have to succeed.

No one is ever satisfied. This may sound odd, but even those writers who you are convinced live lives of splendor and fortune still want more out of life. The secret isn't about getting more. It's about being happy with less.

So how should you react when your peers are living your dreams?

There's only one reaction that's acceptable.

Be happy for them.

Celebrate the success of others. It should never make you feel bad about yourself. Someone else doing well means that good things actually do happen in this very tough business, and one day they might happen to you.

Especially since you work a lot harder and you're a lot more talented. :)