Friday, November 03, 2006

How to Handle Success (Everyone Else's)

Sometimes it seems that everywhere you look, other writers are doing better than you.

Though writers tend to work in solitary, the community is pretty tight-knit and gossipy. Blogs, conferences, Publishers' Lunch, PW Weekly, email, and cell phones, all conspire to spread good news almost instantly.

Even if you're the humblest, happiest, and most down to earth writer on the planet, certain thoughts always creep into your brain. Thoughts like:

  • Why did she win the award?
  • Why did he get the movie deal?
  • Why did she get a three book contract?
  • Why did he get invited (and paid) to speak?
  • Why did she get the huge marketing campaign?
  • Why did he get the million dollar deal?
  • Why is she a lead title?
  • Why is he with the better publisher?
  • Why did she get on TV?
  • Why did he hit the NYT bestseller list?
  • Why is she on all the panels?
  • Why is he getting all the press?
  • Why did she get the huge print run?
  • Why did he get into Walmart?

And so on. And these questions are inevitable followed by: and not me?

After all, you're the better writer. Your book is better. You've struggled longer. You've worked harder. You've written more. Hell, you deserve it more. Why did that writer get it and not you?

I've long preached that comparing yourself to other writers is a one way ticket to despair. It's a no-win situation that can't possibly help you. If you're doing better than your peers, it's easy to develop a sense of entitlement, superiority, and egomania. If you're doing worse than your peers, it's easy to become bitter, angry, and depressed.

Here are some things to keep in mind, which might help curtail the poisonous envy:

There will always be someone doing better than you.

Luck plays a big part, no matter how hard you work or how talented you are.

There is no such thing as karma, no one is keeping score, and no such thing as destiny or fairness.

The writers you wish you were all wish they were someone else.

The only writer you're competing with is yourself.

Anyone can make it.

The last one is the most important. Your goal should be to maximize your opportunities, minimize your weaknesses, and keep at it until you're the one that makes it.

And quit comparing yourself to other writers. It's like comparing yourself to lottery winners, or people who have been run over by cars. No one deserves it.

Now get back to work. Luck isn't going to happen surfing the net, reading blogs.


Tom Schreck said...

I'm not the securist guy on the block and I'll tell you writing pushes you up against those feelings constantly.

Every magazine article I write I'm convinced the editor is going to hate and any request for rewrites is my evidence that I'm a hack.

I also work as pro boxing judge where everyone always hates what we do. It's also broadcast on TV and written about all over the place. Talk about insecurity...

In writing, the pleasure of success is fleeting the moment you begin to compare. I'm thrilled about my book deal and my stuff on Amazon Shorts but I immediately start to compare and do the things you said.

Anyone know a good therapist?


Stacey Cochran said...

As corny as it might sound, I try to remind myself of how many good things I have going on in my life. Particularly when I begin to lose hope.

I remind myself of my wife, the wonderful house we live in, the job that I have, the free time I have to pursue my writing career, my health, my sanity, my baby on the way (in December!).

Then, I think back to where I was just six years ago, when I didn't have the money to afford heat and hot water to make it through the winter of 2002, and it's amazing how much I've accomplished to me.

And those things are so much more important than all of writing career stuff.

It's a classic cart-before-the-horse type thing. Get your life straightened out first. Get everything in order there.

Then, you can build one hell of a writing career.

Great food for thought, Joe.


JT Ellison said...

One of the biggest joys I've experienced since becoming a professional writer is reveling in the success of my friends. I meet these wonderful authors, we get to be friends, then, as the careers grow, I get to be a part of that.
Trust me, there is nothing better than having a buddy get a huge break. An email or a phone call filled with exuberant joy stokes my creative juices. It makes me happy, and I'm yet to have a "why didn't that happen to me?" moment.
I hope I never do.

Allison Brennan said...

Did everyone get the memo to write about success and jealousy today but me? I swear nearly every blog I stopped out today has this theme. It's almost enough to creep me out . . . my buddy Karin Tabke talks about this at and Mark Terry has the writer's 10 commandments over at

As for me, yeah, occasionally I get a little jaw dropping when I read of deals or ideas or film rights being sold, but the truth is I don't think that I'm better, I'm just like everyone else out there writing what I love to write and hoping my next book doesn't bomb. Wasting time working about everyone else is dangerous, thinking about how many books Nora writes every year and realizing that her last book was even better than all the others, can stop me in my tracks. Anytime I read Tess Gerritsen, I find it hard to get back into my own story because her writing is so strong. And when I read THE LINCOLN LAWYER I thought, I'll never be this good.

So reading great writers keeps me humble. I guess I'm guilty of the last point, comparing myself to other writers. But it gives me something to reach for. I mean, I didn't quit writing after reading VANISH or LAWYER or ECHO PARK or MONKEEWRENCH.

JA Konrath said...

---If I knew a good therapist, Tom, I wouldn't be so neurotic.

---Exactly, Stacey. There is a lot to be grateful for, and we shouldn't forget it.

---I'm thrilled when my friends succeed, JT. It gives me hope. But there's always a little voice that says, "Why does he have a bigger signing line than me?" You'll hear that voice as your career progresses, no matter how hard you try to silence it.

---With me it's the opposite, Allison. When I read a bad book, I think "I can do better than that" and when I read a good book, I try to figure out why it was good and see if I'm doing the same things in my work.

---Fight on, Troy!

For the record, I'm openly envious of the success of James Patterson, Janet Evanovich, Patricia Cornwell, and Dan Brown. But I'd rather get to that level on my own than trade places with any of them.

Anonymous said...

Great, great post Joe.

So much of this business comes down to luck--but we've got to constantly be working to increase the odds of the planets aligning in our favor.

I love hearing good news from my friends--JT's right--it fuels the creative juices, gets the blood flowing, is invigorating. There's nothing better than getting to feel unabashed joy for a friend.

Mark Terry said...

God, Joe and I on the same psychic wavelength--scary thoughts. Or was it that conference call to Psychic Friends we had after too many Jell-O shots?

Yeah, I wrote on my blog today about the Writer's 10 Commandments, and #1 is:

I. Thou Shalt Not Covet They Neighbor's Career


Mark Terry

Unknown said...

Why do you always write the great posts JA? Huh?

Why do you always have 97 comments on each post and I have two?...1.)An automated spam ad for growth opportunities - and I ain't talkin' mutual funds, and 2.)my sincere, careful reply to the spam.

Why don't you ever get an email rejection to your tragedy/drama story, with a single line reply reading "we don't print comedy but keep writing even though it'll never pay off and the worst of luck to you."

Seriously JA, great post and certainly things that bedevil everyone of us. It's like life itself really. You could apply all of those things to any number of things in life. I remember my dad telling me a good driving lesson as I looked at everyone and everything passing by, instead of just driving...."Just drive son, look ahead. Don't worry about those other cars and people. Where they're goin', or how fast they're getting there. Just drive like you know how. You just keep it between the lines and we'll get there soon enough."

Thanks, John J. Wilson

Anonymous said...

It's good to know that whenever I'm feeling down I can come over here and be reminded that all books are created equal!

If I just keep pushing, maybe mine will come out on top someday. All I need is a little more luck. Thanks for the reminder, JA!

Vivi Anna said...

Great post! Comes at a time when I desperately need to be reminded that I am on a good track in my career, and I should'nt be worrying about what everyone else got in the way of book deals, marketing, reviews, TV appearances, publisher promotion...and what not!

Robert Burton Robinson said...

I'm just happy to see other writers being successful. I know that some of you have been at for many years. I've read excerpts from some of your books. Now the decision is which book to buy first.

My writing experience has been in writing lyrics to my music, writing a few little plays and one screenplay.

You might think that having years of experience writing song lyrics wouldn't help me much when I started writing a novel. But it did. With either one, you're always trying to find just the right word or phrase. The toughest part is going from three verses and a chorus to 60,000+ words!

I just finished publishing my first novel online, which has been interesting. I posted it as I wrote it, three chapters per week. Each time I finished the first draft of a chapter, I would think "This is awful. What made me think I could write?" But then, after spending a few hours on rewriting, I thought it was pretty good.

Now that I have completed it (although I may need to beef it up a bit, since it's less than 60,000 words), I'm going through another rewrite. And I'm finding a lot that I can make better. But I'm starting to think that it may actually be good when I'm totally finished.

And then, assuming it is worthy of publishing, I face the difficulty of finding an agent and publisher.

Through each phase I know that your blog is, and will be so helpful, Joe. All of your posts are full of great information. Then other authors' comments add even more to it.

Joe, thanks again for what you're doing. Please keep it up!

P.S. My novel site has had over 3,200 unique visitors since I kicked it off in July. And from my stats, it appears that several hundred visitors have read the entire book. It's a start! :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much! I don't believe I'm a better writer, but I am just as good, and one of my friends has gotten 13 acceptances this year, where I've only gotten one (well, two, but the second anthology folded, so it doesn't count). Why is the luck with her?
As for reading the blogs... it's what I do when the rejects, or the detail not working get to me. I read the blogs to see why I should keep going.

Anonymous said...

J.T. wrote:
"I'm yet to have a "why didn't that happen to me?" moment."

Well, you're a much bigger person than I am! I'm agented, but still waiting for The Call. So when I read about those three-book MMPB deals on PM, well, I can't help but grind my teeth a little. (Then my husband reminds me that plenty of writers would be thrilled to be in my shoes: with an experienced NY agent shopping my ms. For some reason, it never helps.)

Seriously, you've never felt even a prick of jealousy over a fellow writer's success when you were waiting for The Call? I must learn your secret.

Just so no one thinks I'm a whiny baby, I put those jealous feelings to use. I retire to my computer and bang out another chapter.

Anonymous said...

Great post,Joe.
And I agree with Tom S. My writer insecurities do give me momentary pangs of envy sometimes---especially when I'm stuck in my story or haven't had good news from my agent. But I get past it with the help of published writers like Joe sharing words that put those nasty little feelings in perspective. Thanks, Joe, for all you do.
Okay, enough of the mushy stuff and back to pounding the keyboard.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Envious of other writers? Never. Okay, maybe a little. Okay, sometimes a lot.

Hold fast.

Anonymous said...

I like your comments, Allison. After all this discussion on various blogs, I think in the end, you have to go with what inspires you, not what gets you down.

I'm inspired by competition. If I read the latest Nora and say to myself, "man, I write worth shit compared to that," I'm actually inspired to buckle down and work hard. If I read Mr. Konrath here, and I say to myself, "What the hell, after all these stories you've written, you've never twisted anything, let alone as well as him?" then I'm ready to dig in and strain my brain.

See, crazy enough, comparing myself to other writers inspires me to dig deeper and write better. I don't wish anyone ill will or let anything eat at me inside, but I do look at other writers and wonder how they got there, and evaluate if I can get that to work for me.

In this business, there's talent, luck, and hard work. We don't have a whole lot of control over the first two. The last one, we do. My friend may write a brilliant novel in five hours a day, and it may take me 12 hours a day, but it doesn't matter.

In the end, hopefully we can all inspire each other to writing better and better and better.

Anonymous said...

I catch those ugly little thoughts when they pop into my brain and I throw a bag over them, tie it real tight and pitch it in the garbage - LOL

I am an incurable optimist, and I DO believe in karma.

I love reading these posts and all the comments, and if anyone wants to buy a boxcar full of my books so everyone can be jealous of me, I'll try not to develop a sense of entitlement, superiority, and egomania. *giggle*

Anonymous said...

Jealousy is a great emotion if you use it. The success of others should inspire you to better work.

Readers compare you to others, critics compare you to others. Half of marketing is If you like X, try Y. Why not make the comparison yourself, see how you stand up?

Sean Lindsay
101 Reasons to Stop Writing

Aimlesswriter said...

I never think why not me...rather my thoughts usually go to "If he did it, so can I! Look! Its possible! I just have to figure it out."
I live by the manta I found on this site; What do you call a writer who never gives up? PUBLISHED! It keeps me going when I want to throw the laptop out the window.

Stacey Cochran said...

Another tactic I thought of this morning that I've tried to employ the past couple years to counteract potential jealous feelings is taking a proactive step to actually help other writers out.

When you feel jealous or bitter about a particular writer make a conscious decision to actually go out of your way to help that person in whatever capacity you can (e.g., conducting an interview with them, writing a review of their book at, posting on their blog, introducing them to booksellers or other authors, etc., anything you can do).

I can take an active interest in learning about their writing process and their books.

Seems healthy to me.


P.S. You guys might find this video interesting I'm putting together for an author interview I'd like to conduct.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Joe. I needed that.

Martha O'Connor said...

I have found in my sobriety, I can't worry about what others think, do, say, or feel. This sends me into an emotional tailspin and threatens my recovery. When I find myself obsessing over others and feeling sorry for myself in any way, I must make a move out of myself, and be of service to others. It is so easy to fall into the ego vortex. For me it is not just a bad idea, it is lifethreatening.

I love this quote from Mother Teresa. It always keeps me on track:

People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true friends; succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world your best anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

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