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. :)


Unknown said...

I concur; as much as people like to believe it has something to do with them, they're mistaken. :)

Simon Haynes said...

I love it when my peers enjoy success. Both because they deserve it, and because it proves there are plenty of opportunities out there for new writers.
How depressing would it be if every new author published in the last 10 years had failed to make a go of it?

Jude Hardin said...

"...there's a psycho in Jack's house, waiting for her to come home, and Jack is followed home by three snipers--so she can't stay in the house, and can't leave the house."

Bitchin' concept. When you can put your character between a rock and a hard place, and draw out the drama over eight hours in real time, and boil it down to one sentence...well, I think you have something there.

I've seen a lot of personal and professional growth from JA Konrath since I started reading this blog a couple years ago, and I think that goes a long way toward success too. Every bit as much as luck.

I'm predicting that Fuzzy Navel will be a big hit and...I promise not to be jealous.

Well, maybe a little bit. ;)

Spy Scribbler said...

Hey, there's a healthy envy, too! An envy that says, "That is sooooo cool. Man, I really, really, really want to do that someday." It lets us know what we want, and often inspires us to get busy and work harder.

That doesn't mean we're not squealing with true delight at our friends' successes, or that we're being a bad sport about it. We're thrilled! And we wouldn't have it any other way, either. We love and are grateful for their success, because not only does it inspire us, but, like you said, it lets us know it's possible!

I take great delight in and inspiration from others' successes. I don't know what I'd do if they didn't do so well!

Katie Alender said...

I agree, Joe -- great post! It's so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that every level of success brings more and more happiness. The truth is, at the end of the day, the things that make you the happiest have nothing to do with how big the advance is or how long Oprah lets you sit on her lap before moving on to giving away cars. Nobody ever gets a book deal of any size and thinks, "That's it! I can stop worrying and be totally happy now!"

Mark Terry said...

A tricky subject, and you're right. Actually, Joe, the first time I met you, you and I and Libby Hellmann were talking at Magna and you modestly said your success was mostly lucky, the book you'd written before Whiskey Sour was better than WS.

I remember that because I couldn't decide if you really believed that or if you were trying to believe it.

Like most of us who have some success (whatever that is) in writing fiction, you put in a lot of work and had a lot of frustration and heartbreak along the way. So there is, at least for me, a little bit of, "Well, yeah, I've been lucky, but I wrote 10 or 11 or 12 unpublished novels, I've collected thousands of rejection slips, I've had a bunch of near-misses and fairly spectacular failures. I worked pretty damned hard to get as lucky as I am. But how come I'm not as lucky as...."

Jeri said...

I've found that the key to slaying the G-EM is getting to know other authors. It's easy to gnash my teeth and hate the faceless, perfect person the successful ones seem to be from afar. But then I meet them and see that they're just as insecure and hardworking and human as I am, and I become genuinely thrilled for their success.

Unless they're total jerkwads, of course. But few people are once you get to know them.

Dawn said...

Are you tapped in to the universal psyche, Joe? You seem to be hitting on stuff that we're all thinking about.

Yep, be happy for your fellow author when the good things start rolling in. It means it can happen to you too. Rejoice.

Adrienne said...

I used to be a very jealous person. In fact I may still be. But I decided one day, that when I was feeling jealous, to overcompensate by being really happy for that person instead. At first it feels fake, like speaking through a forced grin, but as you do it more and more the strangest thing happens, it becomes real. You become genuinely happy for that person. And now I find that when great things happen to other people I am so not jealous anymore. Or if I feel a tinge of it it's nothing compared to how it used to be.

I guess it's like when I decided I was going to learn to like feta cheese because I always loved the smell of it when my mom made feta cheese pizzas, but didn't like the taste. Now I am obsessed with it.


Rosemary Harris said...

How'd you get to be so wise? Something in that home brew? All great points. BTW Took your workshop at Sleuthfest a few weeks ago. It was great. Anyone else who gets the chance, should jump on it.

Jana Oliver said...

I've purposely watched a very good friend of mine's career moves and analyzed how she's risen from small press to where she is today. Her next book will put her on the NYT, I can see it coming already. I also watch how other folks do their thing and then twiddle with the formula until it works for me. Why reinvent the wheel?

But as Joe points out -- a lot of it is pure LUCK. And when that strikes -- ZOWIE!

s.w. vaughn said...

I have a dollar and a dream.

And in case that fails, I have a lightning rod. Bought it from some traveling salesman.

Stacey Cochran said...


Video content of another packed bookstore for me today.

Had a lot of fun with this one.


2write said...

Hi, you have a very good blog - just downloaded a few chapters from your website as well.

(met Barry E on myspace and many links later - you)

Best Wishes,
Ujjwal Dey
Bomb-aye, INDIA

Kim Rossi Stagliano said...

People like Pat Wood and John Robison make it EASY to celebrate their success because they are so engaging and honest about the process. They have large contracts for debut books and yet share their publishing journey without a shred of "nyah, nyah this is all mine!" Schadenfreude comes into play when writers get big deals and then come across as big putzes. It's impossible (for me anyway) not to share in Pat and John's joy and to learn a ton along the way.

Jim said...

Joe, congrats on the recent PW review.

Authoring is like climbing a ladder. The secret is to keep moving up because as long as you're doing that, you're probably going to be happy, even if other authors may be higher or climbing faster. My most recent book, Fatal Laws, just got a good review from BOOKLIST. One rung at a time.

Joe Moore said...

Excellent points, Joe. No other writer’s success can and will impede your own. Celebrate the success of other writers for they reconfirm that the marketplace is healthy.


Minnette Meador said...

Saw your article in Writers Digest and had to tell you it's one of the best I've seen to date on promo on the web. I've printed it out and am using it now - I'm changing my website immediately. Myspace has already generated me sales on a book that's not being released until March of 2008 and definitely works well. Love your website as well. Thanks for all your fine work.

Minnette Meador, Author

Lara Adams said...

Yes, it's a bugger.