Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Zen and the Art of Bitching

I'm not in a good mood today.

I have only myself to blame. I regularly take on more than I can chew, spread myself too thin, and then wind up stressed and unhappy.

My fault. My bad. Apparently I must crave this way of living, because I keep doing it to myself, over and over.

On the one hand, it makes me ridiculously productive, and probably played a large part in the success I've had.

On the other, I have no right to bitch because I asked for it. Yes, I'm irritable right now, and I feel even more irritable because I have no right to be irritable. All of my problems are what Barry Eisler calls quality problems. "Oh no, I have to manage a literary empire." "Oh no, I have to pay $300,000 in taxes." My fave is Blake Crouch's saying, "Oh no, I spilled champagne on my cake."

Which got me to thinking about all writers.

We complain constantly. We're easily hurt. We're never satisfied. We feel misunderstood. We're a bunch of touchy, moody, pessimistic whiners.

Such is the path of an artist. But there is a very specific fork in that path, and as I prowl the Internets I see more and more of my peers taking the fork that I never took.

Namely, who gets the blame.

Maybe we can all agree that the writing biz isn't fair. And maybe most of us can agree that luck plays a big part.

But the schism forms when it comes to placing blame.

I can look at the low points in my career, and there have been many. As successful as I've become, I've still had a lot more bad days than good--at least 5 to 1. I battled depression. I raged against the universe. I searched for meaning in disappointment. But ultimately I knew this was the path I'd chosen and I was solely to blame for my own unhappiness, even if it seemed like outside forces conspired against me.

Perhaps my perspective is skewed, but more and more writers seem to be looking for scapegoats for their unhappiness. They blame Amazon. They blame other etailers. They blame bookstores. They blame advertisers. They blame publishers. They blame agents. They blame haters. They blame each other.

Everyone looks to point fingers at someone for their misfortune, instead of looking where they should; in the mirror.

Just as I am responsible for my own current unhappiness, so are you. And you're kidding yourself if you think I'm wrong. And you're kidding yourself if you think you'd be happy if you suddenly took over my life and career.

It is human nature to be dissatisfied. Goals reached are celebrated for a brief moment, then other goals take their place. Buddha said the only path to nirvana is to deny wanting. Being a writer means constantly wanting.

We all need to take responsibility for our careers. This is what we choose to do, and what we choose to do, by definition, involves the approval of others. There is no way to force the world to buy, read, and like your story, unless you are Chairman Mao. So we're all going into this biz with a lot of hope and expectations, and hope and expectations ultimately lead to disappointment and unhappiness.

So in an attempt to get me out of my funk, I'm going to pose some solutions for what I see as an industry-wide problem.

1. Set appropriate, attainable goals. Remember that goals are things that are within your power to accomplish. Selling 1,000,000 ebooks isn't a goal, because you can't force a million people to by them. Finishing and publishing your ebook by December 15 is a goal.

Also make sure that you don't take on too many goals at once, because being overwhelmed isn't a happy feeling.

2. Celebrate reaching goals. Force yourself to stop working and to actually take a time-out to enjoy what you've accomplished.

3. Stop blaming. You definitely shouldn't blame anyone for your choices. And you shouldn't blame yourself too much either. Because anything you do to yourself is within your control to fix. If you're unhappy, stop. If you can't stop, evolve.

4. Stop trying to do everything. This is similar to setting appropriate goals, but it involves more than just the publishing biz. There aren't enough days in life to do everything you want, and you must remember to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. The more you take on, the more stress you take on, both with your professional life and your personal life.

5. Elbert Hubbard, an author no one remembers, said, "Don't take life too seriously. You'll never get out of it alive." We aren't curing cancer, folks. We're entertainers. Nothing in a writing career is very important. Poor sales, bad reviews, personal attacks, failed endeavors, unreached goals--take it all with a grain of salt and a spoonful of sugar.

6. Remember there is more to life than writing. That's hard to do sometimes, because writing often seems less like a career and more like a calling. But obsession makes you miserable, and isn't pleasant for those around you, either.

7. Accept that the universe isn't fair. There is no karma. You don't get what you give. You don't deserve anything. Deal with it.

8. Stop whining. Especially in public.

I began this blog entry by whining in public in order to prove a point; we're all the same. Even Joe Konrath feels down sometimes, and questions himself, and occasionally needs to vent. But complaining that your sales are in a slump, or that you got a bad review, or that BookBub won't select you, or that Amazon is unfair, or that it's impossible to get discovered, isn't helpful. It doesn't offer any solutions, or help anyone, including yourself.

As writers, we could throw a gigantic pity party and each bring a dish of epic failure to the event. And that party would suck major ass.

I know that we're all confused and unhappy and seeking answers. But maybe if we took the energy we wasted raging at the universe, and instead tried to find answers on our own, we'd all be better off.

You wouldn't be visiting my blog, reading this right now, if all I did was complain constantly. So why do you think anyone wants to hear you complain?

If you don't like your career, fix it. If you don't like the industry, change it. If you don't like your attitude, get a new one.

And the next time you consider airing your grievances in public, make sure you also pose a solution. You're writers. You should be able to plot something out.


J. R. Tomlin said...

"Oh no, I spilled champagne on my cake."

LOL Oh, what a horrible problem! That made my day. And as someone who is trying to get 2 books out by the end of the month, yes, self-made problems can be a bitch.

Bob said...

Frankly, I have to complain about your blog post. I don't like the way you use words and make them into sentences and then sentences into paragraphs?

What makes you think you have the right to do that? Who made you special?

Stop it.

Unfortunately, I see no solution for this. So I'm going to go write a blog post and bitch about something. Probably you. Since I would never complain about myself.

JA Konrath said...

LMAO, Bob.

Ken Lindsey said...

New invention: champagne flutes made of cake, so that you don't have to worry about ruining either.

Now I need investors ;)

Aaron Patterson said...

So true…I hate hearing all the bellyaching as my Dad called it. But I do it to myself as well setting big deadlines and stressing myself out.

Sometimes you just need a drink and a nap.

Mark Terry said...

I wonder how many writers have fought depression. Most of the ones I know have, myself included.

Rob Cornell said...

Joe said: If you don't like your attitude, get a new one.

Do they carry these new attitudes at Walmart?

Anonymous said...


I set word counts and solid, achievable goals ... sales are nice but I have no control over them, so I just check them and they're like the weather... when it's nice, I enjoy it, when it's not, I stay inside.

I focus only on that which I can do myself, ie, write and promote.

BTW, I want to ask if anyone has any other services like bookbub that they recommend?

I use ebookbooster and they're okay, anywhere else?

I used bookgorilla and had an extremely bad experience, btw. Asked for and received a partial refund, even, which I rarely do but felt it was warranted in this case.

What are some other decent promotional services that others like?


Todd Travis.

Unknown said...

Those of us lucky enough to do this full time have the best job in the world.

But like Joe Walsh once said, "I can't complain, but sometimes I still do."

I guess it's just human nature.

FWIW, I'm amazed at what you've been able to accomplish this year, Joe. In fact, I think you should go ahead and take a day off.

But only one.

'Cause I want our novel out before Christmas!


Anonymous said...

Applies to just about every other job, too.

Joe Flynn said...

If you never got bummed out, you'd only be able to write saccharine characters. What the hell fun would that be?

Jill James said...

I think we all need to hear this. I remember when I was all depressed when the published date was coming up for my small press book. I had been writing my whole life and finally my dream of being published was about to come true. And I was depressed.

Why? Because I had achieved my dream so what did I do now? I had nowhere else to go.

Until I complained to a friend and she said, "make a new dream."

It was like "Duh". LOL

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

Yeah. What Joe said!

Michael W. Sherer said...

Thanks, Joe! My dad used to have a way of emphasizing a point at the dinner table. He'd lean over and smack us upside the head with his linen napkin. If he really wanted to make a point, he'd excuse himself, get up from the table, retrieve his Wall Street Journal from the living room, roll it up, come up behind us and smack us upside the head.

Your post was just the WSJ upside the head I needed.

Anne Marie Novark said...

Thanks, Joe. You do have a way with words. These really hit home with me.

Amber Dane said...

A great post, Joe. Thank you for sharing

Julie Kramer said...

Well said, Joe. I'm book marking this blog entry so it's only a click away when I need to read it.

Unknown said...

Love this! Champagne on my cake... best line ever.

Shaun Horton said...

People often ask how I am. My usual response: "I shouldn't complain, but that doesn't stop me."

When it comes to my writing though, I make it a point not to complain. I did the reading and the research, and I knew what I was getting into when I started. The day I find myself honestly bitching about writing will be the day I move on to a (as my family puts it) "real" job.

Anonymous said...


I recommend Bookblast. It doesn't get anywhere near Bookbub's level of results, but I made more than 3 times what I spent on the extremely reasonable ad, and the customer service was stellar!

Valerie Grosjean

Unknown said...

Joe, I've spent the last couple of months reading this blog (yeah, all of it, from the beginning)and can honestly say that no matter how helpful other posts may have been, this is by far the most timely.

I'm personally considering this a call to arms and am marking Dec. 15 as the deadline for my first novel, GRAY NIGHT.

You, Barry Eisler, and one or two others... I can't thank you guys enough for being a light in the dark. I just want to do what I can to make it a bonfire ;)

Also, just fyi, it has been my experience that you can indeed blame someone else for your problems... like the time I spilled my champagne all over someone else's cake. Yes it happened. Yes she blamed me. And she was totally right :)

John Walters said...

This post is spot-on, Joe. Just what I need at the moment. Certain times seem darker than others, and I have been going through one of the darkest, but all is not lost when I can still reach the keyboard.

David Glynn said...

Yeah, and if you drop cake in your champagne, that's a Parisian Depth Charge …

Alan Spade said...

"We aren't curing cancer, folks" : yes, but we can help sick people to escape for a few moments their bad condition with our writing.

We have not to give in one of the fails of our society : underestimating the role of authors.

To prove my point, I have one fantasy : what if all authors on earth would go on strike and, for one month (or perhaps more), did not publish (or give to their publisher) their work ?

Would the thing be invisible to people ? If yes, than I would agree our "importance" is negligible.

I agree it's our fault if we chosed such a hard and unpredictable work to make a living. I agree nobody owes us anything. But look at research : it's also unpredictable. We are civilized enough to give money to research, because we know we will reap some rewards sooner or later.

For writing, and other artistic fields, there's definitely a feeling it's more of a punishing activity than a rewarding one.

In that regard, Joe's sentence : "I've still had a lot more bad days than good--at least 5 to 1" is very eloquent.

Society has to wake up. It has begun to, with ebooks. But there's still a long way to go.

P said...

Hi Joe

Why the grump? Totally feeling that way and sounding of to a theme you're observing, or a bit of straw man to demonstrate how a downer can read/feel to others? Or the tax bill!!!!

I'm always buoyed, and come away with insights, from your blog. Thank you for it. Screw candles in the dark - it's a bloody lighthouse for too many sailing in the dark and fearing the rocks.

Tax is a bit of a rock. So, in the spirit of solutions-thinking, and I'm throwing this out there (Hi, everyone!), what might be some interesting tax and ownership options, and best efficiencies, for writers/creatives start to see sales blossoming...and fluctuating?

On the biz side, another point that jumped out was the new 'gatekeeper' roles of book blast/-bub. What other options could be generated that keep doors open, always, to writers? They are basically mailing lists, sliced and diced by genre (& sub-genre)...could writers pool theirs by 'loaning' details, so set up new 'blasts', etc. I get the feeling there could be a connection here to 'Also Bought...' which you referred to in empire building, Joe.

Fresh possibilities, all. And then some.

Oh, btw - how are the new Jack collab's taking hold...?

Thanks for this blog, Joe. Cheer up or you'll sound like me!

best, Pat

Unknown said...

Great post. Yes, we writers are victims of First World Problems...loved the champagne/cake one.

I'm also hating the blame game I've seen going around, especially when combined with a "nasty trolls gave me one-star reviews, please go write a five star review for me." That's just something I won't do. Anyway...loved the post!

M.L. Swift, Writer

William J. Thomas said...

Great post Joe, and it applies to a lot more people than just writers.

Sounds like you need to quit promising to have your co-written books out by a certain probably the holidays/end of the year in this case. Seriously, self-pubbing is supposed to rid you of the stress of deadlines. So why impose them on yourself at this point? You are the one in control here, especially since you are paying for everything to do with the releases.

So after you get through this initial batch of co-books, promise future authors the books will be ready when they are ready but no dates!

Anonymous said...

Whatever has you down Joe, get through it. Big hugs from someone you gave a blurb to a long, long time ago.


Amanda said...

Great post, but you already know that. :) I try not to complain to the public, but it sure doesn't make the problems go away. As a fairly new indie author, I really need to read this. I always love your blogs because they always get me thinking and they make me smile, plus at some point I laugh out loud about how true your comments are. So to that (even your ranting) I say thanks. I'm glad to hear that the "writer issues" never go that's not right... I meant thanks for reminding me to take time to celebrate what I've accomplished and not beat myself up so much for not being where I thought I would. "You're writers. You should be able to plot something out." Love it! Thanks again, Joe!

wootpile said...

Excellent post!

Too bad most people won't get it. They will read it and understand the words and the meaning and the whole idea behind it.. but they won't get it.

It's like moms with babies who know they need to be safe but happily text while they cross a street with a kid in a stroller leading the way.

I'm a truck driver. I miss strollers by a mere foot or so several times a week because mommy's FB is making bleepy sounds...

I am entitled to do some bitching too, right? :)

Once again the blog you run here offers golden nuggets - about writing, and life.
Thanks Joe!

John Taylor said...

Well, What I believe is, Problems and complains will live with forever. Instead of crying why they exist, I am creating Bigger Problems which are worthy to solve and inspire me to solve them.

This way, I create problems for myself and I solve them too. The fight is with me only and I really enjoy it.

No worries, No Self Guilt :)

Dawn said...

THANK YOU, Thank you, thank you.

This sort of thing is my absolute pet peeve---yes, I'm whining about whiners!

I had a friend once bemoan the fact that having a novel out that had such high critical praise and was so well received, actually COMPLAIN that perhaps this praise had hampered her creativity as she was working on her next book. "I didn't realize that the critical praise could negatively impact my work."

I mean, that's like me saying, "I had no idea when I married Bradley Cooper that he would want SO much sex. I mean, this is hampering my ability get a good night's sleep."

Unknown said...

Really great post. I definitely take on more than I can handle and it makes me miserable. But I do blame myself and I try to remember this is what I want.

The challenge--the path--is what's fun for me. That's why when I achieve things, I just set higher goals. I already know there is no future where I'll be be happier or where everything will be perfect as-is.

Once I remind myself of that, I can relax and enjoy where I'm at.

w. adam mandelbaum esq. said...

One of the best ways to fight depression is with champagne and cake. Or if you like depression, remember my version of the old Spanish saying:
I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had twenty pair, and then shot him repeatedly with my 9mm. After that I got depressed again, because his shoes were not in my size. So I burned his house down, and felt better.

Unknown said...

First of all, the drink of choice with cake is always milk.

Picks by Pat said...

Good post. Personally, I blame Global Warming.

Unknown said...

Here's why we like Joe. He's human and he admits it. Writers are a bunch of moody bastards, me included. I'm a nice guy, but shit happens. Thanks for keeping it real, my friend.

Here's a juvenile ditty for your moody day:

There once was a writer named Joe,
who complained about flies in his roe,
when along came some drama,
that wasn't nice like his llama,
but watch as his tax bill still grows...

Susie McCray said...

"If you don't like your career, fix it. If you don't like the industry, change it. If you don't like your attitude, get a new one."

These words really hit me personally. Thanks for writing this blog post. And I am trying to plot a new life.

Anonymous said...

Writers are people whose emotions live close to the surface - so we can use them. This means that they are always an instant from bubbling over.

It is part of the job - be happy you have unhappiness to keep you writing.

Whine away - we write emotions for people who feel them and can't write. It is helpful to more than you to put things into words.

Walter Knight said...

I blame my cat.

Walter Knight said...

The cat must die.

Vicki Funes said...

You and your son are the two people who convinced me to write a teen novel. Thanks so much!

You have helped so many people, and it's very appreciated. I know you have, because I see those types of comments in your blog all the time. And while I'm just one in a whole big group of fans, hopefully knowing that myself and a bunch of other people really like you might cheer you up today.

"Grandma?" was the book which pushed me over the edge and made me get typing. I'm telling you this specifically because you wrote that were disappointed with its sales. I think that it's just a case of your regular readers not being interested in the teen fiction genre. Because, I was just the opposite. I'm not interested in adult fiction, so the moment you offered something for teens, then I snapped it up.

But anyway, after reading all of your blog posts for 2012 & 2013, I was convinced that it was actually possible for anybody these days to write books and publish them...and maybe even sell some.

It wasn't until "Grandma?" came out, though, that I actually got the kick in the butt to start writing. I needed to see an example of my genre in writing.

And, literally for the entire first chase scene, I couldn't put the book down. That's when you and your son threw down the gauntlet...and I aimed to see if I could write something someone couldn't put down. Obviously, I was using your ideas of what made the story "move," but with a different topic.

And...ta granddaughter couldn't put it down! Wow, that made me so happy! Heck, I couldn't put my own book down, either. Don't know how many times I read it (and the sequel) before I actually pushed the "publish" button.

But anyway, give your son a big "thanks" for me! And you, too, for all that you've spent teaching other people how to succeed.

Please tell your son that in my opinion isn't so much Florida---as much as it's Norway and Sweden (sort of put together.) He should know what I mean by that.

You are a kind and generous man, and thanks so much!


James said...

Rule #9: If all else fails, enjoy a bottle of wine or 6 pack of beer.

Also, it's good to take advice from author Robert J. Ringer "Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Learn to say no politely and pleasantly, but immediately and firmly."

Anonymous said...

Now something totally different: I blame myself for writing books that have absolutely no different; I write for myself and I'm so strange and unique that there's no one but me to buy these books... And the title of my latest book (The Karaoke Duo Vs The Karaoke Zombies)sort of says it all, doesn't it?

Karly Kirkpatrick said...

Best. Effing. Post. Ever.

And I would argue that champagne on the cake might *just* make it that much more scrumptious.


Rob Cornell said...


I write a mystery series featuring a private eye who also runs a karaoke bar. No zombies in these, but you're not totally alone on the karaoke thing. :D

Robyn Campbell said...

You are truly wise. Love this bodacious post. I'm playing the blame game right now. :-)

Maria Jordan-O'Reilly said...

Love your post Joe! Been going through a few of those dark days, and your advice to 'plot it out' just hit the spot.

So I have decided to re-plot the rest of this month, and maybe even the rest of this year. Who know's? By New Years Eve I may be enjoying Champagne and Cake and looking forward to my newly plotted life?

Oh! Who am I kidding? Life shifts, other peoples plots tend to skew mine! But, guess what? That's OK too! It would be pretty boring without the need for constant adjustments!

So, once again I pick myself up, and 'keep on swimming', and dear Joe, thank you once again for reminding me that it's ok to feel depressed and stressed, and that the answer is to pull up my big girl pants and get on with it!

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Another good post, Joe! I agree wholeheartedly. It is easy for us as intense "feelers" and sharers of those feelings to complain a lot, or to feel down when things aren't going up. Or overcommit, and make ourselves crazy. I do all of the above.

But stepping back and getting some perspective helps. No one owes us a living as writers, and being around in this time of great change -- when we can MAKE a writing career happen by publishing ourselves -- is simply tremendous. My sales are on the rise recently, and I'm psyched. But even when they aren't, I try to remember to be happy about the good stuff... and the chance to get my stories out.

Thanks for all you do to inform and inspire the rest of us!

JETaylor said...


The message is spot on and it's what I tell my kids every time they point fingers.

Taking responsibility for your success or failures is something that seems to be lost these days - regardless of the vocation.

Thanks for the reminder. :)

Unknown said...

- regarding point 2: after I hit "publish" over on Amazon, around lunch time at work, I walked over to the little park nearby and sat on a bench and just wasted an hour sitting there enjoying what it felt like to have written a novel.

- I have "Elbert Hubbard's Scrapbook" on my bookshelf, and I love going through it looking for fun stuff to read.

- I don't think I've been to your blog before, I think I'll be back.


N. R. Williams said...

Good point.

My current issue is my health. I don't blame any one for it. I just wish I could find a solution. Yes, I go to a doctor regularly. I do wish I was more productive but I also understand that it is because I am soooooo tired all the time.

Anonymous said...

Nice blog Joe. You hit the nail on the head. Trying to cut complaining out of my thought pattern.

I was hoping you Joe or someone else could chime back with their thoughts on this. I totally understand the idea that selling one million ebooks is a dream not a goal. My problem is this, I constantly find myself believing I can reach those huge milestones and one day have a book adapted into a movie. It's what keeps me moving day in and day out. It's what keeps me working in isolation alone at my desk until the wee hours of the night, the thought and belief that I can achieve big goals in the book world.

If someone sets expectations low and merely states I can only sell a few hundred books here and there, what is the motivation to keep going, to keep ourselves away from loved ones working and toiling in isolation. At least for myself I feel I need to set big goals. It's what keeps me going. Can anyone else chime in with their thoughts on this.


Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks for the blog post inspiration! This "blame game" business is one of my pet peeves. I nearly missed this post -- maybe because it was posted on my birthday, and I was busy being self-pitiful. (Briefly.)

Anyway, I got a fun post of my own out of it, so cheers for the great present.

Anonymous said...

Are you sure I can't just write the books and leave it at that? I can't be arsed with all the internet promo crap!

I guess I'll just continue to blame the universe the lack of sales. It really is against me you know.

Frowny face.

iolanthe said...

I think talking about it helps, sometimes, when I feel discouraged. Then, with either some sympathy or a kick in the pants, depending on whom I talked to, I dust myself off and go on my way.

A conversation like that with my Dad got me thinking about approaching the big book festival in town about an indie author panel for next year.

Unknown said...

I am a Wal-Mart manager when I'm not writing. If we had new attitudes, my stock prices would be higher. I have suggested Prozac mist sprayers at all entrances, but as of yet, no one has taken me up on this idea.