I’m wrapping the tail end up of a very dark period for my work. The subject matter – death – combined with news all around me and some really stupid b.s. forced me to question what I was doing. Was it work-related? Absolutely not. John, Phil, Steve (Jackson) and Company have treated me like gold. No, it was writing-related in that everyone around me started freaking out about “the lists.” Where did their book place? How many reviews did they get? Who’s selling better than they are? How many visits do they get? Who follows them back? Can they get a blurb from so-and-so?
I know this mood began in October because that’s when I mentally put myself in a deep place for a story I enjoyed writing, but didn’t want to write. It was painfully honest in a way that is so, so, so hard for me in my work. I normally leave the philosophy to the Kurt Vonneguts of the world, but down that rabbit hole I went for the sake of a story that made me cry.
It didn’t end there, however, because to get into this character’s head I had to think about my own mortality and what it meant. Add additional stories with death as a theme on top of that, and it nearly dampened my defiant spirit. As an artist, it simply means, I want my work to live on, to be enjoyed by others. But will it? Ah, that’s where my own lists came into play. Am I popular enough? Have I written enough? Am I accepted by my peers? And so on, and so forth, etc. Remember, I’ve been in marketing for many years, so I see past the b.s. I don’t call people on it, because to each his (or her) own, but running around worrying about all these things you can’t control is not only incredibly counterproductive, it’s damaging to one’s psyche.
This damage is what leads me to write this post today.
The publishing industry is in flux. It has always been ever-changing, unpredictable, and based on personal preference with a fair amount of relationship-building. There are cliques, yes, but there are also groups fans generate to support authors all by themselves. This is not the work portion of the publishing industry, this is the people segment. This is where these lists come from, because it’s no longer about writing a wonderful tale, it’s about what happens after-the-fact. The “list” is an author’s way of validating his or her work. It’s extrinsic rewards versus intrinsic and, to be brutal and blunt, this happens to every author because there will always be one more item on “the list” to measure ourselves by.
With me so far?
Hrmm… So what can we cross off our proverbial lists? We can nurture career opportunities and allow them to flourish, provided we err on the side of opportunistic and not ostrich, but you have to be on the lookout and know how to work with other people and not be an antagonistic jerk. (Although, I’m pretty sure the trolls I’ve come across probably wouldn’t remember me, because they’ve somehow taken it upon themselves to validate their work by putting other people down. Yes, there is a subset of jerks out there. And they can kiss my *ss. It’s hard enough being an author; there is no excuse for being a bully.)
Can you guess what happens when the extrinsic rewards we seek do not meet or beat the intrinsic love and value we place on what we do? That, right there, is when the work is not enough. It happens to EVERYBODY.
Regardless of opportunity, though, there still needs to be a “Yes, I believe in your work.” on the other end of the line. Please, take the spirit of these points and don’t min-max the specific words used. There is ALWAYS an exception to every rule, but my point still stands. We can set the groundwork for success, but there are no guarantees.
With that very long-winded caveat, here are many things that are not within an author’s control.
- What most (not all) online and offline retailers like Amazon do to sell your books.
- The internet. SERIOUSLY.
- How many reviews you get.
- How much PR you’ll have.
- How many readers show up to your readings/signings.
- What the reviews state.
- How others are influenced by reviews.
- How well your book will sell.
- Finding an agent (or a good one) that wants to represent you.
- Getting paid what you’re worth.
- If you’ll get optioned or not.
- If, when your story has been optioned for a TV show/movie, that it ever gets made.
- What other authors think of you (or your stories).
- Getting paid on time. (Or at all.)
- Your competition. (If that even exists.)
- How many books you have to write before you can earn a living.
- What the next big “hit” will be.
So what is an author to do?
Take charge of the only thing we can control as creatives: the work itself. Leave the effing lists behind and let someone else worry about that. The more time we waste fretting about what someone will (or won’t) do, the less time we have to create.
- Mood: fiery
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Not done yet.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: a walk
Yesterday’s Projects: Game, Editing, Fiction
In My Ears: Challenging the Empire from Final Fantasy VII
Game Last Played: Battle Nations (I HAZ A BATTLE RAPTOR ZOMG!)
Movie Last Viewed: Thor
Book Last Read: Leonardo Da Vinci’s Notebooks
Latest Artistic Project: Cross-stitch
Latest Release: Redwing’s Gambit for Bulldogs! the RPG