The solitary nature of writing is both a blessing and a curse. Time spent alone is an essential part of creating art. You need the space to dream-up new and exciting ideas, to get to know your characters and to fully explore the best ways to express your story. But as we all know, there are times when we fill that space with thoughts that aren’t creative. Sometimes our thoughts can be downright destructive.
I don’t know a single writer that hasn’t suffered from author envy at one time. For some it’s the envy of authors who have published their book while they’re struggling to finish their own. For others it comes after publishing a book and seeing another author’s book constantly sell better than yours. Then there is the time when you’ve read a successful book and wonder why the frankly average novel is so popular while you’re having to fight for every single sale.
Unless you are one of the lucky publishing lottery winners to have instant success, there will come a time when the little green monster knocks at your door. This is natural. This doesn’t make you a bad person. Some writers use this envious streak as a spur to success. For others, this envy has devastating consequences, knocking their confidence and motivation, becoming their all-consuming focus. It’s at this point the solitary nature of writing becomes a curse.
I can’t claim to have the answer to author envy, but there are a few things I’ve learnt to do whenever the little green monster comes calling.
Don’t look at the outliers, look at the majority
It’s easy to look at author X or author Y and think that should be me. Most authors have dreamt of being as successful as Stephen King, JK Rowling or even EL James. At the same time we know these are exceptional cases, and that the majority of authors have nothing like the success of these outliers. The problems come when we look at authors similar to us, either those that write similar books or authors you’ve got to know personally or through social media. When one of these authors find success it’s natural to think, why not me?
The thing is, when you do this you’re focussing on the outliers. Most authors don’t have that level of success. There are millions of books for sale on Amazon and only a few thousand make it into the Top 100 genre lists each year. The vast majority of authors are in the same situation as you, working hard in the hope of making a living from their writing. Many of those few thousand successful authors were at one time in exactly the same position as you. The only difference between them and you is that they followed my next point.
Focus only on what you can control
There are many factors that influence whether a book is a success or not but you only control a handful. The things you control are:
- Writing the best, most compelling story you possibly can.
- Publishing it in the most professional manner possible (whether self-publishing or via a publisher).
- Raising awareness of the book (although this is only partly in your control).
Everything else is out of your hands. You can’t change how people receive your work. You can’t change the success of others. You can’t change which books go viral or which trends become popular. You can’t change which books are picked up by agents and publishers and which are rejected.
Getting angry about a book you see as poor being successful only hurts you. Getting frustrated that you aren’t receiving good reviews – or even any reviews – only hurts you. Looking at a similar book being promoted through BookBub or ENT when they’ve passed on yours, only hurts you.
Envy is a natural and understandable reaction in each and every one of these situations. Authors put their heart and soul into their books, and it’s hard to understand why your book isn’t as successful as you’d hoped. But being envious of others, or of particular situations, sucks energy away from the things you can influence: writing the best possible book, publishing it in the most professional manner and raising awareness it exists.
You have no divine right to success. Nor does any other author. But by focussing on the things in your control, you give yourself the best chance of being successful. For everything else, it’s best to let them go.
Learn to celebrate the success of others
This is the biggest lesson of all and one that turns what is a negative situation into a positive. Publishing is not a zero sum game. The success of other authors has absolutely no impact on your own success. There are millions, possibly billions of people out there buying books. Even Stephen King or JK Rowling touch just fraction of this global readership. There is room for us all.
Instead of feeling envious of another’s success, celebrate it. Don’t see it as a personal slight, take comfort from the fact that people do find success. Use that fact to motivate you to keep going, to try harder. If you see an author have success, contact them and celebrate their success with them. Let them know how pleased you are because like you, they may have spent years, even decades to get to that point. Then channel that good feeling into your own work. Who knows, it could be the start of great things.
So what about you? Do you, or have you ever suffered from author envy? How do you overcome it? I’d love to hear from you.
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