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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When a friend tells you their sales figures…and you know your own… and you are genuinely pleased for them…
That happened this morning. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a sigh, but volume of sales is not why I write. I write because I can’t help it 🙂
Ah, that’s a toughie. Yes, you should be pleased for them but it’s natural to have the odd twinge. The key thing is, you have no control over their sales figures and their sales figures have no impact on what you do, so as you say, be genuinely pleased for them instead.
What else can you usefully do? I see no point in jealousy (other than that natural twinge) . There are readers enough for every writer… and not all genres are created equal in that respect, so I am just grateful my stuff is being read. 🙂
I couldn’t agree more, Sue 🙂
Reblogged this on Daily Echo and commented:
Dylan Hearn on the green monster…
Yes. Often. But yes too to being positive
I think the key is to not be negative (being positive comes later). Don’t spend your energy on what you can’t control, don’t allow yourself to be upset. It makes absolutely no difference to the situation. Of course, it’s easier said than done …
Maybe because I was published after retirement, but no I can truly say I have never been envious of writers, that do well. Just the fact that I was able to publish my book and that I have the time to write every day is a blessing to me. I have met so many talented writers along my journey (yourself included) and have received so much inspiration and help to make me a better writer that there is no room for envy, just gratitude. Oh don’t get me wrong I would love to have a best seller, but, even at that I don’t think it would be a better feeling than when I opened the package that contained my very first published book and saw the cover with my name on it. I have been disappointed at the fact that the people (family included) I thought would be happy for me never even read the book or wished me well. A good lesson learned there.
I have read many wonderful books since I started writing full time and purchase as many books as I can afford. I hope I get to read them all. :o)
You make a great point about the first time seeing a cover with your name on it, or holding the book in your hand. An incredible feeling. And I also recognise being disappointed with friends or family not reading your book (although there is the other side by being surprised by those who have).
You have a wonderful attitude to writing. Thank you for sharing.
:o) You are most welcome.
Interesting, and well put. I’ve always tried to share three thoughts with other writers, especially “emerging” ones:
1. You can write a book that no one else can, because no one else looks at the world through your unique lens. Therefore, we really aren’t competing with other writers, because we’re all pitching a different product.
2. Don’t try to market your book to everybody, because everybody won’t be interested in it. No one has ever written a book that interested everybody. Instead, you have to figure out your niche and go after it by every means possible.
3. Don’t get mad at people for not buying your book. It’s highly possible that they have no idea that it exists, and that’s up to you.
Snowflakes in a Blizzard
Those are three excellent points and I agree with them all. I often say that by trying to please everybody you end up writing a book so bland it pleases nobody.
Very good points for every author to remember and live by!
I’ve experienced that feeling a time or two. I think the real key here is turn that feeling into something that works in your favor. Use it as motivation to do better. Remind yourself that eventually, it could happen for you too.
There’s also the envy that comes from reading a really great story by another author and thinking, if only I could write like that!
I prefer to use that feeling as a motivator to improve my writing and as a reminder to poke my head out of my own little world to see what’s going on out there from time to time.
Envy of another writer’s writing is a great point. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve read a book and been stunned by the strength of the writing. If you let it, this could be incredibly demotivating, however you’re tight that it should motivate you to improve. Learn how they do what they do. You can’t control how they write but you can look to improve your own writing. Great point!
As you might expect, I’m all over #3 on your list: Learn to celebrate the success of others. And I would add that you go a little bit further and actually promote that success of others, because what goes around really does come around, and you will be amazed at how quickly the spotlight can be turned back around to you and your work. Dylan, you definitely practice this, and you’ve written several blog posts on how authors can do the same, becoming involved in promoting reading in general. As Darrell pointed out above, it’s possible readers don’t know about your work, but it’s your job to let them know about it. I discovered, long ago, that the best way to receive promotion for yourself and what you write is to promote other great authors and their books.
Great post, Dylan!
Thanks, Susan. That’s very kind of you.
The only point I’d add is if you do support or promote other writers, do so freely, not in the expectation of getting something in return.
Yes, that is absolutely true, Dylan, and thank you for adding that!
I have no designs on being published, but I really enjoyed this post. It made me think of how fickle the reading public can be, and what really defines a successful writer. Commercial success can come to some very ordinary/pedestrian authors. So, thanks.
Thank you, although I’m not sure that was quite the point I was hoping to make. 🙂
I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve had a visit from the green-eyed monster, other than perhaps the “sigh” that Sue mentioned. I think you captured the reason in Celebrating the Success of Others. For me, that grew out of my contact with other authors here in blogland. This tribe is amazingly supportive and generous, and I’m truly happy for every success. There’s a sense that we’re all in it together.
It’s true. The writing community is incredibly supportive and I’ve met some wonderful writers through blogging.
This is so true. I can’t say I’ve never been visited by the little green monster, but I squash him whenever he makes an appearance. Like Sue, I write because that’s what I do – if someone else reads my book, I am genuinely delighted. And if other writers are successful, great! It means that the pathway is there for me to have the same experience – as long as there are readers, I will write. And the community here is so wonderful, how can I not be happy for someone when they have a success? Together we are far stronger 🙂
Being visited by the little green monster is only human. I’m glad you see past that moment of envy and take delight in the success of others, as others take delight in your successes too!
Thanks, Dylan 🙂 Here’s to more successes for us all!
Reblogged this on Crazy Little Redneck Goth.
Thanks for reblogging this. I’m glad you liked it. 🙂
Clive James wrote a poem that starts:
” The book of my enemy has been remaindered, and I am pleased.”
I love Clive James. What a wit!
Great post (came to it through Sue Vincent’s blog). I know the sigh and the twinge but fortunately only fleetingly. I like your point on focussing only on what we can control.
I think the hard bit comes in the area where we have some, but not total, control, like getting your book out there. It’s very easy to turn a genuine question of ‘How are they being successful? Is there anything I can learn?” to “why am I not getting a fair crack of the whip?”
The key is to look at it as an opportunity to learn, but it’s not easy.
Such good advice. The reminder about focusing on controllables is priceless.
Bravo, Dylan. It’s always smart, as a writer, to step back and evaluate the competitive emotions you might be feeling. There’s nothing easier than skewing negative over someone else’s “unjust” success, but, as you say, if you focus only on the things you can control, you’ll be a happy camper. Or at least more pleasant to be around… 😝
More pleasant to be around … most of the time. I’ve reached the age where I’m allowed to be grumpy occasionally. 🙂
I think seeing yourself as solitary is probably the most negative aspect in this situation? Envy is a natural human condition – you feel it, even if you don’t admit it to yourself. Everything you point out about success as an author having a lot to do with hard work and an enormous dollop of good luck is true – blockbuster success is unequivocally unattainable for 99.99% of us.
But you don’t have to slowly turn into a green, grumpy monster in your ivory tower, even if you’re the shyest, most agoraphobic person in this day and age. Having the support of others goes a long way to getting through lack of success while others seem to skip along blithely ahead of you – talk to people, work on networking with other writers and most important, readers. Join practically any book community and you’ll soon at least find you’re not alone in feeling neglected and unappreciated. You may even find help with things you thought you just didn’t think you could ever do – like join Twitter or Facebook et al… That horrified me once – but it’s actually brilliant for making new contacts and you don’t have to be gung-ho at gathering followers or having to religiously follow everyone who follows you. The more you curl up in a screwed-up jealous little heap, the more you put people off you and your work – work on expanding your horizons and you might just make a few friends who like what you do, who’ll tell their friends, and so on. You’re a wordsmith – use them to connect with people who’re potential readers as well as putting them in the next Booker Mann prize winner… 😉
You make an excellent point, Jan, and it’s absolutely true. The act of writing may be in isolation but it doesn’t mean writers should isolate themselves all the time. As many others have pointed out as well as yourself, there is an excellent author community out there. The act of keeping yourself apart magnifies certain circumstances, leading to a loss of perspective. I would recommend any writer get in touch with other writers as you’ve suggested. It’s always good to talk to people who’ve shared your experiences and to find out that you really aren’t alone.
With the sheer number of books out there now, expecting huge results is unrealistic. Better to put our efforts into creating more quality product of our own. And with so many authors online, it’s easy to feel like we’re drowning. Putting more emphasis on face-to-face promotion is a nice way to counteract that. We learn there are other ways to sell books and create word-of-mouth than online, and it can be very rewarding to explore other venues (book-signings, book clubs who’ve read our books, library talks, etc.) Of course, most of us are introverts so these things are hard to do, but they can give us short-term rewards and fuel us with the motivation to keep going. I’m doing more of that this time around, and it’s been a nice change.
I love that you’ve taken something that caused you great anxiety, book signings, and have learned to love them. And you’re right. Getting out there, meeting readers and having face-to-face feedback is a great way to keep the green-eyed monster at bay.
Well, I wouldn’t say ‘love’ them. 😉
I thought that might have been pushing it 😉
That little green monster can be a real pain in the neck. You make some very good points, and I find that those ideas are useful not just with writers and their books, but in lots of things people deal with every day, e.g., college admissions, job promotions, etc. Focusing on the things you can control and change gives you the energy you need to keep working toward your goal and to eventually feel genuine happiness for those who achieve success.
Focussing on what you can control was something I learned at work many years ago and had proven invaluable in all areas of my life. And you’re right, it gives you energy, rather than saps energy, because you get to see the progress you make towards your goal.
Thank you for putting this out there: “Raising awareness of the book (although this is only partly in your control).
… You can’t change how people receive your work … 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.”
You’re more than welcome 🙂
I get disappointed sometimes, when a book does well that I perceive as poor quality. Thats really what the general public want to spend their money on? I wonder sometimes if they actually read them, right to the end. But I can’t say I ever feel jealous. Maybe a twinge of envy, but not even really that… it’s more of a longing to achieve something in my own right. Just enough sales to feel good about what I do, maybe even enough to contribute something to the family budget, to say I earned that. Then it would feel worthwhile. Regardless, writing is not something I can stop. Nor do I want to.
Reblogged this on Storyhaunts and commented:
I believe every writer at one point suffers from Author Envy.
Thanks so much for sharing.
I agree that envy is natural, so I try to accept it when I feel it, ensure that I don’t let it show and then let it go. I often make jokes about my risibly poor sales and sometimes I make jokes about seething with professional envy when I duck at the wrong moment and the author next to me gets hit with the unicorn pooh that I was sure would come to me. Generally, I try to make as much of my own luck as I can even if I know that may not be possible and I try to give others a hand when I can – telling my mailing list about their books and stuff like that. The way I see it, if their stuff takes off before mine they may remember and tell their fans about my books.
Love it! This is such a good topic to write about and you did it well!