New writers: Just know that you’ll (probably) never be happy.
Recently, my daughter watched a biography on Marilyn Monroe, and promptly declared after doing so that the infamous bombshell was “cray-cray.” When I asked what had made her reach this diagnosis, she explained, “She was never satisfied with anything she did. She always thought she sucked.”
I tried to explain to my daughter that artists are rarely satisfied with their work, and that they often question the validity of their own success. (tweet this) Even someone who had reached Marilyn’s plane was susceptible to negative reflection, though I agreed she took it to unhealthy levels that likely and eventually contributed to her tragic end. Then, over the last few weeks, I went through a round of the doubtful doldrums myself. It’s not that I believe my work lacks credibility or doubt my ability to write. Instead, I questioned if I was ever going to be truly successful with my publishing career. For someone like me who doesn’t have a lot of commercial success, this thought may seem natural. But what about for someone like Marilyn Monroe, who is arguably one of the most renowned and successful actors of all time?
When I set out to publish my first book, I told myself, “Well, if I make $100 from this book, it will be a $100 I didn’t have before, and I’ll be happy.” Lo and behold, when I actually did draw that first benjamin, I found that that level of return was no longer acceptable. i.e. I had already climbed a hill that size, so overcoming a slightly bigger hill would be the next challenge and one that should be simple to accomplish. And then I didn’t. Sales peaked early and tumbled. Six months after my first book released, sales flat-lined. Not as in I sold a few copies here and there. As in, after releasing in December 2010, I had NO sales from June 2011 to August 2011. I was devastated, despite the fact that I had surpassed my original goal for a happy place.
With each release since I started out almost three years ago, my sales have steadily increased on the whole. And while there’s peaks and valleys, I sell a steady number of books each month. Still, when I have the occasional day where I don’t sell a single copy, I get all mopey and panicked. Can you imagine, a person who once went nearly three months without a single sale bums out when she doesn’t sell one every single day? Eventually the sales pick up again and my anxieties ease, but not without a bit of reflection and why I let myself get so worked up, and will there ever come a time when I’m happy with what I have?
Looking at some of my more successful friends in this industry, the answer is no. I correspond with some writers who sell in an hour what I sell in two months. Their off day is selling only a few hundred copies, but the worries and impact they feel over a decrease from their highs is every bit as sharp as mine.
The truth is, dissatisfaction is just part of this world, no matter what level you’re selling at. (->tweet this) If you’re setting out to publish, be ready for this time to come, and know that it is normal. A few things I’m trying to do when I hit these stages is to remind myself:
- A career of any kind is a marathon, not a sprint. (My friends thankfully remind me of this often). While there are exceptions to every rule, almost all authors don’t begin to see steady sales and growth until several years and a half-dozen books into their careers.
- Someone’s always got it better, and someone’s always got it worse. Whenever I hear someone who outsells me by school buses complain, I remind myself that there’s other authors who would do jumping jacks to have the sales I have. Everything is relative. Unless you’re J.K. Rowling. Sadly, most of us are not J.K. Rowling.
- It’s good to have goals. It’s better to have ambition.
- A lot of what makes it and what doesn’t is just luck. Good writing doesn’t mean good sales (and sadly, the reverse is also true). (->tweet this)
- No matter what it feels like, no bad day is ever the end of the world OR the end of your career.
- Hell, you wrote a freaking book and published it. Lots of people talk about it, fewer do it, and you’ve done it how many times now?
It doesn’t always bridge me over, but eventually I get over the blues. You will too. Remind yourself that things won’t get better without your work. Reflect on what you could do differently, or if what you hoped to achieve was too big a goal. As Samuel Beckett wrote: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
I think the best we can hope for isn’t happiness, it’s being content. Here’s my wishes that you (and I) find a level of contention that works well for us.