I made a Facebook post at some point last week that was a heartfelt question:
“Figuring out the meaning of one’s own ‘success’ is one of the hardest things about being on Facebook isn’t it?”
Now, this could be taken as a direct contradiction of one of my earlier Liz Rules: No Whining On Facebook. It’s Boring. And Makes People Hate You.
But I was asking a serious question, not humble-bragging or, worse, compliment-fishing, or even more worse (?) sympathy-baiting. I was serious. Just how does one gauge one’s success in the face of what would appear to be a daily barrage of facts that prove everyone on the planet in your business is way better and more successful at it than you are?
When I think back a mere 5 years to my former, more wide-eyed, less cynical author self, I had but a few goals: get a publisher, maybe two. Get my name on some books available for readers to buy and enjoy. The end.
Well, I got those things, including what I considered to be my “ultimate target publisher.” I got them through hard work, learning “how” to “be edited” (a skill that one must learn if one is to be serious as an author). I also had a nice-sized fan group on Facebook, many thousands of fans and followers on other networking sites, and people actually approaching me online to ask about my books, my characters, my upcoming releases.
A buzz, right?
Did I consider myself “successful?”
So I kept writing. And I opened myself up to what was actually going on in my industry and in this genre I’d chosen to write into (romance). Before this, I considered myself fairly blinkered, kind of like a race horse, focused forward only, not allowing the progression of my fellow equally fast equine buddies to distract me. It was a good place to be, I now admit. But a naïve place as well. The good and bad of being fully cognizant of your competition as an author are so intertwined, at times, you might mistake them for each other.
But allow me to explain (or try, in my usual, highly entertaining fashion). In any business, it pays to know the competition. I used to own and market a craft brewery and bar so I made it my sole business to do just that. I knew what others were brewing, what sort of food, entertainment and other enticements were being used to lure drinkers from one craft brewery to the next. As the market became more and more crowded, this knowledge was even more crucial. You must know what your fellows are doing in order to do your business better. You are in competition for the discretionary income of current and future craft beer drinkers, period.
In the book writing and publishing business, it’s no different. Sure you have friends who are authors and in some circles there is a fair bit of camaraderie and friendly advice-giving. There is also a fair bit of back-biting, jealousy and sheer ugliness. We’ve all heard the stories about the authors who sic their fan-girl minions on another on Goodreads or who front load nasty reviews on Amazon for reasons that truly don’t stand the test of “adult behavior.” The power of the Big Book Blogger is also a real thing—these people can make or break you and sometimes, their criteria for “making you” is a bit of a middle-school level crap shoot.
There are plenty of examples of established authors who have a fan or two who decide to write their own books, and who may turn out to be more (sometimes much more) successful than the authors who inspired them. I’ve seen big authors go bad over this, which has cost them credibility.
The point here is, “knowing your competition” should not be something that brings you down. Understanding what others are doing right, or differently than you should inspire, not depress. Being the humans we are this is typically what happens, however. I know I do it. I take my glance around social media and after an hour or two, I’m convinced that, despite the fact that I have 30+ books in my backlist, new readers and fans every day, and a consistently growing income from my books, I’m a Giant Pile of Smelly Failure.
Because, of course, there is the Facebook Measuring Stick. The place where many of us go every day to check out who’s made a “real” best seller list, who has an expensive new cover, who’s at yet another way cool author event, who signed with an agent, who’s been given the green light on a new series for a big publisher, whose new release has hundreds of reviews and thousands of downloads inside of a day, who has managed three thousand words on their new manuscript, who’s in the editing cave, the promoting cave, the writing grotto.
I’ll admit to using the ‘Book this way myself in the past. But as I advance along what I hope is a professional trajectory for my own writing and publishing career I’ve made a few decisions about how I won’t be using it anymore. That’s not to say that when I do get seriously big, good news I won’t be announcing it. People need to know when I lose that last 20 pounds or when my last kid moves into her dorm, or when my other kids reach successful milestones in their lives—or you know, my dogs do something cool or when I find an amazing new brew I want to talk about.
But on the writing and publishing front, I now believe that continuing to gauge my own success using Facebook as a yardstick of it, is simply an exercise in frustration. I have taken steps to this end—including unfollowing folks who do nothing BUT brag (and they are out there, in force). And I’m making an effort to do less Liz Posting and more Liz Interacting with friends and inside of author help groups.
It’s given me a bit of internal peace that I needed in this crazy business, allowing me to focus on my actual goals, and not the ones I put out for public consumption. Getting to this point in my own head has forced me to think hard about how I define my own “success” as an author, and to accept that sometimes, inner peace with my own success is the best reward.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go write some words, then walk my dogs, then implement my last high school grad party!
Keep the faith! Keep writing!
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Love: Classified (Desiree Holt's Omega Team....this one was so popular I've promised to write a sequel in 2017!)
Marking Mariah (Susan Stoker's Operation Alpha)