Yesterday on my Twitter stream, someone posted what appeared to be an auto-reported update from an app describing how many follows and unfollows that account had received in the last twenty-four hours. The poster was a book blogger, one who takes her charge very seriously, and I’m certain she’ll find the app a useful tool for measuring the success of her venture, or that if she doesn’t she’ll discard it as a nice idea that didn’t pan out. She’s a smart, savvy cookie, that blogger, and I’m sure she didn’t lose a minute of sleep last night over finding out a few people who had been following her no longer do.
Having said that, I feel fairly confident in saying that most authors who tried to use that app would find it to be a gateway to the deepest circle of hell.
I’ve been an active part of professional author communities since 1999, and in those fourteen years I’ve only deepened my conviction that by and large authors are the most beautiful hot mess of ego and self-consciousness that has ever walked the planet. As a friend of mine once pointed out—we slave (alone) for months and years over a work, crafting and honing and sweating and weeping, and then we not only share it with the entire human race but ask to be paid for it. There’s no escaping the ego, no matter how humble we are. Yet at the same time, to be able to successfully access the stories of the human condition, we must be humble, we must put ourselves aside and reach into truths where ego must be stripped away.
Maybe it’s a bias, but from where I sit writing romance is even more of a schizophrenic split. It is and likely always will be the best-selling sub-genre of fiction, the Big Kahuna of publishing, and yet it isn’t just the story of the human condition but a chronicling of humans at their most vulnerable: falling in love. Even if we try to shut out the world, we know our potential audience is huge, and as we strip ourselves away to write emotionally vulnerable stories, we find ourselves that story’s biggest champion, wanting it to become the biggest story ever, not for our ego but for its own sake. To give it that boost we often must gird ourselves and send the introverted writer out into the void, to be the shill and the advocate and the ringmaster for our book’s success.
Nothing, nothing feels more horrible than rising out of that selfless pit of story, putting on ego we didn’t want—and finding the story not only missing the goal posts but sometimes failing to even get out of the sidelines. Did we do something wrong? Did we not promote enough? Too much? Did we burp in public at a conference and that killed the book forever? Did we make a stupid comment on a blog post or social media and now our stories must suffer for our foolishness? Did we not give it a strong enough editorial pass? Did we edit too much and stripped away the soul? Why, how, did this work we slaved over become passed over? How did we see such a beautiful gem and fail it so completely?
Put a few books under an author’s belt, and this kind of nail-biting ego soup/self-consciousness spirals to wild and crazy heights of hysteria, and usually it isn’t allowed to bleed out until something random makes us spill our carefully guarded jar of crazy. It might be a review. It might be a reader’s random comment on Twitter. It might be the failure of a book to hit a bestseller list. It might be a disappointing paycheck. It might be a failure to be mentioned in a magazine citing several of our genre peers—but not us.
It might be hearing that a conference will extend pre-invitations to a small number of high-profile, reader-requested and bestselling authors—and we must now get a bigger crock for our crazy juice, because now someone will make a judgement, a call, our peers will make a call, and we if we don’t make that list, it will cut us, it will send us so deep into that hysteria that we may not write again, because we’ve been wondering this whole time if maybe we really suck, if those lower sales numbers and meh reviews are tea leaves, if this is the final Tarot card that says, “Jesus, you fool, give it up already and go back to the accounting job.”
Don’t. Don’t you ever, ever let anyone, anything, any list or invitation or blog or review site or magazine article define you that way. Don’t let any outside force, anything of any kind tell you who you are, what your stories mean, what potential your career has. Don’t, not even for a minute let anyone but you define what success means for your career. Continue Reading →