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Writer Envy

I debated whether or not to post this, but in the interest of keeping myself honest and talking about all sides of this writing thing, I decided to go ahead.

My friend Seanan McGuire’s debut novel Rosemary and Rue [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] came out at the start of September.  It’s a great book, and I’m thrilled for her success. Yet there’s a part of me that compares her Amazon listing–50+ reviews, a ranking in the 1000 range, and #99 of all fantasy titles at Amazon, all more than a month after her release–to my own, and comes away feeling envious.

I hate comparing myself to other writers. A friend gets a $30,000+ advance, and while I’m truly happy for them and excited for their news, there’s also that tiny whisper asking why I’m not earning the same.

I hate it because it makes me lose sight of what I already have.  The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] has a month-long face-out display at most Barnes and Noble stores.  Mermaid’s first week’s sales were the best of any of my books so far.  Publishers Weekly called it “a witty, well-constructed adventure tale about powerful women stepping up with skill and cleverness.” I’m the freaking guest of honor at Icon in Iowa in two days!

But then I compare my web-only PW review to Laura Anne Gilman’s starred PW review for Flesh and Fire [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] (which looks like an awesome book, by the way), and suddenly my good news feels … deflated, somehow. Even if only for a moment.

Screw that. The fact is, I’ve got an awful lot to be proud of.  I have five books in print. The first three have earned out their advances and gone back for multiple printings. They’ve been translated into a half-dozen languages. I even have miniatures of my characters. How freaking cool is that???

The self-doubt and the insecurities are insidious, and they don’t magically disappear once you get a book deal. It’s only three years since my first book with DAW hit the shelves; I’m still a fairly new writer. Maybe this is normal. Maybe it takes a good track record with 10 or 15 books to start earning those higher advances, and for the big review venues to really sit up and take notice.

I love what I’m doing, and I wouldn’t trade it. Fairy tale princesses might not be as hot as My Little Pony with Steampunk Zombies*, but I love these stories, and I’m proud of them. I know there will always be more successful writers, and that to compare myself to everyone who does better than me means I’m creating completely distorted expectations for myself. I know all of this, but the emotions don’t always listen to the logic.

Fortunately, I also know the envy is a transient thing. I’m proud of my friends, and happy for them. The envy will pass (for the most part), but the pride remains, because my friends rock, and they’ve earned that success. I’m happy for myself, too–happy and proud, and that will still be there after the envy fades.


*Yes, now I want to write it too.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Comments

( 137 comments — Leave a comment )
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c_smudge
Oct. 21st, 2009 01:37 pm (UTC)
you'll just have to console yourself with your awesomeness (; thanks for sharing
jimhines
Oct. 21st, 2009 01:40 pm (UTC)
Thanks. And I figure I'll start getting those huge advances as soon as I write that My Little Zombie Pony piece :-)
(no subject) - c_smudge - Oct. 21st, 2009 02:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
cathschaffstump
Oct. 21st, 2009 01:41 pm (UTC)
Dude, as you say, the envy will pass.

Even without the rest of the trappings, we are privileged to know you, not only because you are a clever, witty and skilled writer, but also because you are a compassionate human being with a good soul.

Don't forget, it's a roller coaster out there! Where you are now is not where you will end up. Those who are where you want to be now might end up where you are now later.(??) Writing is fickle. You can only count on death and taxes.

Besides, I get to spend the weekend envying you. Don't rain on my parade, and I'll see you Friday.

Catherine

ps I will try to remember the camera, so we can actually have pictures of you guesting and stuff so you don't have to take them with your phone.
jimhines
Oct. 21st, 2009 01:51 pm (UTC)
Phone, nothing. The author jacket has its own camera pocket :-) But thank you--it will be nice to not have to worry about passing it off to folks!

I think the roller coaster is the key. I know for a long time I assumed you reached a certain level of success, and then you had made it. You were a success. Yay! It was a bit of a shock to discover the emotional ups and downs were just as potent after your first or even your seventh book deal.

And thank you :-) I'm really looking forward to meeting you and getting to do Icon!
matociquala
Oct. 21st, 2009 01:42 pm (UTC)
Total miniature envy. Just saying. *g*

I comfort myself that it's not a zero sum market....
jimhines
Oct. 21st, 2009 01:49 pm (UTC)
Thanks. And yes. Success for one of us is good for all of us, which helps a lot.

I meant what I said up there, by the way. Envy aside, I'm really happy for all you guys and your kick-ass deals. It's great to see you doing well, even if you haven't gotten those minis yet ;-)
(no subject) - matociquala - Oct. 21st, 2009 02:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - seanan_mcguire - Oct. 21st, 2009 01:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - matociquala - Oct. 21st, 2009 02:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Oct. 21st, 2009 02:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
lindaabdavis
Oct. 21st, 2009 01:44 pm (UTC)
I think it's pretty normal, Jim. I believe the measure of a person isn't that they have these thoughts, but that they don't give them room to grow.
jimhines
Oct. 21st, 2009 01:52 pm (UTC)
I'm working on it. Some days are better than others. Most of the time I'm fine, but for some reason this week has apparently tweaked some of my neuroses.

I figure it's part of being human, but that doesn't mean I have to like it :-)
temporus
Oct. 21st, 2009 01:45 pm (UTC)
The demon of self-doubt is pernicious. And success is not the secret spell that will abjure it. I don't actually know what does keep it away or if some of us just have to learn to deal with it.

I don't know if its any consolation, but you kept me up a good hour an a half past my bedtime monday night, as I just had to make it to the end of Mermaid's Madness. Yesterday is still kind of a blur.
jimhines
Oct. 21st, 2009 01:53 pm (UTC)
That helps a lot, actually. Thank you :-) It reminds me that the money and the big deals and all that are only one measure of success, but if I can write something that someone *really* enjoys, that's the part that matters more.
(no subject) - temporus - Oct. 21st, 2009 02:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
tielan
Oct. 21st, 2009 01:49 pm (UTC)
I also know the envy is a transient thing. I’m proud of my friends, and happy for them. The envy will pass (for the most part), but the pride remains, because my friends rock, and they’ve earned that success.

This? Is an awesome attitude to take.
jhetley
Oct. 21st, 2009 01:51 pm (UTC)
"My Little Pony with Steampunk Zombies"

You gonna use that? Time for a little commitment here . . .

As far as writer envy goes, my first retort was along the lines of "He hasn't been dumped by his publisher yet. What's he bitching about?"
jimhines
Oct. 21st, 2009 01:55 pm (UTC)
I'm just trying to figure out how to dodge the copyright issues. I managed to pull off the muppet werewolf story, so I'm sure there's a way to do the pony zombies :-)

And thanks. Like I needed one more for the anxiety closet :-P
(no subject) - jhetley - Oct. 21st, 2009 01:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - matociquala - Oct. 21st, 2009 02:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - seanan_mcguire - Oct. 21st, 2009 02:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Oct. 21st, 2009 03:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - seanan_mcguire - Oct. 21st, 2009 03:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - cissa - Oct. 22nd, 2009 09:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
faerie_writer
Oct. 21st, 2009 01:53 pm (UTC)
The self-doubt and the insecurities are insidious, and they don’t magically disappear once you get a book deal.

I don't like to admit to this either, but it's *so* true! I like your attitude of Screw that. I think I'm going to adopt it. ;)
cat_mcdougall
Oct. 21st, 2009 01:54 pm (UTC)
Just now getting to the point where I'm querying... My envy is that you have books out. Me? I'm still just a wannabe. ;-)

The envy will pass (for the most part), but the pride remains, because my friends rock, and they’ve earned that success.

This should probably go up on my wall somewhere. In giant neon letters.
jimhines
Oct. 21st, 2009 01:58 pm (UTC)
"This should probably go up on my wall somewhere. In giant neon letters."

Mine too. It's easy to write the words, but that doesn't mean I remember them 100% of the time...
klingonguy
Oct. 21st, 2009 01:56 pm (UTC)
Why is it, that when we compare ourselves to others, we only run the comparisons against one side of the aisle and not the other?

There are plenty of other writers out there, compared to whom you are the great Gazoo! Look at me? I've got only one novel out, which came with a small advance, and being from a small press is unlikely to be found in many (if any) bookstores, let alone faced-out for a month.

But none of that matters, not really. You write your stuff. I'll write mine. Laura Anne will write hers. And on and on. If we're lucky, we'll get published. If we're good, we'll inspire one another and others besides. If we're smart, we'll be thankful for the gifts we've been given and the opportunities to engage them.

Here endeth the ranty advice.
jimhines
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:09 pm (UTC)
Yep. We only look up the ladder, and since everyone up there is doing better, it messes with our heads.

Totally random--had a dream that I went to unnamed con and wound up chatting with you in the lobby. Also, I forgot my author jacket, which made me sad.
(no subject) - j_cheney - Oct. 21st, 2009 04:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dqg_neal - Oct. 21st, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Oct. 21st, 2009 10:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
timakers
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:00 pm (UTC)
Yes, I have a similar problem. In a lot of ways I feel the same as I did when I first started writing. I would read the magazines and *rage* that this dreck was getting ink and I wasn't. I grew out of that, and I'm sure I'll grow out of this, too. In time. Time filled with rage and frustration.
matociquala
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:06 pm (UTC)
Oh, the "My stuff is better! Why won't people buy it!" thing is even more toxic, I think. Because for me anyway, that results in thinking maybe I should not try as hard.

And that way lies death spiral...
(no subject) - jimhines - Oct. 21st, 2009 02:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - cissa - Oct. 22nd, 2009 09:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
jonquil
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:07 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry. I hate days like that. An (immensely valued) co-worker just got a major award at work for doing great stuff, and I was deeply, deeply envious.
jimhines
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:11 pm (UTC)
Oh, don't get me started on awards. Hmph. As if I have room for a big shiny Hugo rocketship anyway...
(no subject) - jonquil - Oct. 21st, 2009 02:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Oct. 21st, 2009 02:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
asakiyume
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:07 pm (UTC)
I don't know anyone who doesn't feel this way. It's so natural. Ranting a little, joking a little, and then getting on with it are the best you can--that's all you can do.
jimhines
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:10 pm (UTC)
Thanks. Part of what I was trying to remind myself of with this post is that it's okay to be human, failings and all.
(no subject) - asakiyume - Oct. 21st, 2009 02:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Oct. 21st, 2009 02:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - georgmi - Oct. 21st, 2009 04:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
celestineangel
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:09 pm (UTC)
Here, have some ego stroking
I just finished reading The Mermaid's Madness, and I thought it was a great book.

I love your female characters, but I really love your portrayal of Beatrice, especially (odd, I know, considering she's not in much of the book). What really strikes me is Beatrice is the sailor, unlike her husband, and it's something she and her son share, and it's just who she is. It's not remarked on that this is "unusual" for a woman, or anything of the sort. It's just Queen Bea.

Also, I am a Talia/Snow fangirl now, though I will try not to be too insane about it. ;o)

Can't wait for Red Hood's Revenge. Any future books in this series are automatic reads for me.
jimhines
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Here, have some ego stroking
Thank you! This does help, actually. Not the ego stroking (though that's nice too), but the reminder that this is what's important. Big advances and such are great, but if I can write something that people really love and enjoy, then I'm happy.

I like Beatrice a lot too, and I went back and forth so many times about the ending of Mermaid...
Re: Here, have some ego stroking - celestineangel - Oct. 21st, 2009 02:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Here, have some ego stroking - jimhines - Oct. 21st, 2009 02:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Here, have some ego stroking - celestineangel - Oct. 21st, 2009 03:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
sartorias
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:14 pm (UTC)
You're totally not alone.

I think all we can do is count up the good things we have, and resolve to try a bit harder.
jimhines
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:38 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Sherwood. Among other things, I have an awesome group of Internet friends to help me through the bleah moments, and believe me, I'm grateful :-)
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