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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.


( 137 comments — Leave a comment )
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Oct. 21st, 2009 01:37 pm (UTC)
you'll just have to console yourself with your awesomeness (; thanks for sharing
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
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.


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.
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!
Oct. 21st, 2009 01:42 pm (UTC)
Total miniature envy. Just saying. *g*

I comfort myself that it's not a zero sum market....
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
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.
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 :-)
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.
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
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.
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?"
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
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - cissa - Oct. 22nd, 2009 09:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
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. ;)
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.
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...
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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 :-)
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:15 pm (UTC)
Oh, m'dear, it hits us all (when I read of the advance you spoke of, I turned to otterdance and said "please kick me in the head now.")

In fact, otterdance and I go through regular bouts of reminding each other of the things we have that are wonderful and fabulous in our own careers, because we know firsthand how deeply the envy bug can bite, and how dangerous that can be to our psyche and our work. It is not, as everyone has said, a zero-sum game, and you can envy someone* and be joyful for their success all in the same breath.

[deep dark non-secret: I madly envy you all your fan letters and Interent-squee. My readers are the quieter sort, apparently.]

*envy being the "ooo, so cool, I want too!" versus the jealousy of "why do they have that? I want that!"
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:50 pm (UTC)
It is so helpful to hear it's not just me--thank you. The reality-check is a wonderful and valuable thing, isn't it? Maybe I just need to get my own otterdance...

I actually double-checked the definitions of envy/jealousy to make sure I was using the right one in this post :-)
(no subject) - mt_yvr - Oct. 21st, 2009 04:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:16 pm (UTC)
I hear you! One of my best pals and writer's group mates just got a 3 book deal from St. Martin's for her YA werewolf books. I am beyond pleased for her. And also a little, tiny bit envious. I've been working hard at getting my fiction pubbed for the last couple of years,and while I think I'm close, I'm not there yet. On the other hand, I have had five nonfiction books pubbed (or soon to be pubbed) and there are people who think that's pretty good, too :-) I try hard to be joyous and supportive of my writer friends' successes (like yours, by golly!!!!), and be happy for what I've achieved. Some of us are just further along the path than others. At least we have good company along the way.
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:55 pm (UTC)
I think five books is pretty darn good, regardless of fiction vs. nonfiction or whatever. But yeah ... especially those folks landing the big juicy YA deals ;-)
(no subject) - deborahblakehps - Oct. 21st, 2009 05:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:40 pm (UTC)
Hey, you're coming to Iowa! ICon is right down the road from me, I think--Coralville?
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:51 pm (UTC)
Cedar Rapids Marriott. Are you going to be there at all?
(no subject) - sarah_prineas - Oct. 21st, 2009 03:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - michaeldthomas - Oct. 21st, 2009 02:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Oct. 21st, 2009 03:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - michaeldthomas - Oct. 21st, 2009 03:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rarelylynne - Oct. 21st, 2009 04:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:40 pm (UTC)
I've got a friend who's working on the new Star Wars MMORPG.

Writer envy? Oh yes. I know this thing of which you speak.
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:58 pm (UTC)
Yep. I've got a friend doing a Star Wars novel. Even though I know I don't have the time to do one myself, I'm still feeling it :-)
(no subject) - bodlon - Oct. 21st, 2009 03:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:42 pm (UTC)
Heh. When I was writing my first story, I used to envy the writers published in the local 4-the-Luv rag... Now I envy people with face-out displays at B&N. I assume that if I ever write a NYT bestseller, I'll envy people whose movie deals are better than mine (I'll still be happy for them, mind, but I'll envy them). Now we know what you'll be blogging about in a couple of years - because you certainly seem to be on the way up!
Oct. 21st, 2009 03:00 pm (UTC)
"So-and-so got Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman to star in their blockbuster movie. Why don't *I* get McGregor and Jackman???"

(If I ever do get to this point, please hit me!)
(no subject) - shsilver - Oct. 21st, 2009 04:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:46 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you shared this, because I think pretty much every human being on the planet can relate to it. I know I can.
Oct. 21st, 2009 03:03 pm (UTC)
Thanks. One of the things that helps a lot with all of this stuff is to know it's not just me. Writing can be very isolating, and one of the best parts of networking with other writers is the reminder that we're not alone in the craziness :-)
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:59 pm (UTC)
Anne Lammott has a great chapter about writer envy in Bird by Bird. Essentially she says what you say--there will always be someone doing better, but it's best to admit the envy and then work through it with humor.

And just because.... *hugs to you*
Oct. 21st, 2009 06:56 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Humor helps on a lot of this stuff, I've found :-)
Oct. 21st, 2009 03:18 pm (UTC)
Yep, I think many of us go through this. Which is comforting to know, as it beats being neurotic alone. :-)

And sometimes I can be genuinely happy for someone else ... and other times I can be at least sanguine and philosophical ... and then there are those times I need to stamp about the house muttering about the unjustness of the universe and questioning this entire writing endeavor for a while before I'm fit to be seen out in public again ...

Edited at 2009-10-21 03:21 pm (UTC)
Oct. 21st, 2009 06:57 pm (UTC)
I think that's another key. I believe it's okay to have those tantrum moments from time to time, but do it in the privacy of your own home :-)
(no subject) - janni - Oct. 21st, 2009 07:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 21st, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
Envy is normal; I would have checked for a pulse if you weren't envious at some time or another. That you're able to speak freely of it -without the rancor that often follows jealousy- speaks very highly of you.

But the zero-sum game, now that annoys me.

In addition to the limited shelf space games that are played at bookstores, there's also the fun twist of switching genres. I don't mean when an author writes in a different genre, but rather when an author is moved -lock, stock and barrel- from one bookshelf at the bookstore to another. Earlier this fall, that happened at the chain bookstore closest to me when I walked in and discovered Charlaine Harris had taken over the SF/F section. The bookstore didn't do anything about adjusting the shelf space in Mystery or SF/F at all, the managers simply moved the books into place. SF/F lost a big chunk of space, and Mystery gained said chunk.

I also get annoyed with the "let's pretend the book doesn't exist" game. There's one book that I've been watching for and I know just got released: I've even seen the book at another bookstore. At this chain store, however, you'd think that it's vaporware.

At this time of the year with stores ramping up for the Christmas shopping season, you'd think that getting in a wide variety of books in stock would be a priority, but nooooo....
Oct. 21st, 2009 07:01 pm (UTC)
The chain buying process frightens me. It's so easy for a single buyer to make a decision that makes or breaks a book. When Tobias Buckell and I were doing bookstore visits in Chicago, all of the B&N stores had copies of his book to sign, and all of the Borders stores had goblin books for me, but I was out of luck at B&N, and he had nothing to sign at Borders.

I've been incredibly fortunate to be getting a bit more attention from the chains lately, which is nice. But it's still scary.
(no subject) - mtlawson - Oct. 21st, 2009 07:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 21st, 2009 03:25 pm (UTC)
Ah, so the great Jim Hines is human :-)

I know the feeling. Two other fathers in my daughter's kindergarten are writers; one is a bestselling author, the other has seven novels out. I've sold a few short stories... But they're both very nice.

I once heard the bestselling author say about the other: "But he's written 7 books! He's a real writer!" So I guess making the big buck isn't the only thing you can be jealous about -- or admire, as it were.
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