Monday, September 14, 2009

Professional Jealousy--How to Deal with It and Make It Work for You

I have been trying to write a post on Professional Jealousy for some time. I started the draft months ago, but have been too busy to finish. No one should be jealous of my organization skills! LOL But here goes:

What is Professional Jealousy?

Professional jealousy is really envy--something wonderful happens to someone else and you wish it had happened to you. If you want to be Biblical, you are coveting your neighbor's success. You want what they have.

The first thing you have to realize is that it's ok to envy someone. I envy one of my friends who travels the world every year. I'd love to do that! But circumstances at this point don't allow it. I envy another friend who always seems to have the coolest gadgets. I want them! But I have other expenses I have to take care of first.

And when I was unpublished, I hung out on online loops where every week someone else had won a contest or gotten a request for a full or signed with an agent or pubbed a book, while nothing, nothing, nothing happened to me. Sometimes it got to be where I couldn't sign onto the loop without feeling a great wash of despair.

But don't feel bad. Envy is natural. When we want something (and want it bad!), it seems unfair that it happens to someone else.

Then I looked at it this way:

1. Do I want what they have? YES!
2. Am I willing to work very hard to have the same succes? YES!
3. Do I want to take someone else's success away from them? NO.

No, I don't want to take the shiny trophy away from the person who is weeping with happiness, surrounded by her family and friends cheering for her because she won it. She worked hard, she likely had many, many problems along the way (personal and professional), and she probably deserves the damn trophy.

After I'd been writing a while I realized that no one's life is perfect, not even an author's (and these days I'm thinking, especially not an author's! LOL).

No one achieves without a lot of sweat, heartache, pain, and sacrifice. Very, very few people are handed things on a platter. (It might seem like some people are, but it's extremely rare, and it may be that you just can't see the pain behind the success.)

The most important question up there is:

Am I willing to put in the time, energy, and labor to get what that person I envy has?

If your answer is No, then the rest of this post probably won't help you. You are expecting things to be handed to you, and I'm sorry, they won't be. Nothing is free.

If it's Yes, then let me see if I can help you harness your envy and make it work for you.

How to Harness the Ugly Emotion and Make it Work for You

One thing I've learned about very successful authors: They work very, very hard. They want success so much that they are willing to give up time with family, vacations, sleep, watching TV, and other things to achieve their goals. These people are willing to put in the hours, the labor, the pain and depression to become stars of the literary world--well, let's face it, to be published at all!

One way to curtail your jealousy is to realize that no one--no one at all--achieves anything without a price.

I've seen authors leap to the top with their first book (doing way better than me), only to be gone within a few years.

I've seen authors' careers lag for years before they finally hit the right note and shoot to the top, baby! (I mean, one year these authors are completely ignored at the conferences; the next, they can't walk without a crowd on their heels.)

--Aside: I can think of at least five authors off the top of my head whose first series were very modest successes, if that. Then they did a name change/genre change and zoomed upward. I figure that's because they're now more market savvy, have more experience writing books, and just wrote the right thing at the right time.

I've seen authors start at the bottom and progress slowly and steadily to the top. I can think of names in that area too.

Another way to look at it

Everyone has a different path to success. Some luck out with the best agents right away and land delicious contracts while the rest of us are still struggling. Some people write for years before they strike paydirt with a good contract. Some get published then languish low on the midlist for a decade before they have a hit.

You know what? Each of these authors might in the end make the same amount of money and have the same number of sales. And yet, they each reached that level in a different way.

So if you think--everyone's getting published but me!! That might be true!

Today. Maybe even next week. Some day, it will be you getting published/winning that award/landing that dream agent.

It really will happen.

The fact that other people succeed BEFORE you do, DOES NOT MEAN THAT YOU WILL FAIL.

How to Use Jealousy to Your Advantage

Also known as Market Research!

There's always going to be someone out there you envy. Someone got published. Someone won that award. Someone got an agent.

Do you want to get published?

Do you want to win the award?

Do you want the agent?

Here's what you do. Read that person's book. Don't bother trying to read them before they're sold (e.g., asking friend to read her GH finaling book)--you want an example of what SOLD. Because A BOOK WINNING A CONTEST DOES NOT MEAN THAT THE BOOK IS MARKETABLE.

Sad but true.


Say woo hoo.

(I tanked in as many contests as I won before I was published--imagine my confusion.)

Anyway: Read the book. Analyze the book. What do you think caught the readers' attention? What is the writing style? Simple and plain? Lyrical and witty? Did it have innovated ideas, a twist on the tried and true? Or did it feed a market greedy for more of the same?

What happens if you don't like the book? If you're thinking "This is the most putrid trash I've ever read. How did this get published??!!"

Do the following:

Go into a back room in your house alone.

Scream. Pout. Kick the walls (not too hard; you'll just have to fix them)
Shout: "It's not fair! I hate her!"
Have a sullen temper tantrum.

Then suck it up.

Put your emotions aside and read the dang book. What do you think caught the readers' attention? What is the writing style like? (You know the drill).

Do You Mean I Have to Write This Person's Book?


Of course not. You have to write your book. I'm just trying to get you to diffuse your envy and turn it into a learning experience.

What if I Just Don't Get It and Hate the Book and Never Want To Write Anything Like That?

Then that writing style/theme/market/audience is not for you. That's fine. There are SO many opportunities and markets and styles and subgenres that you'll find your niche if you are willing to try.

Therefor, you can stop being envious of that writer! You don't want to succeed in that area anyway.

Read other books of successful authors. Find the ones you fall in love with. It's likely that those styles and subgenres are ones you connect with, and probably what you should be writing. (I say probably, because some people have a heck of a time writing what they love to read. Oh well! We all find our talent one way or another.)

One Other Thing I Should Mention about Negative Wishes, or Hoping Mega-Bestselling Author will Fall into A Well and Clear the Field for You

It doesn't happen that way.

Actually, you want mega-bestelling author to succeed.

Why? Because booksellers like sure things.

If certain types of books sell very, very well (e.g., romances; time travels; Manga; whatever) it's much more likely that your book in the same niche will be published and sell well too. Publishers and booksellers like a sure thing. I can't stress this enough. (Yes, they take chances on new things too. But warily. Sometimes new things take them by surprise. If it's your new thing, yay you!)

If you write romance, you want every romance author out there to do well. So that the romance genre will still be there when you want to publish in it!

(To make things complicated, though, never write so closely to a trend or popular subgenre that the shelf life of your career is about two minutes. That's another post!)

Other Ways to Deal

If you just can't stand that you seem to get no breaks and everyone on the Internet is talking about THIS aspiring author that they say is the Next Big Thing, and no one, but no one is paying any attention to you, and you have heartburn and can't think about anything else, let alone write your book:


Turn off the Internet.

Just. Don't. Look.

If you can't handle it, I implore you, let it go and don't participate. Obsession only loses you valuable writing time. Take all that emotion and put it into your stories!!

The Spotlight Shifts

The publishing business is fluid. One day everyone says a certain author is the Next Big Thing. The next, no one can remember her name. I've forgotten the names of many authors I swore, when I was unpubbed, would be The Next Big Thing. Everyone on the aspiring author loops were sure of it. They were the darlings of the group. Everyone ignored me, or responded to my questions with condescending dismissal.

Guess what happened?

Yep. Here I am a multipubbed author making a nice living, while most those people gave up.

Sometimes the spotlight is on me. When I won a Rita. When I hit USA Today for the first time. When I was headlining the Immortals series. When Madness of Lord Ian came out.

Right now, no one can be paid to care. I'm not doing anything interesting right now. (To the world. To me, I'm busier than I've ever been!)

Some of my books get hoopla. Some of my books get ignored.

It is the way of publishing.

I'm saying this so aspiring authors realize that the spotlight shifts. When it's shining brightly on you, be gracious, lap it up, do your best to thank people who are shining it on you.

When it's not on you, breathe a sigh and get back to work!


Evangeline Holland said...

Very, very timely post. Professional jealousy can suck as much energy from you as writing can--and it's counterproductive! When the flames of envy lap at my breast, I have to unplug and take a deep breath. And I agree with the reading the book thing--sometimes you can turn a simple thing as a book into a boogeyman when you're feeling insecure. XD

Colleen Thompson said...

This is just an excellent post. Thanks so much for sharing on a topic that hits everyone at some time or another!

Virginia Kantra said...

I've always been very fond of Anne Lamott's essay on this subject:
"Jealousy is such a direct attack on whatever measure of confidence you've been able to muster. But if you continue to write, you are probably going to have to deal with it, because some wonderful, dazzling successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry, undeserving writers you know--peope who are, in other words, not you."

But your thoughful suggestions on how to tame that green-eyed monster are even more helpful. Great blog!

Jennifer Ashley/ Allyson James / Ashley Gardner said...

"the most awful, angry, undeserving writers you know--people who are, in other words, not you"

Oh, I like that! LOL

Evangaline & Virginia: I so agree that jealousy comes from insecurity. When we're needy ourselves, it's hard to be un-resentful of the good fortune of others.

I like the quote from Anne--thanks for sharing!

Barbara J. Hancock said...

I'm extremely new to the world of actually holding a book in my hand with my name on it. I've never wished that someone else would fail, but I have been guilty of "Me too! Me too!" or "Why the heck not me?!" LOL It's always helpful to learn from others with more experience. I truly appreciate the tune-it-out-and- get-to-work advice!

Bonnie Vanak said...

Wow, great post, from a real professional.

I have a confession... I've suffered from professional jealousy from time and time. But I've rallied to admire those who have achieved success, and like you said, they work damn hard for it!

Wishing you NOTHING BUT success. You go girl!

Alexis Walker said...

Great post, Jennifer. I think hearing the story of how some great authors have become great can really undercut that jealousy and instead be very inspirational. The fact is this industry is soooo subjective that comparing ourselves to others is like comparing apples to race cars. :-)

Amanda McIntyre said...

A topic that is timeless, thank you for sharing this perspective.

I've wondered where so many authors-published ones-good authors--have disappeared to and its made me realize that who is big one minute, may not be six months down the road.

Sometimes it comes down to believing in yourself, your writing, your passion--being content in all things. And when you hit that fifteen minutes of fame, knowing how to be gracious about it. To me that's the true measure of a successful author--as you have so eloquently shown here.