Checking the Competition

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I’m on my way back from the Coastal Magic Convention (CMC), where a terrific time was had by all. Kudos to Jennifer Morris, who always manages to efficiently organize so many fun events and informative panels. Plus the Day of the Dead party was awesome!

CMC is a small convention of ~300 people. The size allows for readers and book bloggers to mingle extensively with authors. With five to six authors per panel, there can be a bit of jockeying for who gets to talk next. Mostly people are gracious and generous with each other, though occasionally there can be that author who’s oblivious or tone deaf, and attempts to monopolize the audience’s attention.

(There are also fab people like Megan Hart, in the photo above, cringing as I read aloud one of her sex scenes - fair pay back as she'd just read one of mine.)

I firmly believe that a high tide floats all boats. More books out there means more for readers to find and love. Anytime someone chooses to read instead of any of the number of competing entertainments out there, I’m happy.

But I also understand not everyone feels this way. It’s a competitive business and it’s easy to see another author’s book sales, her awards or fans, as things we could have had that went to someone else.

And, hell, I’d be lying if I said I never feel envy or competitiveness. I’m human and a far from perfect one at that. (ARE there perfect human beings? I’m thinking no.) Still, I try to be aware that those feelings are negative emotions that stem from my own issues and insecurities.

Also, I know that writers in particular tend to have both very large and quite fragile egos. Like giant soap bubbles with lovely prismatic shimmers that dance across the surface as they expand, and grow, and—suddenly burst, leaving nothing but empty air behind.

Because, like those soap bubbles, our competitiveness and egotism are based on a lot of air and very little else.

The other day I saw a writer post to Facebook that she’s surprised when she goes to events and people don’t know who she is. I once introduced myself to a writer who was seated at my luncheon table and, when she didn’t give me her name in turn—she wasn’t wearing a nametag—and I asked what she wrote, she became very offended that I hadn’t known who she was. Once she said her name, I recognized her as a well-known writer, but I’d had no idea what she looked like.

Both of those reactions surprise me.

They remind me of something that happened quite a few years ago now, when Neil Gaiman accompanied Amanda Palmer to the Grammy Awards. If you don’t know, he’s a well-known writer and she’s a rock star. All things considered, he’s far better known in the world of readers and writers than she is in the music industry. Certainly he’s far wealthier. (I know this for sure because she said so in her brilliant book, THE ART OF ASKING.) The Grammys are far more her waters than his, however, and at the time they weren’t yet married. A photo was posted of them by a reporter captioned “Amanda Palmer and date.” They fixed it when a bunch of people sent up a flag, but it was a funny thing. Writers, by the nature of the business, are usually not all that recognizable and are rarely treated like rock stars.

At any rate, when I find myself feeling the spur of that particular demon, the “why didn’t they know who I am?” moment, or when another writer snubs me or pulls a superior/competitive attitude, I try to remind myself of a few things.

  • The only cure for jealousy is putting my head in my own work. Putting my energy into the writing is a surefire distraction.
  • No matter how it seems, we are not in competition with each other. This isn’t Highlander where there can be only one. There can be lots. And it’s more fun for all when there are.
  • We’re all driven by various demons and we usually don’t know what someone else’s are. When someone treats me badly, I try to imagine what makes them unhappy—and to have compassion for them.

What about you all? Any tricks for battling envy or for dealing with competitive attitudes from other authors?

Dancing Away that Author Envy

by Jeffe Kennedy

On one of my author loops recently, a number of people were gnashing teeth over their lack of success in the publishing world. From the publisher declining to publish the rest of the books in their series, to poor sales, to perceived favoritism for “special” authors – they felt they’d gotten a raw deal.

Okay, first of all, I haven't met a published author who doesn't feel this way--privately.

Everybody has gotten a raw deal from a publisher at some point. Editors that left them orphaned. Two-book contracts that let the publisher decline Book 3, thus leaving the intended trilogy hanging. Inexplicable decisions not to market, to reduce print runs, to pimp other authors.

And like all things in life, there is always always always someone who seems to be getting a MUCH better deal than you are.

Usually someone who doesn’t deserve it nearly as much as you do, right?

Right.

So it goes.

The thing is, you gotta watch the perception of others. This goes for pre-published or self-publishing authors, too. How readers – and this includes other authors – see you, your books and your career is profoundly important. If an author says, “you should buy my book because my sales have been terrible and I really need the money,” he or she might get a few sympathy sales, but most people are going to think “what’s wrong with the book that no one is buying it?”

Hell, *I* think that, knowing full well that many seriously wonderful books go unnoticed for no good reason. It’s human nature. People want to like what other people like.

Back when I was in college, I was a member of a sorority. Stop your knee-jerking there – my sorority was an amazing group of women, many of whom are still friends. We sponsored and attended parties and dances regularly. We probably had 4-5 dances each academic year and one of our missions was to make sure that every one of our sisters had a date to the dance. No dancer left behind, or some such. We made sure everyone would be included.

(And sure, some of these gals were lesbians, but for the dances everyone liked to have a boy partner. Also, this was the 80s, so really no one was out of the closet. At least, not enough for formal events.)

Now, this should come as no surprise to anyone, but most guys like to date the gals that the other guys think are hot. We’ve seen this phenomenon over and over. It probably works the other direction, too, but I really saw this in action finding my sisters (and myself!) dates for the dances. Some of the women just didn’t date much. Mainly because they just never had. In my eyes, they were perfectly attractive, obviously intelligent because it was a smart school, and without socially-damming habits. But, when I’d ask a male friend to be Neglected Nancy’s date, his first question inevitably was, “What’s wrong with her?”

Because the very fact that she had no date meant that something had to be wrong.

Nearly as inevitable would be the follow-up question, “How about Hot Susie? I’ll go with her!”

And, of course, Hot Susie would have a date. She *always* had a date, which was part of what made her Hot Susie. Was this fair? No. Was it even based on anything real? Maybe. Hot Susie likely fit the beauty standard better. She might have been more practiced at flirting. But most of all, she was HOT SUSIE.

There were certain guys, ones we usually referred to as a “great guy,” who would escort Neglected Nancy to the dance and have fun doing it. After that, the other guys would be more willing to be her date. It just took a little time for the “what’s wrong with her?” stigma to fall away.

All of this is a roundabout way of reflecting on the nature of popularity.

Why are some seemingly lousy books bestsellers when other really fine ones barely see the light of day?

*shrugs*

If we knew this, everyone would write a bestseller. (Which, by the way, is why I distrust the books and classes on how to write a bestseller – if the author/teacher knows, why aren’t they doing it?)

It’s also true that some books and authors take time to build an audience. Twenty-five years later, many of our Neglected Nancy’s are doing much better than the Hot Susie’s, for a variety of reasons. This is why we should be wary of envying someone else’s seeming good fortune – we never know what trials they face that we don’t see.

Finally, to extend the analogy, find and take care of those “great guys.” The readers who love your books and tell other people about them.

Have fun.

Dance all night.

Hard to gnash your teeth while dancing up a storm.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author with a writing career that spans decades. Her works include non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial

Award. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including Redbook.

Her most recent works include a number of fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns;  the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, including the newest, Five Golden Rings, which came out as part of the erotic holiday anthology, Season of Seduction, in late November; and a  contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera, which released beginning January 2, 2014. A fourth series, the fantasy trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms, will hit the shelves starting in May 2014. A spin-off story from this series, Negotiation, appears in the recently-released Thunder on the Battlefield anthology.

She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, a border collie, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

Jeffe can be found online at her website: JeffeKennedy.com, every Sunday at the popular Word Whores blog, on Facebook, and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Foreword Literary.