Monday, January 23, 2012

Anything to Get a Head

This is author Megan Bostic, celebrating the release of her
wonderful novel, "Never Eighteen" with a few "friends" who
couldn't make the trip to Tacoma.

Last week marked the two year anniversary of the (self) publication of my book, Alchemy, which to date has sold about 10,000 copies (mostly on Kindle.) And while that number seems surreal to me, I know it’s nothing to get excited about, as my two year total amounts to a (bad) day at the office for someone like Stephen King, Suzanne Collins, or even Jeff Kinney.  The good thing is, this does not bother me. I’m not naïve, or delusional, enough to measure my worth by how my sales compare with bestselling authors. I know we are on MUCH different levels.

But there are many authors out there who are closer to my level* - and thanks to facebook, I’ve had the opportunity to connect with some of them- and it’s their success that bothers me! Which really bothers me, since as their friend, I should be genuinely happy for their success.  I should be enthusiastically applauding their achievements. I should be congratulating them for their contracts and awards and reviews. And I do. I really do. But not with my whole heart.

You see, while I appear to be a staunch supporter of my author friends, be it buying their books, talking them up on facebook, or attending their signings, there’s something sinister going on just below the surface. Don’t get me wrong. Inside, I really do feel genuine excitement for them. There’s a real appreciation for their accomplishments and a sincere fondness for them as people. Not to mention, I like feeling like a cool kid when I tell people that I know them. But at the same time, I can’t deny that I’m jealous as hell!

So while I’m quick to offer comfort from caustic critics, there’s a petty part of me that’s silently rejoicing over their scathing reviews. And each time I empathize with their difficulties in finding an audience for their book, the sadistic side of me is enjoying watching their sales’ ranks plummet. Oh, and speaking of audiences, when I go to their readings and signings, my snarky side is secretly smiling at all the empty seats surrounding me. And if they happen to be full, I’m scrutinizing the faces for family relations.  Perhaps worst of all is the douche bag in me that subtly high-fives the little devil on my shoulder at the reports of their latest rejections. Like somehow their failures will make mine seem better. But they do. They so do!

And even though I've just admitted to having more sides than an octagon, I still can’t bring myself to stop. I know it’s wrong. I know it’s selfish. And petty. And pathethic. But I do it anyway. All while calling myself friend.  But what sort of “friend” does that?

Before answering my own question, let me take some solace in the knowledge that this unsavory side of me only appears in my writing world. I don’t begrudge a fellow teacher’s success or revel in their failings. I don’t enjoy seeing my friends falter (unless it’s on a mountain bike), and I don’t covet their accomplishments…or hot wives. At least not to the extent that I do with my writer friends.

I guess there’s a difference between “friendly competition” and competition among friends. And the way the publishing world is set up, it practically pits us against each other.  Writer “friends” can spend months workshopping each other’s stories, offering constructive criticism and providing praise and encouragement. But should one of them be lucky, or talented, enough, to sign with an agent, some of that support starts to shrivel once it’s recognized that their success means one less chance for everyone else. We all know there’s only so many publishing contracts to go around, and each one that’s signed means one less for the rest of us. No matter who signs it.   Sure, I’d prefer it be a friend than a foe, but I’d much rather it be me!

Writers tend to be a brave, but bitter, bunch. And unsigned writers are even worse. When they’re not wasting time wishing for what someone else has, they’re looking for proof for why they don’t deserve it. Trust me, I know.  When it comes to professional jealousy, I’m an expert. First Team, All Pro. But as an author, and friend, it’s clear I’m still an amateur.

* By "level" I don't mean talent, drive, or abilty; areas in which ALL my author friends greatly surpass me. I just mean they are a little closer to my level of sales than, say, a Nicholas Sparks. 


  1. Tell me some thing we don't all feel and struggle with on a daily basis. What I know -- in my heart of hearts -- is exactly what you say: begruding my friends won't make me any better, and their success doesn't make me and mine any less. I know (I just know) that feeling happy for my friends' successes ultimately FEELS so much better to me. So I just keep struggling to stay there, to feel genuine happiness, "struggling" being the operative word. But when I do it well, when I accomplish it, it feels so very good.

  2. I feel a need to comment, but have no idea what to say.

    Go ahead. Rejoice in my writers block.

  3. Fuck you and your 10,000 book sales. Asshole.

    I mean . . .

    Congratulations, man!

    (but seriously. fuck you.)

  4. Well said, Gae

    Funny stuff, Books and Pals (assuming Al?)

    As for you, Fielder, if it makes you feel any better, "about 10,000" really means closer to 8,000 (which REALLY means 7,900)

  5. Yes, but does 7,900 mean more like 5? And does 5 mean free? Andby free, do you mean "expect critiques"? Because, you know, then you're equal to me.

    My ginormous head is now the most famous part of me. Wunderbar.

    (seriously, Megan, thanks for including me. Best part of January!)