In almost every instance of negative human behavior I’ve found two constants: fear and/or psychosis.
Truth is, most people aren’t crazy, but almost everyone is afraid of something. Fear drives envy. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of being left behind. Fear of being a failure. Fear of being a fool or a chump.
Envy is a kissing cousin to jealousy. Jealousy is very much like envy, but instead of simply wanting what someone else has there’s an element of rivalry involved. Neither is a pleasant state of being.
It’s okay to want what someone else has. It’s okay to want success. That’s desire, drive, ambition. It’s what pushes us to be better, to reach for lofty goals.
Occasionally though I see envy of another’s commercial success coming from the self-pub/indie camp. Envy of another writer’s sales, their fanbase, their reviews, or their ability. Sometimes it comes out in moments of desperation, after promoting the hell out of themselves and putting in countless hours of work only to see their own sales remain stagnate. These despondent creatures often tear down the successes of other writers, claiming said success is undeserved. They lament on blogs and in forums, crying foul to whomever will listen. It’s a sad thing to watch unfold, particularly in a public setting.
Creative writing is an art form. As such, we writers are artists, painting thoughts and ideas with words. We build entire worlds inside our heads and lay them out for others to experience. We create and we share.
In my opinion artists don’t compete with each other; we only compete with ourselves. If someone is better then we simply work harder. We push ourselves up; we don’t push others down. We support each other. We mentor and we take direction. We bring others up with us. When we do this we can raise the collective ability of all writers. We can make self-published books better. And there’s no such thing as too many good books.
It’s easy to allow envy to sabotage this. I could allow this, should I choose to do so (and it is a choice). A review of my peers shows D.J. Molles has sold over 10,000 copies of his novel, The Remaining. I haven’t sold that many copies, despite sharing much of the same audience.
Do I want their success? Of course I do. But do I get it by trivializing their accomplishments? Do I get it by criticizing their work? Does success come from monitoring their sales rankings and constantly comparing it to my own, lamenting my ranking of a given hour of the day? Does this sort of envy actually get me anywhere?
Of course not.
Envy alone will not bring success; it brings only continued failure.
My father taught me a valuable lesson when I was in second grade. I had the lead role of Santa Claus in the school Christmas play. I practiced my ass off, learning every one of my lines. Then the chicken pox came along and I had to bow out. Despondent, I lamented my situation, allowing it to sour my mood entirely. My dad reminded me that there was always someone else who had it worse, citing the handicapped boy who lived down the street. He would always be crippled, but my chicken pox would go away.
I never forgot that lesson in perspective.
So I look at the flipside of the coin. There are others less successful than I’ve been. What about those writers who put in just as much work as I have, but don’t sell more than a copy or two a day? While I’m receiving consistant $900 paychecks, they’re seeing $50 if they’re lucky. A recent survey in which I and 1,006 other self-pubbed writers participated found that less than half of us will earn $500 a year. I’ve earned 17 times that already. Their desire is no less intense than mine, their labor no less sincere, yet they can’t seem to move the 400+ copies I sell of my single novel each month.
Are they envious of me? I hope not.
The truth is that success is a combination of talent, hard work, and luck. If you don’t put in the work, you’re probably not going to make it. It’s like the lotto; you gotta be in it to win it. But you also have to have the right timing. And, let’s face it, you need to have a reasonable amount of talent. Just because sparkly vampires might be a hot commodity and you just so happen to have a sparkly vampire book for sale doesn’t guarantee success, particularly if the book is poorly written.
And let’s also not forget that success is subjective. What is success? Simply getting a book written? Publishing it on Amazon? Selling 50 copies to friends? Just because you don’t have a million readers doesn’t mean you’re not successful.
So if you find yourself comparing your sales rank to another writer, stop. If you find yourself wanting to complain to the general public about how life isn’t fair to you, stop. If you’re upset Ridley Scott didn’t buy the movie rights to your book, stop.
Put more words on the page. Rework an outline. Go back one more time and edit that chapter that just isn’t right. Write an article for your blog about something you’ve learned. Read another writer’s blog to learn how they achieved success. Do a little more research on a topic you’re writing about, just so the prose rings true. Reach out to another writer and congratulate them on their successes.
Turn your negative energy into positive and work to build yourself up. Ultimately you’ll benefit, your readers will benefit, and other writers will benefit.
Or continue wallowing in self-pity and watch everyone else around you succeed. Remember, the choice is yours, so choose wisely.