Comparison is a thug that robs your joy. But it’s even more than that – Comparison makes you a thug who beats down somebody – or your soul. ~ Ann Voskamp
Comparison is an act of violence against the self. ~ Iyanla Vanzant
Welcome to Ravenna’s Monday Mumblings.
It’s too easy as an author to compare yourself to others. And I’m not even talking the greats like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. I mean your contemporaries. Those authors you know online, or who write for the same house as you, and who sell so well that you wish you had even a tenth of their success. Every time you do – every single time you measure your success against theirs – you come up short.
It’s a slippery slope, and a dangerous one. When I was searching for quotes to begin this post, I chose the two above out of hundreds for one simple reason. Well, okay, two simple reasons. One, they’re short so people will actually read them. The second reason is because they sum up how I feel about comparing myself to other authors. It robs me of joy, and it’s an act of utter violence against my soul.
Let me stop right here and tell you what this post is not meant to describe. I’m not talking about those times when you read a review, something strikes a chord, good or bad, and you walk away chastised by it, but also with a kernel of knowledge about your writing that you didn’t have before. Those kernels are useful. They can be applied to future work. I’m not talking about legitimate, invited critique (and sending out a book for review does imply you are inviting critique!).
I’m talking about those times you see readers fawning all over one author but they pretty much ignore you, or you sigh as yet one more best seller is racked up by an author who already has so many best sellers, you wonder if she’s stopped counting. You ask yourself questions like…
“Why don’t I inspire those kinds of comments in my group when I post teasers?”
“Why does no one talk to me in my group, or share their day, etc., like they do in other author groups?”
“What the hell am I doing wrong that not all my books climb the best seller lists?”
You’ve done everything right. You’ve critically examined your writing, taken constructive criticism (and some not so very constructive) to heart and applied the lessons learned to future stories. You’ve ticked off the checklists. Hero is alpha but redeemable… CHECK. Heroine has a spine and can stand on her own without the hero rescuing her…CHECK. Story flows and makes sense from point A to the end…CHECK. Hero and heroine have easily identifiable goals, motivation, and conflict to keep them from getting together right away…CHECK.
You’ve worked on your blurb to make it intriguing. You’ve gone over the prose with a fine-toothed comb and tossed out filler words. You’ve fixed sentences that make no sense. You’ve eliminated most of the tell and instead added the show. Your sex scenes burn up the keyboard as you write them. Your characters have an identifiable arc. They grow and change as the story progresses. They have a sweet, tender HEA.
What’s left? What did you forget? Why the hell don’t your books evoke the same emotions as others, even though you write just as well (if not better!!) than that author?
Answer: Who the fuck knows?
No, seriously, that is the answer.
This is a fickle business. If there were clear-cut answers to all the questions above, we’d each be raking in the big bucks. Our readers would fawn all over us, and those of us still working day jobs could quit them and write full time.
The unnerving truth is that this is a very difficult industry. It’s not predictable and it usually makes no damn sense. Readers claim they don’t want the same old, same old, yet when you write something different, they don’t get it, or they want that other book you wrote all over again.
You’re told to make your heroes alpha but not assholes, yet readers are panting for that alpha ass who made the heroine crawl across a gravel parking lot in front of his friends. You just know if you wrote something like that, you’d get readers emailing you in droves, ranting at you about the portrayal of abuse in your latest book. But that author will have a book that rises to the top of the lists.
Do you see the common denominator in all this?
Go and get a mirror. I’ll wait.
See it now?
I know. I’ve been there. More than once. WAY more than once, for going on six years now.
Believe me, I do understand. I really, really do. I’ve burned through two former pen names trying to figure out that magical formula. I’ve been told what a wonderful, talented writer I am, and how much my fans love the fact that not all my books sound exactly the same. And yet I’m still working full time at a day job (and believe me, that isn’t about to change anytime soon!), and I can count the pretty silver stars I have on ARe on one hand. My books barely squeak into the top 100 on Amazon in those smaller categories, and if I blink I miss it. And BookStrand… forget it. No best seller lists for this girl unless it’s for one day, and then it’s at the bottom and no one but me notices.
So why do I keep doing it? Obviously I’m not as talented as that author over there, or those two right there, or that group of three way over there. Right? If I was, I’d have their same success, right?
The only way I learned to survive the disappointment that comes with this writing game is to STOP COMPARING MYSELF TO OTHERS. Not my circus, not my monkeys, as the saying goes.
I’m not responsible for another author’s content. I’m only responsible for my own. I’m also responsible for my own success, and that starts with keeping my focus on my own writing. I have a responsibility to polish my own skills, learn my craft, and constantly strive to write a better book the next time. That, boys and girls, is all any of us can do.
There is no magic formula. Trying to predict what readers want is like trying to see one hundred years into the future. And, it’s pointless anyway because that best seller that everyone but you is going gaga over? Yeah. Exactly. You’re like meh… didn’t do a damn thing for me.
It’s a SUBJECTIVE industry. Don’t believe me? Go and read the reviews on a site of your choosing for Fifty Shades of Gray or Twilight. All over the map, aren’t they. Exactly.
One final word. Be very, very careful of the ugly green monster. You know who I mean. It’s not your friend. Not in any form. It will devour you. It will eat you up from the inside out. It will destroy any creativity you had lurking way down deep in there, ready to spring forth and write the best damn scene ever. Trust me on this one.
Now here’s your homework. What…you thought you were getting away that easily?
Go write something. Right now. Short or long – doesn’t matter. Just write it. I’ll wait.
Okay. Now write it again, and this time don’t think about any other author or their work while you do it.
Not so simple, is it? We do this without even thinking about it, but it’s there, all the time.
You wouldn’t write if you didn’t love it. Most writers are masochists. We torture ourselves this way because we can’t imagine NOT writing. It’s like telling us to stop breathing. So that’s your task now, from this day forward.
Remember WHY you do this. Remember the love and joy you feel as you sit down at your keyboard and create. Hold onto THAT emotion and keep it going until you’re done writing for the day. Don’t let it get away. Do not allow anything else inside. Hold fast to that passion. It won’t fail you. I promise.
I’ll leave you with a quote of my own…
Passion is that one thing you would do every single day, even if you never got paid a dime to do it. ~ Ravenna Tate