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The Grass is Always Greener

This morning I was swapping emails with a writer friend, as I do on most days. Having friends who write is kind of essential, becuase they're the ones that get it.

Our converation was something like:

Me: It would be nice to get some random, epically awesome news.
Her: I know. It seems like every day a new award or list comes out, and we're not on it.
Me: I know. Sigh. And where are my foreign sales?

Some version of this conversation plays out once a week. Man, is it easy getting sucked into that mentality. It is SO easy to focus on what's not happening-- bestseller lists, movie deals, foreign sales, ALAN/YALSA lists, awards, etc. Becuase for other people? Those things ARE happening. So why can't it be you?

And yet, here's the thing: I've sold 7 of my own books. #4 and #5 come out this year. PRADA & PREJUDICE is in its 6th printing (and has earned out) and YOU WISH is in its 3rd (Edited: Just found out YW is in its 5th printing). YOU WISH is on track to sell more books in 1 year than Prada & Prejudice will in two.

The problem is being an author-- being published-- isn't a destination. You never "get there" and then feel as if you've made it. There will ALWAYS be a bigger deal, a better selling book, an author who seems to have it all.

When you're unagented, you think, "If I can just get an agent...."

And when you're agented, you think, "If I can just get a book deal..."

And then... "If it just sells a few copies, I'll be happy,"

And then... "If it just goes into a second printing...."

And then... "If I can just sell another book...."

And then.... "If the second book can just sell better...."

The hardest part of being in this career is that you can control what you write, but you can't control how well you're published. Or even if you are published. You never quite reach the carrot on the stick, becuase what you want never stays the same.

Becuase the thing is, of course you're going to care how well your book sells. Its your book. your baby. And of course you're going to freak out if your cover sucks. Or if B&N stocks it. Or if you're a one-hit wonder.

And you're always going to think someone else has it better. The downside of so much social networking-- blogging, tweeting, etc--is that you can actually SEE what other people are doing. you can view their good news in real time. And you can drive yourself absolutely insane.

2007 Mandy? She would run a marathon in Prada heels to get to where 2011 Mandy is. But publishing is so bloody slow, you have plenty of time to think about what you want next--before your first book even hits shelves.

Someone once told me "Satisfaction is a dirty word." I always thought that was stupid. If you can't enjoy what you have, what's the point? But then I got into publishing, and then I understood. I understood what it was like to feel like it was never enough. I understood why people became workaholics. I understood how hard it is to be satisified in this industry. As an agent, it makes me a better agent. I hear a bunch of nos, and all it does is strengthen my resolve to keep going until we get a yes. But as an author, it can be maddening.

I've changed some things. I bought a big glass vase, and whenever I have something to celebrate-- a new book deal, a foreign sale, etc--I pop champagne and i write on the bottom of the cork what I was celebrating, and drop it in the vase. Seeing that-- seeing that I've had things to celebrate in my career-- reminds me of my accomplishments.

Not that I'm satisfied, or anything. ;-)

So here's my question for you guys: Do you feel like you'll ever be satisfied? Do you think it's about being ambitious/driven-- or do you think its unhealthy? Do YOU think you'll ever feel as if you've "Made it?"


( 39 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 17th, 2011 03:48 pm (UTC)
I LOVE your vase celebration idea. And thank you for writing this post; it puts things into perspective. <3
Mar. 17th, 2011 03:51 pm (UTC)
This is so true, and the answer to your question is: I don't know. I don't know if I'll ever be satisfied. I definitely have some idea of what would need to happen for me to feel I've "made it" but... well, they haven't. Yet. Guess I should focus on that Yet and just keep working, right? As you say, it's the only thing we writers CAN control.
Mar. 17th, 2011 03:56 pm (UTC)
The problem too, I think, is that in this industry, it's hard to get a confirmation from someone in the know that things are good! So we are constantly wondering, are things bad?

I just got my royalties statement and one book of my books is doing so well, I couldn't believe it. And no one told me. Why don't they tell us these things? Does it give us more power if they do, so they hold back everything? I don't know, but it would be so nice to hear - we're happy with how your book is selling, good job! Instead we get nothing. So we worry and wonder and watch as others around us celebrate hitting the list or getting awards, and it starts to feel like those two things are the only true measure of success. And it's not.

And I, too, LOVE the vase idea! LOVE IT!!!
Mar. 17th, 2011 04:03 pm (UTC)
Yes!! Exactly. I now have a habit of checking the printing on ALL OF MY FRIENDS BOOKS whenever I go into a store, so that if the number is higher than what they know, I can tell them the good news. The only time I know about subsequent printings is if I email and SAY YO WHAT PRINTING AM I IN. Which could be really embarssing if its still the same one as 6 months ago.
Mar. 17th, 2011 04:02 pm (UTC)
I Love This!
Thank you for putting voice to something that can be hard to say. I am at a different point on my writing journey. My desire to write out in the open only surfaced a couple of years, and I am learning new things everyday. But already I can sense "the grass is greener thinking." What I try to do is enjoy my life as it is and what I can control.

Mar. 17th, 2011 04:02 pm (UTC)
I don't think I will ever be satisfied. If I were, I don't know that I would have the drive to keep pushing myself.

But, I do know that I can be *happier*. Everything has gone so well in the run up to the second book; there have been hitches and horrors, and disasters. But my editor is wonderful; my house is responsive, the cover is gorgeous, etc., etc., etc..

So this time around, my baseline is still screaming abject terror, but on a foundation of "This all came together really beautifully!" I'm always going to kvetch and want foreign sales, audio sales, movie options, awards, god, please just put me on somebody's top ten list, please, please!

But I *am* glad to discover that I *can* enjoy the things that go right!
Mar. 17th, 2011 04:14 pm (UTC)
This is just brilliant. Seriously.

And I'm joining the vase bandwagon. What a great idea!!!

Recently, I've been stressing about what to write next. But the reality is--this time, a year ago, I'd be happy to have this problem.
Mar. 17th, 2011 04:20 pm (UTC)
LOVE THIS. And I love the vase idea which I'm totally stealing for when I'm successful *thinking positively which is why I said when*
Shannon McKelden
Mar. 17th, 2011 04:21 pm (UTC)
So true!
This is so true, Mandy! And really, if you think about it...once you are "satisfied" (if you got to that place), what is left to do?? Always reaching for something new, something more, gives us purpose in life. It gives us something to strive for and keeps us Happy! We just need to stop thinking of it as a bad thing. :)
Mar. 17th, 2011 04:42 pm (UTC)
I like to think I'd be satisfied enough just having one book published, but I imagine that won't happen. Sure, I'll be happy but I think it's hard to be satisfied- like Shannon said above, what's left after you're satisfied?

In regards to "making it", I see a lot of really successful authors who don't feel like they've made it even though the rest of us think they have. It's a weird thing.
Mar. 17th, 2011 04:48 pm (UTC)
No. I'll never be satisfied.

Melissa Marr told me that every writer she's ever spoken with continues to move the goal posts farther away. Making it impossible to win. Ever.

I think that's how you define passion.
Mar. 17th, 2011 05:03 pm (UTC)
Wow, great post. I don't think one should ever be satisfied when it comes to career/dreams/aspirations. I think we can always evolve and be better and learn more. It's only natural to see what others have going on and *want* no matter how hard you're already working. AS long as we're appreciating what we already have as well, I think it's ok to never be satisfied.
Mar. 17th, 2011 05:28 pm (UTC)
I can't get no satisfaction. Cause I try. I try. I try. I TRY.

I think I need to stop trying.
Mar. 17th, 2011 05:38 pm (UTC)
Wow! I love that champagne cork idea. I'm going to start doing that right away - or the next time I get any good news!!
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 17th, 2011 06:29 pm (UTC)
Love the vase idea! I'm not a big champagne drinker, but I love bottled cane sugar Coke. **wonders if Sharpie writes on metal pop tops**
Mar. 17th, 2011 06:34 pm (UTC)
That vase idea is pure genius! Almost as good as your mock tagl ines. I must must must come up with something similar.

Thanks for this, Mandy. Good to know I will always be as crazy as I am now unless I make myself stop and enjoy it. And it's nice to know other people are doing the same thing.
Mar. 17th, 2011 06:58 pm (UTC)
I guess it depends on your definition of "satisfaction." To me, it seems awfully bleak to consign ourselves to never being truly happy with our accomplishments. And the idea that dissatisfaction can give us some extra go juice is valid in many cases, but I've found that I tend to work best when I'm coming from a place of abundance, instead of anxiety.

So, will I ever be satisfied? Yeah, actually. In moments, I feel pretty satisfied with how far I've come, but that doesn't mean I still don't want to keep challenging myself. Ultimately, we're in this because we love telling stories, right?
Mar. 17th, 2011 07:52 pm (UTC)
I really love this entry, and I LOVE the vase idea!
Mar. 17th, 2011 08:24 pm (UTC)
I love the idea of having a vase filled with celebration corks, one at a time. I also love your tweets about writing from a martini bar (I swear I was just thinking about that on the way to work this morning, because my gosh, for a writer with young children, that sounds heavenly). And I agree that sometimes, reading about everyone's successes on Twitter can be maddening--and every now and then, if I'm feeling down about the journey, I know better than to log onto Twitter for that reason. I might stick with checking the tweets of friends who will make me laugh on those days instead.

I still think I'd feel as if I "made it" just to sell one book. I'm probably naive that way, and that's okay. But I can only imagine the work I'd put into getting copies sold afterward.
Mar. 17th, 2011 08:33 pm (UTC)
You should so totally try martini bar writing. ;-) I have a 3 year old. Hubby stays home and i go and its really quite fun. Gets me out of the vacuum!
Heather Anastasiu
Mar. 17th, 2011 08:35 pm (UTC)
Exactly! You hit the nail on the head with this post. All of the: 'I would finally be happy and satisfied if.' I'm still in the early stages of this, my book just sold, I'm still working on edits, but I imagine it will be a whole new stack of neurosis once it comes out, a whole nother list of 'if only's. I try to stop and tell myself to enjoy this time, to enjoy the great news, to not get to some place years from now and realize how much time I wasted being unsatisfied when truly wonderful things were happening! So I love your wine-cork idea: the tangible representation of the awesome that has been achieved!!!!
Mar. 17th, 2011 08:41 pm (UTC)
About the Journey
I think you are on the right track, Mandy, because it has to be about the journey. Publishing is a great metaphor for life, isn’t it? We’ll be happy after we meet the love of our life, but once we do, we decide we’ll be happy when we get a big promotion, or have a child or buy the perfect house…and it never ends. I’m convinced the key to happiness is being content in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, while still finding joy in reaching for our goals and celebrating when we accomplish them.
I think I’m stealing your champagne cork and vase idea. =)
Mar. 17th, 2011 08:51 pm (UTC)
I want to stay naive (to keep sane) and say "I will be happy and know I made it when I get ONE EMAIL from a reader, telling me they love my book and why". That's where my focus is. Of course I'm at the top of your list: I need and agent. ;)
And yes Satisfaction is a dirty word, we are human beings, we could never get total satisfaction and the grass is ALWAYS greener on the other side.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 17th, 2011 11:37 pm (UTC)
This is such a good post. I talk about this with my writer friends a lot, just today in fact. My sister who is not a writer, has a similar issue, and we just attribute it to the Russian culture. :-) Ha. But, yes, this is so so hard. I used to think I'd be happy if I got an agent, then if I were published, then if my book got good reviews and so on. It NEVER ends. You always want more. And someone told me today that when you're on the NYT Bestseller List you're still not happy because you want to be on it longer, higher. I do believe the ambition and drive pushes you forward and that part is good. You're always striving to be better. I think that's why a lot of us get published--because we don't give up. But like you said, only the writing is in our control, nothing else. And in that respect, it CAN be unhealthy and depressing. Like that carrot on a line you'll never quite reach. I have an idea in my head of what it will take for me to be happy. Will I actually FEEL happy when/if that happens? I don't know. I told someone today I'd like to see what it's like to just be content in what you do. I know people like that. They're NOT writers. The funny thing is, if I wasn't a writer, I wouldn't be happy. So we're back to the "I'd only be happy if..." scenario. And the best we can do is keep striving and let ourselves be ok with WISHING it to be us and waiting for the day when our own scenario plays out. Thank you for this.
Mar. 18th, 2011 12:02 am (UTC)
my gosh, the book business sounds hard, i guess in every career theres this fear of not being good enough
Mar. 18th, 2011 12:29 am (UTC)
I'm satisfied--sometimes. It depends on what moment you ask me. :-)

I think a certain level of dissatisfaction is necessary to keep us ambitious, to keep us growing and moving. But from time to time, it's also important to stop and enjoy where we are. I never have a moment where I think, "Now I've made it!" but I sometimes think, "Well, at least I managed to do that much."
Mar. 18th, 2011 05:08 am (UTC)
I'm sure you of all people know how well YOU WISH is doing, but I thought I'd just add something that I think is pretty awesome.

When YOU WISH came out, the B&N I work at stocked 3 copies. Usually, I'd say about 85% of new books which we have several copies of, have all but 1 (and sometimes all, eep!)returned to the publisher a month after release.

YOU WISH has consistently had several copies in stock. We're up to 6 now. I don't know what that looks like in other book stores, but in my store (which is low volume, and in a very money conservative community) six copies sitting on the shelf is phenomenal- especially with how limited our shelf space is, and how picky the industry has become.

So kudos to you! :)
Mar. 18th, 2011 04:03 pm (UTC)
Wow, that is SO AWESOME! I am so glad you shared that with me. :-) For whatever reason the chains around here have always been really light on YOU WISH. Thank you!!
Mar. 18th, 2011 07:57 am (UTC)
I may not have fully understood this before I got my first book contract -- now I'm with you completely. I'll always feel like I'm still on the journey, and never seeing a finish line.

Not that I don't want to get that agent and book deal!
Mar. 18th, 2011 08:47 pm (UTC)
It is a constant inner tug-o-war, but I try to always remain thankful and sometimes I feel satisfied. I wrote a post this week on a similar topic - the way i felt before and after publication, and one thing I've noticed is about the 6 month post-pub point I really started to calm down a lot and have some added perspective.

I consider myself a master-celebrator, one of the best, yet I've never come up with something quite so brilliant as your vase/cork idea.
Mar. 18th, 2011 09:39 pm (UTC)
I'm an unpublished writer. In fact, I'm so new that I'm just finishing my first ever round of revisions, but I couldn't be happier! I haven't "made it" by any stretch of the imagination, but I never thought I'd be where I am now. I'm enjoying the journey.

It's so easy to get caught up in the future. Don't think I don't do that. A lot! Being driven is not a bad thing (unless it's hurting other people imo), but there's something to be said for being content with where you're at. Enjoy the moment.
Mar. 19th, 2011 05:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this!
A friend sent this to me moments after I had the idea of beginning a list of the good things that happen with my writing, just so that I can go back and read it when I need a shot in the arm, a reminder I don't suck. I think there's something to be said for focusing on the good stuff, for celebrating accomplishments big and little along the way.
Mar. 20th, 2011 12:09 am (UTC)
This really resonated with me. Just a year ago, I was over the moon about having sold my first novel. Now I'm fretting over what sales will look like, what awards I will (or won't) win, whether I'll be able to sell another book...you know. I've been trying lately to do my own version of your glass vase: celebrate with every small goal I reach, even if it's just as simple as taking myself out to lunch. It feels good to spend even ONE DAY feeling as if I've accomplished all I set out to do.
Mar. 22nd, 2011 05:01 am (UTC)
grass is always greener
I'm a huge believer in celebrating the baby steps, because when I look back years from now, I know they'll add up to more than I imagined at the time. I think you can be grateful for what you've accomplished, yet still strive to grow and become better. Otherwise, we'd have nothing left to write about. Congrats on your book news--that's amazing! :) Kristi
Mar. 23rd, 2011 11:48 pm (UTC)
I don't know that I will ever be totally satisfied but I have moments of satisfaction and that is what keeps me going as a writer and human being. It isn't always about the brass ring, sometimes it is just about the ride!


Mar. 28th, 2011 04:53 pm (UTC)
Satisfaction v. Pride
I think if I ever get satisfied, I might get lazy. Or lazier. :) My satisfaction level changes every step of the way, I'm finding. I've spent 10 months querying agents, now that I have one, I'm working on revisions and getting ready to submit to editors. I've climbed up one step, but lo and behold, there's another step. It's an endless staircase, but celebrating each step and each success along the way is important. I take pride in my achievements--even though there are more steps to go!

I love the vase idea as well--I might have to pop a few corks and back track a bit. Great post, Mandy. Thank you.

Kris Asselin
Mar. 29th, 2011 01:41 am (UTC)
I think your point about social networking plays a huge part in this feeling of never quite reaching the top. Because everything and everyone is so visual and information spreads as fast and wide as sand in the desert, folks are constantly put in the position of assessing themselves and are pretty much forced to know where they fall along the hierarchy.

It's one of the pitfalls of "progress" and technology.
( 39 comments — Leave a comment )
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