The Writing Life: How Do You Handle Success?

Pressure: even I feel it.

I say that as an author who has yet to really make a splash. I’ve released seven books and none of them have made much money. Transgression has done a little better than the previous six, but it’s nothing like what other authors have accomplished. AJ, for instance, has trounced me in sales (he gave me permission to mention him in this post), and he’s set to do it again when Queers is released.

There are two issues I’m dealing with when it comes to success: how am I doing personally, and how am I doing compared to AJ?

Yes, I compare myself to him. Not often, because that way lies madness, but we’re both writers in the same genre, so there’s obvious competition we rarely acknowledge. But when he gets his royalty checks and I get mine, I’m quiet for a while, wondering how he’s made such a big name for himself so quickly and I haven’t. I consider whether or not I want to continue writing, because compared to him, I am not successful, and it hurts.

I know all the stuff people say to you when you admit something like this, so save it. I’m baring my soul here, and if you know me at all, you realize this is a rare thing. Like AJ, I’m a private person. We make every attempt to keep our real lives separate from our writing and social media.

Is this income disparity a problem between us? Yes. Not constantly, not even half the time, but on occasion there is tension, and for me, there is stress. No relationship is perfect, and we have to deal with things most other couples don’t. 

So there’s that, and entwined with it is my naturally competitive nature. Leaving AJ out of the equation, I’m used to winning. I like being #1, and since I started publishing, I haven’t been. Hell, I’ve never even made an Amazon list. I’m always something like #187,389 in the Kindle store.

And then there’s the pressure from readers. AJ feels this very much. “When is your next book coming out?” “I can’t wait until you release the next one!” And on and on. They don’t realize how this affects him. Not only is he competing against his previous successes, he’s expected to satisfy his readers, too. Ouch.

I’ve gotten maybe *this much* of that (not selling, remember?), but multiply it by a hundred thousand, and I start to get an inkling of why AJ is often testy lately.

So we’ve got two writers in the same small apartment, each doing the best he can but at two wildly different levels of success, and on top of that, we also have to deal with reader expectations.

The way this has affected AJ is, he doesn’t want to be online anymore. He withdraws and buries himself in work or writing.

The way is affects me is, I don’t want to write anymore. It’s a struggle to sit and pour your guts out when you know only a handful of people are interested in the result.

Demons: we haz ’em.

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About Fenraven

Fenraven happily lives in south Florida, where it is really hot most of the year. Find him on Twitter, Google +, and Facebook by searching on 'fenraven'.
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39 Responses to The Writing Life: How Do You Handle Success?

  1. I won’t pretend to fully comprehend what you and AJ (and any other writer/artist) is experiencing as I am SO not creative, so all I’ll say is that you need to do what feels right for you, but know that there are people out here appreciating your creativity by buying, reading and enjoying your output. ❤ and big hugs to you and AJ!

    Hanne

  2. I am not going to say what I want because you asked not to hear it. I WANT to say it I DO! But I will refrain! It’s a wonderful post Theo! Well said and I hope it shows people a little what it’s like

  3. Allison says:

    I’m not sure if this qualifies as “what you don’t want to hear” but Hugs, because I can’t imagine the stress and I hate to think that, on top of everything else, you have this.

    I hope you don’t stop writing, I don’t think you will, but I can’t stand the thought of your voice going silent.

  4. Ginny says:

    Just hugs to you both

  5. Fen, I echo everything that Hanne said (hi Hanne!!), most of us ‘devoted’ fans don’t care when your books come out AS long as they do. I know you both must be feeling the strain and stress in different ways, but for God’s sake…or ANY deity’s sake…DON’T let it come between you. So what if AJ’s books are selling better than yours at the mo, things may be different this time next year…although I hope for both your sakes that means BOTH of you are doing brilliantly. Books are your ‘babies’ and you can’t rush them, so if ‘readers’ have to wait a little longer for the next book, tough s**t, stop whingeing and whining and deal with it!!
    I’ve loved all the books that BOTH of you have put out this year, so I can only say thanks to both of you and wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy and Successful 2014!! x

  6. Lindsaysf says:

    It is absolutely insane to compare yourself to others. Nonetheless, I do it constantly.
    At the gym: that skinny athletic child is doing handstands! I should be able to do them too! In line at the PO: damn! the woman behind me in line was just recognized as a local teacher/healer/psychic! How come I’m not good enough to be recognized? She has better hair than I do! At a play: X has more $$ than I do. By this time in my life, I should have been rich and sponsoring events like this! I am such a failure.
    *sigh* It never stops. I guess we are all just human.

  7. suebrownstories says:

    I’ve tried to respond to this several times and deleted every time because I end up sounding like a whiny five year old. I get it, Theo. There is an author that reduces me to a blubbering heap. I don’t resent their sales (much). I just want it for me. You have added pressures. So yes, I get it.

  8. Alicia says:

    I have no idea what to say, but I do hope you decide to keep writing. As an art appreciater, rather than an artist, I’ve always been a bit envious of those who have that creative drive to make something new and put it out there in the world. I truly hope we get to continue seeing new stories from you.

    • I don’t think there’s any way I can completely stop, but once in a while I’m gonna have to give in to my petty side and acknowledge it, work through it, and then get back to writing. I love it too much to stop permanently.

  9. I confess, I’ve often wondered how much stress the disparity caused in your household (not in a stalkery kind of way but in a “what would I do in a similar situation?” way. I sympathize and do not envy either of you with the stresses it can bring–and I think you are both handling it well. 🙂

    I also have an inkling what it’s like to be on both sides of the fence. Publishing stories and wondering why other people’s work catches on like a spark in a dry field and why I’m on everyone’s TBR list while not actually being read. 😉 I’ve also felt the pressure (after a story that was particularly well-received from a critical standpoint) to make sure that the next story was even better than the last–and that kind of pressure, as well as the pressure to make writing help pay the bills since it eats up so much of my time, completely stymied the writing for a while.

    When I saw the title of this post, my gut reaction was like most people wanting to win the lottery: well, try me and I’ll tell you how well I handle it or not. But reading it now, I see that we all suffer from one side or the other of this issue. If we’re not getting noticed, we’re under pressure to cross that magic line. If we *are* getting noticed, the pressure to write more and more can crush the very thing we love. *sigh* Good luck to the both of you.

    • Very thoughtful comment. Thanks for posting.

      I’ve been in the phase “don’t wanna write and you can’t make me” since Transgression was released. I pick something up, write a bit, put it down and turn to something else. It’s frustrating and horrible, and finishing the short story for the UK anthology was quite a feat!

      A couple days ago, I started yet another new story. That makes three I have going right now, and it’s not like me at all. I think I have to take some time off. The holiday gives me a good excuse not to do anything if I don’t want to. Let’s just see what happens when I’ve taken a giant step back and removed myself from all pressure.

      • That was my decision, too. To stop putting so much pressure on myself to ‘succeed’. It was like asking a Clydesdale colt to pull the Budweiser Beer Wagon all by himself. Not fair and unrealistic expectations. That doesn’t mean I’m giving up on being a writer. It just means I’m going back to writing for just the love of it. If it helps pay the bills a bit, well, that will be an unexpected bonus. But I’m not going to *count* on it to do so.

        You’re a real writer with a solid following. It would be impossible for you to stop writing altogether–it’s a compulsion! But taking a breather for the holidays and taking the pressure off yourself sounds like a reasonable plan to me. 🙂

  10. kmac64 says:

    I, as the others, have no idea what you go thru or experience. However, we all, I think at times, go thru feeling less than or not wanted as we feel we should be. It can be a very lonely and depressing ride to get on. I know because I have been on it for 4 years now. I can no longer work or drive very far due to my back injury. This makes me feel embarrassed for one thing, because at my age, I should not be on disability. I feel like a failure as a mother because I can’t drive to see my kids or go the distance they need me to go. They say it’s OK, but yet I hear them talking amongst themselves, and sometimes it’s not always uplifting. I know, without a doubt, that it has affected my marriage. I feel my husband resents the fact that I can’t and won’t do as I had before. Talk about stress and tension. By going thru with the third surgery, I had to leave my job. That was a $20,000 pay cut. That smarted a bit and still does most of the time.

    One day, about 6 months ago, I said to self – enough is enough!! I have to get “my self” back or I will not be here much longer. I can no longer worry about my kids opinion, I raised them, practically by myself, and they are all over 18 and getting on with their life. I have to trust that I taught them and loved them enough to be loving, caring, productive cititizens and human beings. I’m sorry if my husband is less than impressed with me, but that’s his problem. I’m not that happy with him either, and each day gets a little worse. Don’t ridicule me for my dogs either. They are by my side 24 hours a day. They listen to me, rant, cry, cuss, and scream and they never judge me or love me any less. I am trying to find a way that I, and only I, can love myself the same. Your mind is sometimes your biggest enemy. It is on constant play, telling you to do better, you are worthless, a failure.

    I took up reading as a way to shut up those voices in my head. How come the people I worked with for 15 years, have not called or came by. I thought we were going to go to lunch every week. How come my kids don’t wait on me hand and foot, like I waited on them. How come my husband doesn’t even speak when he walks in, just goes straight to the TV. Thanks for the conversation, I have been waiting on all day. Reading was a way for me to escape my pain and torment and live thru others. Experience their adventures, joys and even a healthy sex life. I soon became obsessed, having to have a book all day, every minute of that day. I have met some super great people because of Facebook and reading that I will always treasure. Little do any of them know, what they have given me. Now, it’s time for me to live for me. If no one else likes the path I have chosen, well I’m sorry, but not to greatly disburbed.

    Choose your path Theo and just go with it. Yes, I love you as the author that you are, and I love AJ as well. You both are awesome writers, but you are completely different in your style, and you should be. I love AJ’s books and have read them all, but I have also read quite a few of yours and they are just as brilliant, but different. I don’t want to read the same thing every day, I like to mix it up. I hope you guys can work out the differeces and I hate that AJ feels defeated. We can only do what we can do and in the time we have allowed for it. Sometimes it is best to just walk away for a while and regroup. I know my opinion doesn’t matter or sway the outcome one bit, but just do for you what makes you happy. I am not very good at following my own advise, but I’m trying to live for me now and no one else. If someone wants to come along and participate, the more the merrier. If they don’t, well I don’t know what to say other than they are missing out on a really good person.

    Wow, this is longer than I had intended but that’s another problem being by yourself all the time. I have a tendancy to ramble on and on when given the opportunity. Don’t worry about everyone else, just be true to yourself. May you and AJ have a wonderful Christmas together, stay safe, stay healthy. Another year is just around the corner, we will do it again.

    • Thanks for allowing us a glimpse into your life. I empathize with your pain and situation. Not many people know it, but I was housebound for several years due to agoraphobia, and I’ll never get that time back. I yelled at myself while suffering this, and I yelled at myself after for wasting so much of my life. I spent much of last year with a torn thigh muscle, which made it difficult to walk or sit for long, and I sure couldn’t stand more than a few minutes (this has since improved greatly as the tear slowly healed).

      I’m done yelling now. I am who I am, and I’m stronger because of what I went through. I suspect you feel the same way. The writing thing will work itself out. I appreciate y’all letting me vent here today. It really does help.

  11. Judy says:

    This is one of the moments in which I wish I got give back a fraction of what you’ve given us. Or find the right words. I’ll settle for letting you know that I admire you, not only for your talents, but also for your courage and simply because you’re a wonderful person. I sincerely hope to read more of you (after you granted yourself a break) and AJ (no matter when, it’s gonna be soon enough). Lots of love and hugs, and happy holidays.

  12. Karen H. says:

    Wow, ok what everybody else has said and then some. I’m going to try not to say what you don’t want to hear right now because there are times when platitudes just don’t help. But I do have to tell you when I read the part where you said you don’t know if you want to write anymore my heart went into my throat and yet my first thought after that was as long as he’s comfortable and ultimately happy with his decision. You and AJ need to put your relationship above all else. There are times it’s hard and I know this first hand, different reasons same result. My hubby and I have gone through some changes over the past year or so and it’s been hard, but after 27+ years, I know he’s it for me. He’s my best friend, partner, lover, confidant, you name it he’s it. If that’s the way it is for you and AJ and I get the feeling it is, please never ever loose sight of that.

    I’ve stopped by your site a lot over the past year or so because yes, I really like what you write, but it’s no just the books. I enjoy your different post on your pictures, current event issues, etc and this might sound dumb but I really have come to think of you as a friend. Not to panic I promise I am a sane rational person and not a nutso stalker, I have a very good life here in the my corner of the world I have friends and family that I enjoy and spend time with, I just also happen to have a few friends who don’t live in my corner of the world and the computer is how I touch base with them. So I’m going to say the same thing now that I would say to any of my friends. Do what’s right for Theo and you’ll be doing the right thing for the rest of the world because if you don’t make yourself happy you can’t make anyone else happy either. Take care of yourself, you and AJ have a good weekend and a very Merry Christmas.

  13. suze294 says:

    All these feelings just go to prove you are human!! It would be odd, I think, if you were not a bit miffed over such issues. And the pressures you both feel to produce more works must be intense. It is how the two of you deal with them that is important. Hopefully venting like this helps too.

    Hope you both have a great festive season – forget about all those bookity issues! And without pressure, it would be a great shame if you stopped writing altogether.

  14. Gosh Theo I dont know what to say reading this
    It makes me sad because i think you are really an exceptional writer you have your way with words and although tastes can differ I dont need to tell you that Transgression blew me away literarly.
    It would be such a shame if you would stop but that being said If you feel that it gives you grief and doesnt give you what it should and that is pleasure , fun and love to write than it is to you to decide nobody can tell you what to do or even advice you .

    Regarding A.j that makes me sad in a whole other level . I really think people dont realize the pressure it gives him ( i am seriously thinking omg perhaps i said something wrong also in my enthousiasm for the new release to come 😦 ) Gosh i am sorry really . I think people like me just want to let him know that we are looking forward to his new book , not to raise expectations .

    I am glad you did write this down it gives me a thing to think about a different perspective
    I do am glad you typed this because it means you keep it open to discussion and than I mean between you and A.J also and that is the most importing thing because lets face it in the end you are living and loving together .

    Thank you for sharing a piece of your inner emotions and struggles
    Take your time to enjoy the holidays and eachother the rest will come to you when the time is there

    Hugs Dani

  15. Jaycee Edward says:

    Ok, I have SO much to say, but most of it you probably don’t want to hear. Oh well.

    First of all, let me start by saying that when I got your email back from my “sample” the other day, I was a little down to begin with. Unusual, but this is a tough season for me. So, needless to say, your email didn’t “perk me up” but, as you know, I chose to look at it rationally and I truly feel that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. (That’s the ‘please don’t quit writing’ plea.) Several members of my self-appointed support group rushed in to tell me never to compare myself to someone else and that every writer has something different to share and goes at their own pace.(I’m sure you get the point here). I know that, and as you are way more experienced than me, I’m sure that you know it too. You may just need a break from it. A small break. I doubt that you will really quit writing because you are just too good at it. And hell, you’re published. You are SO much farther than a lot of us, so quitting would be a TOTAL tragic waste – for you and for us – your readers.

    That leads me to the pressure that we readers put on you and AJ. I am SO guilty of this!! Please let me apologize right here and now. But, the bottom line is, you should see it as a GIANT compliment that we love your words SO much that we want MORE! Think about it. It really doesn’t get any better than that for a writer, does it?? I’ve never been fortunate enough to have a book published and have readers beg me for more, so I can’t even begin to know what kind of pressure that puts on you. But I DO understand pressure and it sucks. That’s why I quit my day job. I was sick and tired of feeling that every…stinking…day. In the end, we, who love your words, will wait however long it takes you to give them to us. We may whine and beg and plead, but we will wait. We have no choice – and all the waiting is worth it the moment we get our hands on your new release and are immersed in your words. The waiting is totally forgotten. So instead of feeling it as pressure, maybe think of it as YOU have all the power to make us wait for what we want. (Need I explain the D/s metaphor? I didn’t think so…)

    As far as money, one person will always make more than the other. Sometimes it’ll switch back and forth. Sometimes it won’t. Unless you are homeless, money doesn’t matter. I know that sounds trite, but on the grand scale, it really, truly doesn’t. On your deathbed, you will never, ever wish you made more money.

    Lastly – and most importantly, PLEASE go through your blog and AJs blog and remember what you two mean to each other. It’s SO easy to let life get in the way and ruin a great thing – and what you two have is a “great thing”. As you know from your sudden increase in blog-hits, I have been stalking both your blog and AJ’s. Not because I’m a psycho internet stalker person. Because I love a good love story. I don’t know how much of what is on there is really true real-life stuff. I don’t need to know. I know you are both protective of your personal life, but at least some of it had to be based in reality. There is a reason you finally came together and those of us “on the outside” can see that you were meant to be together. I don’t know either of you in real life and probably never will, but I’m immensely fond of both of you. You, your words, your blogs, your social media interactions have all touched me in one way or another and have changed me in certain ways (for the better). Even if neither of you ever interact with me online again or write another single word for me to read, more than anything, I want your love to last. I want you to always have each other.

    Be patient with each other. AJ might be cranky now, but he won’t always be. You might be down in the dumps, but next week you might be on top of the world. People always say relationships take work. I never really understood that phrasing. I think they take patience. Tons and tons and tons of it. The hardest thing for me is when my hubby and I are at odds and I have to be the one to go up and hug him and say “I love you”, knowing he’s going to push me away because he’s too stubborn to quit being mad. The rejection hurts for a minute, but usually within a short time after that, he apologizes and slowly we become “good” again. Hopefully you guys are just feeling the stress and can try and understand how the other feels and muddle through until you are “good” again.

    Ok…Jesus…I’m feeling the need to edit the hell out of this before I hit send, but I’m not gonna’. This is just me and it’s not perfect. Neither are you guys, so stop feeling like you have to be! Don’t know you, but love you both! Sending you giant virtual (((HUGS))) – because I haven’t figured out how to send virtual alcohol. Now, go make AJ put on some silk underwear and put the writing shit aside and reconnect! ;O)

  16. Helena Stone says:

    Had a long and rambling reply all typed up and decided to not post it. All I’ll say is that I sincerely hope that you won’t ever stop writing. Do it for yourself, the world will catch on sooner or later.

  17. CaryLory says:

    Yeah —just keep writing and writing. The more you are mentioned in authors’ blogs and face book entries the more you will sell. Sinfully sexy book review, Romance lives forever, MM Good book reviews, Mrs Condit & Friends – Today’s Features‏, DiDi, and many others are ones I receive although I don’t know how authors are picked for book reviews. I usually just open and glance at the short review lead-in but key words will get me to check out the cover and read the full review. Edgy, exciting, MM, BDSM, heavy, explicit, any superlative will get me to explore the cover and read an excerpt.
    Your day will come—big time!

  18. A.M.B. says:

    Competition between partners is inevitable when they work in the same area. My husband and I are both lawyers. There are times when his work is much more high profile than mine, and then there are other times when my work is receiving more attention. It can be tough, but at least we don’t have any clear comparison (like Amazon ranking and royalty checks). With writing, success (depending on your definition of it) is hard to achieve. It has a heavy dose of luck and persistence. I hope you don’t give up.

  19. Thank you for your honesty in this post. I get it – I, too, occasionally feel competition with a more successful writing friend. I don’t know the answer to it, because writing is hard in so many ways, and not achieving the level of success that I want weighs heavy on me as well. I try to remind myself that it’s not really numbers that matter, but the impact of my work on however many who read it. There are so many books I’ve read over the course of my lifetime that I’ve forgotten scarcely an hour after I’ve finished them. I don’t want to be that kind of writer, so I pour my heart out on the page. It’s torture, but what can I say? It’s what I’m good at. Gotta keep plugging away.

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