I heard some news last week that gave me a serious case of Author Envy. An author who sold years after I did got a book deal for major, major $.
I felt we'd taken the same test and she got A+ with gold stars and I got C- and a note to meet the teacher after class.
This isn't the first time I've had this feeling, and I don't think I'm alone when it comes to feeling like this. In fact, I bet most authors know what I'm talking about.
There are two ways people can deal with envy, one good and one bad. One looks inward and can spur positive changes (I better study more), the other is spiteful and malicious, seeking to diminish the other person's accomplishment (she's just the teacher's pet).
I won't say people fall into one category or the other all the time. I think it depends on several factors: how you're feeling when you hear the news, your perception of your own career up to that point, what else is going on in your life, and, if you've met the author, the impression she may have already made upon you.
I don't begrudge that author her success. I don't think she's the literary equivalent of a teacher's pet, she just got lucky, or she must have known somebody. I think she deserves it, because she works hard, she writes to the market (which I suspect also -- and happily -- coincides with what she truly enjoys writing, which is the best of all possible worlds for a writer of commercial fiction) and she's a PR whiz.
I've never read her work, so I can't speak to her gifts as a writer. However, talent is a subjective thing, so I'm taking that out of the equation.
So what I suddenly felt when I heard of her success was not that she had somehow been sprinkled with magic fairy dust and rewarded without any effort on her part. What I felt was a combination of dismay and discouragement, specifically that I haven't worked hard enough, I've ignored the market too much, I haven't done nearly enough PR, and (most discouraging of all) I've made bad career decisions.
There's no doubt I don't write as quickly as Big Sale Author. But I can't -- I've tried, and I was one miserable, stressed out woman. I also don't think it did my writing much good. So I'm willing to work hard, but not at that pace.
Perhaps I should be doing a lot more PR, especially on the web. I can certainly up my presence on other blogs, and join Shelfari. I'm still on the fence about MySpace or Facebook, but even if I decide against those, there are other avenues to explore that I simply haven't taken the time or trouble to investigate. I can, should and will do more.
Maybe I should be writing with the market much more in mind. I have to say, this has been brought home to me big-time this past year, so any changes I make in this regard will be as much a function of my own recent experience as any envy I may be feeling.
Nevertheless, this brings me to the most discouraging thought of all: that I've made some bad career decisions.
Well, I know I have.
But here's the thing: There's nothing I can do to change them. And I did what I thought was best at the time. That said, I can learn from those experiences and try to act more wisely in future, and in my case, with more long term goals in mind.
So yes, I get envious of another author's success. And it makes me feel bad -- but Author Envy can also be a catalyst for positive change, for thinking about my own goals and what I can do to reach them.
And that's a good thing.