I've read a couple of blogs this morning that got me thinking. The first was here. I'm the friend Keith mentions who was called the "successful one." It's true, I have published five books, and I've written seven more. That's five books more than most people, and it's five books less than a lot of people ... there are many authors in my market who have written ten, fifteen, twenty books, are wildly popular, and who actually bring in royalties. When I compare myself to them, I don't feel very successful. I'm still surprised whenever I go somewhere and say my name, and someone knows who I am. It's such a rare occurrence. I think I'm more well-known for blogging, editing, and teaching than I am for writing. Maybe that's just my perspective, but that's what it seems like.
The second blog was here. The blog author is speaking as if Emily Dickenson, and asks the question, if we never were published, what would that mean to us? Is the prospect of being published sweetest to those who have not yet experienced it?
Before I was published, I wanted it more than anything. It was my life's fondest dream, eclipsed only by my desire to be a wife and mother. I had all kinds of expectations - people would line up at my booksignings and wait for hours just to see me, everyone would know who I was, I wouldn't be able to do my own grocery shopping any more because I'd get mobbed. I just thought that was part of the package. Being a published author is made to appear so glamorous.
When I was published, I realized that the glamor is mostly imaginary. I was still the same me, living in the same house, doing my same daily routines, and nothing changed, really. I still had to scrub my toilet. I still had to clean my fridge, change dirty diapers, and wipe runny noses ... the only thing that differed was that my self-esteem went up a notch, temporarily, until I started to doubt that I could do it again.
Over time, I racked up five published books. My name is more recognized, but I've never had a long line of people waiting to meet me. I've never been recognized in a grocery store. (Probably just as well ... I never seem to get to the grocery store when wearing make-up.) And people want to know what it's like to be a published author.
To be honest, at my level, it's really not very different from being an unpublished author. The insecurities are still there. You still wonder every day, "What if they don't like me?"
The fact of the matter is this. Being published will not change how you feel about yourself. You have to change how you feel about yourself. There's a line from the movie "Cool Runnings," where the men on the Jamaican bobsled team are discussing what winning the gold medal would mean to them. One of them says, "If you're not enough without it, you'll never be enough with it." That stuck in my head, because it's so true. If you're not enough without a long line of people waiting for you at your signing, you'll never be enough with it. Our feelings of value have to come from within ourselves, not from other people.
The fact is this - being published does not make you a person of value, nor does it mean that your book is necessarily better than everything that's ever been written. Conversely, if you haven't been published, that doesn't mean you're not a person of value, and it doesn't make your book less important than someone else's. So much of the time, it's a game of roulette. What manuscript will hit the desk right when the publisher is looking for something like it? There is no magic formula - good book + sending it in = publishing contract. A rejection doesn't mean you're bad. An acceptance should not be the determining factor in whether or not you value yourself. Your self-esteem cannot, should not, be dictated by those contingencies.
As I thought about the question, is the idea of success sweeter to those who haven't tasted it, I have to say that in some ways, it is. We imagine how our lives are going to change once we're published, and then when it doesn't happen, we feel a let-down. I'm absolutely, most certainly, not rich. I'm not famous, in the slightest. In fact, I would have to say that the biggest blessing that has come my way through my writing/publishing has been the avenue I've been given to mentor others on their journey. That was an unexpected by-product, but one I've really enjoyed. And so this brings up another question - what does it mean to be successful? Is it a paycheck/royalty check? Are my five books sitting on a shelf somewhere more important than someone else's one book that's selling hand over fist?
I guess the point to my rambling is this. We all need to decide for ourselves what it is we hope to feel once we are published, and then work to accomplish feeling that way, regardless of our publication status. If we want to feel good about ourselves, we need to find other ways to accomplish that. Waiting for that elusive contract to validate our worth is shooting ourselves in the foot ... some arbitrary editor at some company decides we're good, so now we're good. But then when they reject our second book, does that make us bad? Was our worth only temporary?
I would continue to write even without publication because it's what I love to do. And I'll be honest - there are times when I wonder why everyone else seems to be selling more than I do, or why everyone else is more well-known. But if that's my motive for doing this, I'm just setting myself up for a lot of disappointment. I need to be enough without it, or I'll constantly be doubting myself, even with it.
See, here's the thing: when the statement was made that I was the more successful one of the group, I honestly couldn't look at myself and say that I was, because I was comparing myself to authors who do better. Keith was comparing himself to the others around the table, I was comparing myself to other authors in my field who are doing so much better than I am, and we were both feeling less than. Well, you know what, both of us are pretty dang spectacular, and we need to feel good about what we have accomplished without comparing ourselves to others. And that is what success really is - knowing we have done something good and taking appropriate pride in that, without feeling less because others have done more than we have.