Today I was thinking (as I laid in my bed and contemplated getting up and starting to work for way longer than what is appropriate) about my first book, and the varied responses I got to achieving my goal of being traditionally published.
Spoiler alert: it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows.
Sure, most friends were ecstatic. Over the top supportive and kind and excited for my upcoming release (which was none other than my debut novel, The What If Guy) I was met with what can only be accurately described as jealousy by a select few. It hurt my feelings at the time, and stung for quite a few years after. Even today, nearly ten years later, when I think about it...I get twitchy and aggravated.
Jealousy is an ugly beast.
The definition of jealousy is as such:
I've been jealous before. I'm human. When I was a single, divorced mom of two little kids, I was jealous of the happy, healthy couples around me. I resented their joy and comfort within their relationships, when mine had been so tumultuous and chaotic. I wished I could find someone to be with, someone who would treat me with the respect and kindness that I watched between other couples, sometimes to the point of making really poor decisions when it came to dating. Loneliness and desperation do a real number on a person's judgment, and that's a fact.
But I never felt tempted to tear down or take away someone's functional relationship. I never felt tempted to insert myself, or drive a wedge between married friends, or to critique their relationship--pointing out the cracks and flaws I saw--and reminding them of what they'd done wrong over the years. It never occurred to me that my unhappiness needed to be shared, therefore I left them alone. I smiled and nodded and told them, "I am so happy for you. I hope I can be this in love one day," even when I felt like this on the inside:
So when my first book was met by haters....it threw me for a loop, and I took it more personally than I should've.
I'm not talking about random internet trolls, either. Those are the strangers that I'll never meet, who read my books, give them poor reviews (which I am okay with--any review is a good review, baby!), and find me elsewhere on the web to harass me. Those people are just keyboard warriors, and aren't to be taken too seriously. We all know that.
I'm talking about couple of people in my actual circle who trashed my work. The random friend or relative who took it upon themselves to make sure I knew that they didn't enjoy what I'd created, or worse yet, that they wouldn't ever be reading it, because "romance novels, ew." Yes, it's happened. And yes, it sucked. And it wasn't their unkind words about my life's work that hurt my feelings as much as it was their need to negate, minimize, and invalidate something I worked very, very hard on.
For example, shortly after the release of my debut novel, I got a phone call from a relative that (at the time) I wanted desperately to impress. (I've long since grown up and stopped trying to gain approval from folks who are fully committed to never accepting me, but that's a blog for another time.) But, I digress.....
During this phone call--which lasted for well over an hour, because I was too naive and stupid to hang up--this person went through my book, line by line, chapter by chapter, telling me all the things that they found confusing, boring, unnecessary, excessive, or just plain ridiculous. Because I had this stupid need to please and impress that person, I allowed it. With every unsolicited criticism, I explained myself, explained my reasoning for writing that section that particular way, even going so far as to apologize for why that annoyed that reader so much.
I mean......like, really? Who does that?
In retrospect, I think I hung on throughout that entire, agonizing phone call for two reasons: first, because of my aforementioned need to impress and please said person. And second, because I had this Pollyanna mentality that if I listened long enough, let this person criticize my life's work thoroughly, eventually the conversation would shift, and I would be told the list of things they did enjoy about my book. There would be one of those "...all of these things sucked, BUT you really nailed the....."
But it never came. After an hour of criticisms, the person said, "Well, gotta go. Bye." And the line went dead.
My disappointment was positively palpable. You could've hung wallpaper on the wall with the sticky, oozy, persistent discouragement that was positively dripping off of me for the next several weeks. Months later, whenever I thought about that phone call, I would bristle, and immediately go into a bummed out state for days at a time. Even now, years later, when I think about it, I feel agitated, despite having long since stopped trying to impress the un-impressible.
It doesn't stop there. I've been told that people I love won't or haven't read my books, because it's not their preferred genre. I'm reminded--often--that they prefer "literary fiction," because they're so much more evolved and educated than a romance reader. I'm informed that my writing style is "juvenile" and "unsophisticated," and reminded condescendingly that they support my career, but simply aren't interested in reading my work. Which is fine...........except that it's not.
And it's not just me. This isn't a Brooke Moss B*tching Session, as much as it seems like one. Almost all of the authors I know--and over the decade long span of my career, I've met a lot of authors--have expressed the same sentiments. They all have their stories of friends or relatives who refuse to read their work, refuse to buy their work, negate their accomplishments, or criticize their writing. It's par for the course for all authors. Where there is a positive, (i.e. being a published author, which is truly one of the hardest goals to accomplish, career wise,) there is, and always will be, a negative. All of us authors experience it.
But that doesn't make it okay. It still sucks to be invalidated by someone you love.
I know plenty folks who have written and published books that I would otherwise never read. I have read work written by people I know that have downright sucked. (Mind you, I've also read some completely, mind-bogglingly great work, also, but that's not what this blog post is about.) But, once again, I digress...
I've always bought and reviewed their work, even when I didn't enjoy it at all. I am never such an accomplished author that I can't lower myself to drop $1, $3, or $5, on an acquaintance's eBook, and frankly....I expect the same in return. Even if their genres weren't of interest to me, or their work was subpar or pretentious drivel, I bought it, read it, and reviewed it, because that's what real writers do. We support and encourage others. This business is big enough for all of us.
But you know what I've discovered over time? Jealousy usually rears its ugly head when things are going exceptionally well for me. When I have found success within my career, and I have a loyal readership, and I am being told that my words touched someone in a way that was particularly positive or pleasant.....that's when other folks feel jealous. It should be viewed as a reflection of my success, not a reflection of someone's disapproval. I should be grateful that there is something in my career that another person feels jealous of, rather than being hurt that they're responding negatively.
Additionally, I should be sympathetic to the haters.
If someone is so critical of my work--which was picked by a professional publishing company to publish--then it likely reflects a disappointment in their life. A resentment that their career hasn't hit a level they expected it to hit, and a setback in their own career trajectory. If someone refuses to buy or read my work, because they "don't read romance," then they deserve sympathy because dang! They're missing out on the country's best-selling, and undoubtedly most uplifting and enjoyable, genre! If someone negates my accomplishments, then it's likely because someone in their life is negating their accomplishments, and frankly, that hurts like h*ll. It never feels good to have your accomplishments minimized, no matter what career field they're in!
In a nutshell: jealousy shows more about them, than me.
I wish being an author was all awesomeness and success. I wish all authors could hit JK Rowling status, or Danielle Steele status (the woman owns an island, for pete's sake!) But that's not the reality. Most of us make a humble living, most of us work second jobs, and most of us are far more critical of ourselves and our work, than anyone else could possibly be. We should be lifting each other up, rather than tearing each other down, regardless of how "constructively" or subtly it is being done. It doesn't hurt anyone to be kind and supportive.
And if jealousy still plagues you.....
Get your a*s in front of a computer and start freaking writing. You think you can write better than me? Do it. I'll be the first in line to buy a copy. And I'll even read it and review it, too.