It’s a fact of life I think that anyone with a book out is going to (whether we want to or not) compare our books with the ones that big 5 publishing gives the marketing push to.
I sure do. It stinks. I hate it that I compare my books with the ones that have so much monetary backing behind the marketing that it’s so far out of my book’s league.
But how can I *not* feel envy during awards season?
Am I thrilled to see this year’s Hugo Awards going to the extremely deserving diverse authors that they went to? Absolutely! I read and loved (and voted for) a lot of those books.
But my books aren’t ever likely going to be there because people don’t even know who I am. Ninestar press, the house I’m with provides stories that are so well edited, with stunning cover art and wonderful, amazing stories that I need to read. Queer stories. But they’re a small press, and they just can’t compete financially with the corporate monsters that are Big 5 Publishing.
Even two similar authors within Big 5 publishing may have completely different experiences and suffer related issues with regards to feelings. A mid-list debut vs. a star debut for instance.
That’s bound to make any author experience envy, maybe bitterness or anger. So how do we deal with those kinds of emotions? How do we maintain friendships with authors who we’ve often known for years who may have gotten the marketing push?
1) We acknowledge them. Our feelings are valid. It does suck to know your book can’t compete. My name isn’t a household name, but other debut authors who’ve written books almost exactly the same as mine are. I’ve even worked on some of their books with them in the early stages before they got their contracts. My book isn’t well known and theirs is. Why? Their books got chosen to get the marketing push. It’s not even about quality. Corporate publishing is precisely that. Corporate I’ve read insider accounts of how books are selected for that marketing push, and it has nothing to do with quality, story, editing or anything that we reader/writer type peeps think matters in a story. I’ve worked enough in corporate to believe it too. So we need to take our pride out of the equation. It’s nothing that we did wrong, and they did right. It’s just the luck of the draw. Corporate, for whatever reason corporate had for that season, chose THAT book to push into the minds and awareness of readers through the holy power of the dollar. Both books are still good. Both authors are still (likely) great people who have worked damned hard at their craft.
2) We Accept our feelings. I’ve been in therapy off and on most of my life, and one thing my therapists have always told me to do is to accept that my feelings are real and that they’re valid. They may be yucky, messy, and uncontrollable, but they are our feelings, and the first step to dealing with these often unpleasant emotions in this business is to accept that they exist and are valid.
3) This part is important! We Do Not Act On Our Feelings! Publishing is small peeps. Lashing out at people who got the marketing push when you didn’t is shitty behavior. Don’t do it. It’s not the author’s fault their book got chosen any more than it’s your fault that yours didn’t. I’m friends with several debut authors whose books were chosen for the push. Think about what I might have done to my friends if I had lashed out about how much it hurts that my book has 17 reviews when theirs have 500 or more? It’s not their fault any more than it’s mine. It would’ve ruined the friendship, that’s for damned certain. The reason, again, that their books got that many reviews so quickly is because reviewers often get free print books from Big 5 publishers. Some reviewers REQUIRE print books before they’ll review, (which speaks to a bit of bias I’ll try to address in a future post) meaning that small press, again, can’t compete because it costs money to print the books to send to the reviewers. Big 5 presses have their own printers and storage places, most small press and self-pub use POD (print on demand). Mid-list authors with big 5 press might have a smaller allotment of ARCs that will be sent out to reviewers than are allotted to the star debut, again, it’s not the mid-listers fault any more than it’s the star debut author’s fault.
4) So. How do we maintain authorial relationships with these mixed and divided feelings? A couple of things that have worked for me that may work for you.
a. Remember that your friend might be overwhelmed at all the attention, they’re still your friend. Check up on them! Ask them if they’re okay and if they need anything!
b. If you have other friends who are in the same boat as you are, you can talk to them and share your feelings. It’s healthy to find out that many of us feel the same way, and often times, sharing the way we feel can help us not take it so hard.
c. Do NOT take your yucky emotions out on your friend. Try instead to be happy for their success. They did the same thing you did, you both wrote a book and managed to swim through the creative waters to the point of this: YOU BOTH PUBLISHED A BOOK!! Do you have any idea how many people say they want to write a book, but don’t? Who start but never finish? Try to separate the yucky emotions from the honest happiness that you DO feel for your friend. (It’s there. You might have to do some personal work to find it, but it IS there.) I know I’m utterly ecstatic for my writer friends and acquaintances when something goes right for them. My soul feels giddy for them.
d. Success in publishing can be a bright light that goes out very quickly. Sometimes a debut title that makes a big splash can be hard to live up to with the dreaded book two. Your friend might be worried about that so they might need you to be a good friend and not a jealous hell-beast from the bog of stench-envy. I have friendships with some big-name authors at this point, and every single one of them worries that their next book won’t be as well received as the last. That the previous book was their big bright splash on the map of publishing and nothing else will ever be as good. Trust me, they feel it. ALL of us feel it, no matter where in our journey and how successful or not we are. You might too if you ever get to that point. I am damned sure I’ll want my friends if I ever do get to a very high point in my career as an author.
e. I try to put myself in their shoes at every step on the road. What is my friend feeling? What would I be feeling in their place? How would I be dealing with X? What would I want from my friends if our places were reversed?
Empathy. In short. It’s about having empathy for yourself and for your friend.
Now go write your next book (and I’m going to follow my own advice and finish the sequel to my debut, Blood-Bound).
Kaelan is a non-binary author of mixed race from Upstate NY in the United States who currently lives with xyr partner of 20 years and their children in Southern Ontario, Canada. Xie is not represented by an agent.
Xyr family has three cats, a grumpy rescue chinchilla, and a betta fish. Other than writing, Xie freelances as an editor, makes jewelry and spins with a spinning wheel when xie isn’t writing or spending too much time on Twitter.
Xie is non-binary, autistic, mentally ill, and physically disabled. You can connect with Kae on the following social media platforms.