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Asking Eric: Self-published author struggles with jealousy

1 week ago 23

Welcome to “Asking Eric,” a new daily advice column by R. Eric Thomas, which replaces Amy Dickinson’s “Ask Amy.” You can read her last column here.

Dear Eric: I’m a self-published fiction author. I’m really struggling with jealousy and despair. Every time I see a published book or step into a bookstore, I feel this wave of sadness. I’m trying to get my books out there, get whatever reviews I can, and promote myself on social media but it feels impossible.

A friend just told me she won’t try out a new author unless they have thousands of good reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. My last book got about 20 good reviews after weeks of hustling. How do I keep going? How can I redirect my thoughts when the jealousy/despair hits?

— Exhausted Author

Author: I worry you’re tracking your achievements using someone else’s yardstick. You’ve published a book. At some point in the past, that was the goal. So, you have already achieved one metric of success. Of course, we all harbor dreams of acclaim, but those dreams are so rarely right-sized. Do you want to be a famous author or do you want to be an author who is reaching readers who appreciate you?

This is a career field where jealousy waits around every corner, but other people's success doesn't take anything away from us. You're not in competition with other authors, you're in competition with your own expectations. Ask yourself: If you got thousands of reviews, would that feel like enough? You are already enough so let's reframe your goals to help you feel that more often.

Your friend is entitled to her own selection process but thousands of reviews is an unrealistic number. To get that, any author, even the Emily Henrys and John Grishams, needs the support of dozens, if not hundreds of people employed by the big publishing houses. Meanwhile, you worked your tail off and got those 20 reviews on your own. That's huge!

If there’s an author whose career you want to emulate, reach out to them to find out the nuts and bolts of how they got to where they are, but make sure that comparison will help you. As writer Freddie DeBoer recently pointed out in an issue of his Substack newsletter titled “Publishing is Designed to Make Most Authors Feel Like Losers Even While the Industry Makes Money,” “writing is also an intensely personal endeavor, and so rejection by the various apparatchiks who decide who’s in and who’s out can feel especially cruel.” Have a good think about whose approval you want (hopefully your own) and what you’re trying to achieve. Remind yourself that the authors you see may have different goals than you and probably also feel that old jealousy.

Lastly, I can't say enough about building relationships with independent booksellers and librarians. Get to know the ones in your area. Even if you're exclusively publishing e-books, these pros can help you understand the decision-making that leads readers to books, and eventually to those online review sites.

Dear Eric: I am in my mid-60s. Sometimes when I meet people I haven’t seen for a long time, say from college, I hear “you haven’t changed a bit.” Back then I had shoulder length hair. Today, I’m bald and what hair I have left is cut very short. How do I respond to such nonsense while maintaining a good attitude toward them?

— Hair Yesterday, Gone Today

Hair: I understand your sentiment as a fellow member of the shaved head club (it’s cheaper! It’s cooler! But oh the sunburns!). Still, you should take the compliment in the spirit it’s given. Of course you’ve changed physically, but maybe your energy is the same. Or maybe they just think it’s flattering. If the mood suits say, “Oh, I’ve changed — I got even better.”

Dear Eric: My partner (husband) and I have been together for 18 years. My sister-in-law created a “family tree” and gave copies to all family members as a gift. On closer inspection, my “husband” was left off the family tree indicating that I am single. My sister-in-law and her family do not believe in gay marriage. What should I do about this slight?

— Missing Marriage

Marriage: It’s a good thing your relationship’s existence isn’t dependent upon what your sister-in-law doesn’t believe in. Long-term relationships aren’t Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, they’re mostly taking out the garbage and texting each other things to pick up from the grocery store. (They’re also emotional support, caretaking, and commitment, and all that good stuff.) I’m sure you’ve already had this banging-your-head-against-the-wall conversation with your in-law, but you should voice your displeasure about the tree as a way of setting an expectation about the respect you want. Once you’ve said your piece, throw the “gift” in the trash and order your own correct tree and give it to your family.

(Send questions to R. Eric Thomas at [email protected] or P.O. Box 22474, Philadelphia, PA 19110. Follow him on Instagram and sign up for his weekly newsletter at rericthomas.com.)

2024 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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