Yesterday I had the pleasure of reading a post by author, Ciara Ballintyne. She talked about writers’ need for validation. One quote I particularly liked was “how soul-destroying is it to go through the painful process of writing fiction and have nothing at the end of it?”
By this, Ciara meant that without the joyous birth that follows creative endeavor, without the terrifying roller coaster ride of watching your child grow and become its own entity in the world, the creative process would be hell. Writers and artists need the external validation that comes through sales and recognition. It is not enough to just create.
In many ways, she is right. So every day creatives dutifully tweet and post on facebook. We write blogs and ask for reviews. We submit our work to the often uncaring eyes of the world and hope that someone (or multitudes) will tell us that our work is good.
When I published Shaping Destiny, I read everything I could find on publishing, book marketing, and how to be successful. Like all expectant parents, I was ebullient. I could do this. I absolutely believed in the book, knew it had marks of genius, and that it would eventually change the world. Now, nine months later, I’m like the exhausted young mother who realizes that her baby will probably not die or be scarred for life if she takes the time to take a shower.
During these crucial months of gestation, trepidation, and giddy excitement, I have learned a few things. Most of them have been about myself. In much the same way as the the birth of my children shattered my expectations, my experiences as an author have taught me that expectations have little to do with reality.
Here’s what I’ve discovered:
1. Nobody gets my work like I do. Or, to say it differently, everyone else’s relationship with my book is different than mine. They love it or don’t for reasons of their own. Now that it is in the world, its successes and failures have about as much to do with me as the successes and failures of my grown children.
2. Marketing and sales are, surprisingly, much less important than feedback and reviews. While I continue to enjoy the monthly checks, they are not what fulfil me. In the same way, I don’t really care how much money my children make or how many diplomas hang on the walls of their office. I simply want them to find someone who will love them and be happy. Who knew?
3. All the stuff you are taught usually gets thrown out the window because most of it doesn’t work for you. My journey, while similar to that of others, is unique. I cannot become someone I’m not to try to ensure the book’s eventual success in the world. Nor, for that matter, can my book. It is what it is. Sometimes, it stands on its own two feet and sometimes it falls. Just like me.
So how do you define success?
I define it in much the same way I define my success as a mother. Yes, I made a ton of mistakes (which my children didn’t hesitate to point out during the violent throes of their tumultuous adolescence), but in the end, the mistakes didn’t matter all that much.
My children’s place in the world is determined by who they are. They have their own hang ups, insecurities, and amazing beauty. So does my book.
As I have hurtled and stumbled through the world of self-promotion, marketing, publishing, et al, I am reminded of a book I read a long time ago. In that early feminist work, the author talked about how women lived vicariously through their offspring (especially their sons). After the initial creative outlet (birth) these women, who were not allowed to work, spent the rest of their lives coddling, nurturing, nagging, and meddling. In the end, the children grew up, moved away, and left the mothers alone with little more than the hope of grandchildren to comfort them in their old age. Ouch.
This metaphor is a powerful one for me. I never wanted to be a woman like that. So rather than coddling, nurturing, nagging, and meddling past my book’s infancy, I am focusing on writing another book. Tweeting is fine. So is Facebook. Both are like the phone calls I exchange with my children. We touch base, check in, and exchange news. There is comfort in that. Nevertheless, the phone calls will not determine the choices they make or the relationships have. I’ve done my job. No longer infants, or even kids, they are functioning in the world. Who they are will determine the interactions they have.
These days, the grades my children made in elementary school are irrelevant. The pats I got on the back for their achievements while they were still in my care make for some fond memories, but that’s about it.
In the same way, my sales numbers and the occasional institutional acknowledgement for the merit of my work have little to do with the meaning that readers derive from their interaction with my book. They’re important, but I wonder how important?
Sure, this is a business as much as it is a creative expression, but in reality successful businesses ensure that they are relevant to their customers and that they offer a quality product at a competitive price. Then, once they’ve let people know they exist, their most effective marketing tool is word of mouth.
Having done that over the last nine months, I’m not as worried anymore about how well my baby will do in the world.
Success is ultimately not measured in numbers. For me, it is measured by the peace in my heart, the joy I take from human connection, and the satisfaction I get from my current creative endeavor. The rest of it is beyond my control and not really worth my time.