Authors and the Blame Game

I’m not in a good mood today. I have only myself to blame. I regularly take on more than I can chew, spread myself too thin, and then wind up stressed and unhappy.

My fault. My bad. Apparently I must crave this way of living, because I keep doing it to myself, over and over.

On the one hand, it makes me ridiculously productive, and probably played a large part in the success I’ve had.

On the other, I have no right to bitch because I asked for it. Yes, I’m irritable right now, and I feel even more irritable because I have no right to be irritable. All of my problems are what Barry Eisler calls quality problems. “Oh no, I have to manage a literary empire.” “Oh no, I have to pay $300,000 in taxes.” My fave is Blake Crouch’s saying, “Oh no, I spilled champagne on my cake.”

Which got me to thinking about all writers.

We complain constantly. We’re easily hurt. We’re never satisfied. We feel misunderstood. We’re a bunch of touchy, moody, pessimistic whiners.

Such is the path of an artist. But there is a very specific fork in that path, and as I prowl the Internets I see more and more of my peers taking the fork that I never took.

Namely, who gets the blame.

Maybe we can all agree that the writing biz isn’t fair. And maybe most of us can agree that luck plays a big part.

But the schism forms when it comes to placing blame.

I can look at the low points in my career, and there have been many. As successful as I’ve become, I’ve still had a lot more bad days than good–at least 5 to 1. I battled depression. I raged against the universe. I searched for meaning in disappointment. But ultimately I knew this was the path I’d chosen and I was solely to blame for my own unhappiness, even if it seemed like outside forces conspired against me.

Perhaps my perspective is skewed, but more and more writers seem to be looking for scapegoats for their unhappiness. They blame Amazon. They blame other etailers. They blame bookstores. They blame advertisers. They blame publishers. They blame agents. They blame haters. They blame each other.

Everyone looks to point fingers at someone for their misfortune, instead of looking where they should; in the mirror.

Just as I am responsible for my own current unhappiness, so are you. And you’re kidding yourself if you think I’m wrong. And you’re kidding yourself if you think you’d be happy if you suddenly took over my life and career.

It is human nature to be dissatisfied. Goals reached are celebrated for a brief moment, then other goals take their place. Buddha said the only path to nirvana is to deny wanting. Being a writer means constantly wanting.

We all need to take responsibility for our careers. This is what we choose to do, and what we choose to do, by definition, involves the approval of others. There is no way to force the world to buy, read, and like your story, unless you are Chairman Mao. So we’re all going into this biz with a lot of hope and expectations, and hope and expectations ultimately lead to disappointment and unhappiness.

So in an attempt to get me out of my funk, I’m going to pose some solutions for what I see as an industry-wide problem.

1. Set appropriate, attainable goals. Remember that goals are things that are within your power to accomplish. Selling 1,000,000 ebooks isn’t a goal, because you can’t force a million people to by them. Finishing and publishing your ebook by December 15 is a goal.

Also make sure that you don’t take on too many goals at once, because being overwhelmed isn’t a happy feeling.

2. Celebrate reaching goals. Force yourself to stop working and to actually take a time-out to enjoy what you’ve accomplished.

3. Stop blaming. You definitely shouldn’t blame anyone for your choices. And you shouldn’t blame yourself too much either. Because anything you do to yourself is within your control to fix. If you’re unhappy, stop. If you can’t stop, evolve.

4. Stop trying to do everything. This is similar to setting appropriate goals, but it involves more than just the publishing biz. There aren’t enough days in life to do everything you want, and you must remember to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. The more you take on, the more stress you take on, both with your professional life and your personal life.

5. Elbert Hubbard, an author no one remembers, said, “Don’t take life too seriously. You’ll never get out of it alive.” We aren’t curing cancer, folks. We’re entertainers. Nothing in a writing career is very important. Poor sales, bad reviews, personal attacks, failed endeavors, unreached goals–take it all with a grain of salt and a spoonful of sugar.

6. Remember there is more to life than writing. That’s hard to do sometimes, because writing often seems less like a career and more like a calling. But obsession makes you miserable, and isn’t pleasant for those around you, either.

7. Accept that the universe isn’t fair. There is no karma. You don’t get what you give. You don’t deserve anything. Deal with it.

8. Stop whining. Especially in public.

I began this blog entry by whining in public in order to prove a point; we’re all the same. Even Joe Konrath feels down sometimes, and questions himself, and occasionally needs to vent. But complaining that your sales are in a slump, or that you got a bad review, or that BookBub won’t select you, or that Amazon is unfair, or that it’s impossible to get discovered, isn’t helpful. It doesn’t offer any solutions, or help anyone, including yourself.

As writers, we could throw a gigantic pity party and each bring a dish of epic failure to the event. And that party would suck major ass.

I know that we’re all confused and unhappy and seeking answers. But maybe if we took the energy we wasted raging at the universe, and instead tried to find answers on our own, we’d all be better off.

You wouldn’t be visiting my blog, reading this right now, if all I did was complain constantly. So why do you think anyone wants to hear you complain?

If you don’t like your career, fix it. If you don’t like the industry, change it. If you don’t like your attitude, get a new one.

And the next time you consider airing your grievances in public, make sure you also pose a solution. You’re writers. You should be able to plot something out.


Originally, Zen and the Art of Bitching

by Joe Konrath, author of “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing” blog