Tuesday, November 14, 2006

How the Hell Am I Doing?!?

If you've got a book on the shelves, you're probably haunted by an omnipresent question:

Am I doing OK or not?

In almost any other job, you get evaluated. There is a pay scale that usually correlates to years of experience. The harder you work, the likelier you are to be promoted. You're constantly getting feedback on whether you're doing well or not.

This isn't the case with writers.

There are reasons for this.
  1. Every book is unique, and treated differently than every other book, so comparing yourself to other authors does little to no good.
  2. You get very little feedback from your publisher, and when they do give you feedback, it's usually sugar-coated, vague, or even a lie. You never know for sure how happy they are with you, or how disappointed.
  3. You don't have access to all of the sales numbers, and those you have access to don't tell you much about your publisher's expectations and if they've been met.
  4. Everything you do to promote seems to have very little effect, and there's no direct correlation between hard work and success.
  5. Royalty statements and advance checks aren't effective evaluations because they don't list expectations.

In short, writers don't have much control over their careers, and they're kept in the dark about so much that promotion seems almost pointless.

A better business model would have the publisher keeping the writer in the fiscal loop. They tell you how much money they've spent on everything, how many books need to sell before the book makes money, and how many books need to sell to make them happy.

But very few publishers do this. And often our agents can't even tell us if our publishers are happy with our performance. Often our publishers can't even tell us, because sales has a different answer than production who has a different answer than accounting.

Like pornography, success has no specific definition, but we supposedly know it when we see it.

Since writers already have a right-brained artist mentality, the lack of specific goals and appropriate feedback can quickly and easily add to the neuroses pile.

We all want to do better, but we really have no idea how we're doing now.

We all have worries, but no way to quell them.

We search for answers, but only find more questions.

So how the hell are we supposed to function in this septic environment?

Here's your mantra:

1. Live in the present, and don't worry about the future.

2. Try your best, because that's all you have control over.

3. Learn as much as you can about this business, and set goals accordingly.

Unfortunately, there still aren't any pats on the head. So when you're looking for acceptance and approval, look to the readers rather than the industry professionals. Look to peers rather than at your royalty statement. Look to family and friends.

It's an imperfect business in an imperfect world, but worrying about it won't chance a damn thing.

Keep on keeping on, my friends.