For most writers, validation from others – whether readers, critics, agents, publishers, or all four – is essential to their sense of self esteem, at least creatively speaking.
Many writers measure their success by their sales, which makes perfect sense, at least from a strictly commercial standpoint. I constantly see posts from fellow writers in my daily Facebook feed boasting about their latest book’s chart position in a particular category on Amazon. That’s fine with me. They earned the right to brag, most likely the hard way, since more often than not, the road to literary success is paved with heartaches, and almost all easy routes lead nowhere.
Conversely I often see forlorn updates from writers that are quite upset the population at large seems totally apathetic regarding their contributions to literary culture.
In either case, the writers are taking the reaction to their work quite personally. That’s only human. If you pour your heart and soul into any type of artistic expression, the response is going to hit you where it hurts (or heals) most, regardless of whether you show or admit it.
Leggo Of Your Ego
Pride can prevent writers not only from putting constructive criticism into proper perspective, but also praise. Either one can knock a sensitive person off balance unless both the source and the intent are cautiously considered. It’s best to take either in stride, at least in public, so no one can accuse you of being either a sore loser, or an arrogant winner. Both attitudes are probable turn-offs to prospective fans.
The private pain fostered by outright defeat can fester, though. Myself, I channel all of my many professional setbacks right back into my work, since it may not be my main source of income, but it is my primary self-therapy. Not only is it the most effective psychological and emotional salve I’ve ever tried, but it’s also the cheapest.
It took me many years – decades - of enduring one brutal rejection after another to arrive at one inescapable conclusion. And no, it’s not that my writing fundamentally sucks, because there have also been many successes along the way, even if they often feel more like consolation prizes that true triumphs.
That’s a matter of perspective, though. Which brings me back to the point I’m making: unless you’ve been specifically commissioned to write a particular piece, write mainly to please yourself, to satisfy your own muse, to express your own feelings about life and the world. If your work is both sincere and carefully crafted enough to suit industry standards as a commercial product, you will eventually connect with others that empathize with your situation and share your point of view.
Because after all, no single individual is that special.
The Diversity of Adversity
We all share common traits and aspirations. It’s all part of the universal human condition, and none of us are immune to its various facets. We just experience and react to these common experiences and emotions differently. That’s what makes the mosaic of our existence so interesting – and often, sadly, so difficult.
But this is exactly what makes any work of art, or even a commercial product, unique and relevant. Or not, depending on how much you decide to conform to conventional standards, rather than defining yourself by your own, regardless of taunts or petty putdowns from the peanut gallery.
I finally decided my voice and my work may not be considered mainstream material by the gatekeepers, but given the DIY tools of digital publishing, I no longer had to limit myself to the whims and tastes of total strangers. So I decided to both self publish as well as publish traditionally, the latter being mostly short stories for various anthologies. And the beauty of it is, the last four short stories I’ve had accepted by other publishers were actually solicited by the editors that were impressed by my general body of work.
This circuitous and complex approach won’t work for everyone, though. That’s only for you to decide. And taking charge of your own career (or life) definitely does not make you an egotist. To suggest otherwise is not only counter-intuitive from a survival standpoint, but can also be indicative of jealousy.
There is a wide gap between courageously declaring personal or professional independence and defiantly force-feeding substandard work on the world for the sake of your own ambition.
Just keep in mind that once you decide to forge your own career path, there are many in the traditional publishing world that will scoff at your efforts, denigrate your output without even reading it, and dismiss your entire career as a hobby, not a legitimately professional quest.
This doesn’t hold water with the people that matter most though: readers. Indie publishing is no different than any other small business. Your success will depend on the quality of your products, and the consumers have the final say.
But it will also depend on how much confidence you display in your own work, especially when presenting it to the public. There is a huge distinction between that and merely bragging, which is often interpreted as a sign of hidden insecurity, and rightly so.
As long as the merits of your work live up to your own standards, and your own standards match those of demographic you’re targeting, it won’t matter what other people say about you. Your success, even if it’s only artistic in nature, will speak for itself.
And that’s a reliable source anyone should trust. Starting with you.