Overall, the definition of happiness in the indie writing community is this:
High Income + Hitting a Big List (like USA or New York Times Bestseller) = Happiness
The USA and NYT Bestselling lists aren’t mandatory, but I see enough authors claiming some sort of bestselling list to know it’s important to them. A bestselling list of some kind lends itself to a form of success in their eyes. If this wasn’t a badge of success, authors wouldn’t mention it on their covers, in their book descriptions, or on their websites. The income thing is harder for others to see unless the authors are sharing their sales graphs, but the lists are easy to display, which is why we see so many claims to these lists.
Is it wrong to share information about income and a bestseller list? Of course not. But in doing so, we set up an unspoken rule that these are the things that make you “somebody worth listening to” in the writing community. It makes you stand out from the crowd.
Let me illustrate what I mean by this. Say you have two authors: Author A and Author B. Author A has sold about 50 ebooks in the past year, which made him $100. He’s not on any lists. Author B, on the other hand, has sold 500,000 ebooks in the past year (which equaled about $1,000,000) and made the New York Times Bestseller list. Now, both of these authors give out the same advice on their blogs and in reader forums. Will people cite Author A or Author B when they pass on that advice? Which author has more credibility in the writing community? Also, taking this a step further, which author will get featured in interviews? Which author will be given the bigger microphone to pass on their advice? In other words: which author is successful?
In the business of writing, numbers do matter. Numbers are seen as a gauge of success. And success is seen as measure of happiness. This is the illusion of happiness in the writing community. We have this perception that in order to be happy as writers, we must fit the writing community’s standard of success.
I say this is an illusion because no matter how much people acquire, most people want more. And that desire for more doesn’t lead to happiness. It just leads to setting the bar higher. When a writer reaches one level of success (say being able to pay the mortgage), the writer thinks, “Wow. I was able to do that. But what if I was able to make a living wage with my income?” So then the writer sets the bar of success to making the living wage. And when they reach that goal, they look around at other authors who are making $20,000 a month. The writer then thinks, “Hmm… That looks like a totally awesome goal. I want to do that, too.” And on and on this goes.
The problem is that the writer isn’t satisfied with what they’ve accomplished. There’s more to obtain. There will always be more to obtain. When you measure yourself against those who are doing better, you will find yourself lacking, and that sense of lack will create a sense of unhappiness. You think, “If only I could get X, then I’ll be happy.” But the reality is, it doesn’t create happiness. Not lasting happiness. Sure, the writer may be happy for a few days. Maybe a few weeks. Maybe even a few months. But sooner or later, they will feel like they need to accomplish more.
The cycle is unending, and the only way to end it is by getting out of it.
So how do we do that?
We start by being happy first. Learn to be content with how things currently are for you. We often hear “don’t compare yourself to others”, and I think this falls in line with that idea. It’s hard to be content with how things are for you if you are comparing yourself to someone else.
I’m also going to say something that is probably going to upset quite a few people. It’s time to stop listening to others tell you WHAT makes an author successful. I understand that writers are looking to make money, but the pursuit of money does end up trapping us into the cycle I mentioned above. This post is talking about happiness, not money. You can have both if you learn to be content with the money you’re making. But what I find most of the time is that writers want to make more. It’s more and more. Even if they’re making a living, it’s not enough. And the marketing experts know this. This is why they sell courses teaching authors how to make more money. The illusion of money (aka success) = lasting happiness is a powerful one in the writer community, and there are some people out there who are taking advantage of that.
If your aim is to be happy for the long-term, you have to shift your mindset. I’m currently working on shifting mine. For the past couple of months, I’ve felt incredible despair about writing. I was thinking, “What’s the point in writing if I can’t sell books unless I write to market?” and “What’s the point in writing when my income keeps dropping?”
And don’t think I was happy when I was selling very well. I don’t want to give away my numbers, but there was a time when I was making well over a comfortable living wage with my writing. And I always wanted more. I was stuck in that cycle. I was not happy. I was running myself ragged in trying to sell more and more books because there was an author who was making way more than I was in my genre. I sacrificed time with friends and family to be at my computer chasing the newer goal I had placed before me. I wrote to market. I followed marketers’ advice. I ran myself ragged in this cycle like I see so many authors doing today. All I can say is that the constant pursuit for more money, awards, acclaim, etc is a trap.
For people who are caught in this cycle because this is how they are making ends meet for their family, I sympathize. I know this isn’t something you can just stop. In your case, I would find ways to cut expenses so you can live on less. Then save everything you can. Look for free stuff to do with the family. Look for bargains while shopping. Live in a cheaper place if you have to. I’ve had to do all of this, and believe me, a savings account that is built up helps to lessen the stress you’re going through. (I know this is stressful since I used to be the sole provider of my own family off the writing income.)
I’m currently reading a book called The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything by Neil Pasricha.
His proposal is this:
BE HAPPY —–> GREAT WORK —–> BIG SUCCESS
This isn’t a book geared directly to writers, but I think the principles in it can apply to writers. These days, I’m more interested in being happy as a writer than I am in trying to make a lot of money. I do think there’s merit in starting with happiness. He says that if we are happy first, we’ll naturally do our best, and this will lead to success. But I should clarify that success is a broad range. We shouldn’t box ourselves in with what others tell us success is. Success is going to look different to everyone. If you start off being happy, it stands to follow you’ll be happy with the results that follow from writing your books.
I know some of you who read this blog have found a place of happiness, and I’m hoping to join you soon.
I’d love to hear if anyone has tips on how to start at happiness. How do you approach your stories with great enthusiasm? How do you avoid the horrible cycle of always striving for more?