Book Envy

I had the opportunity to participate in Fullerton College’s Faculty Reading Event last month–a good experience and a nice chance to read some of my work for an enthused and appreciative audience. Before reading from her novel in progress, one of my colleagues made a joke about “book envy,” in reference to the copies of Take Back Tomorrow and Strictly Analog that I’d brought along with me to the reading.

It was funny, and she meant it in the nicest way, but it got me thinking about my own cases of book envy. It comes in two forms–one that’s mostly harmless and just plain covetousness. This occurs when I’m in the presence of someone else’s amazing book collection. As a collector myself, it’s a little tough when a friend pulls out the signed H.G. Wells that he just happened to pick up among a large lot of old books several years back. A similar feeling comes over me in nice used bookstores when looking at the items under glass and envying those with the resources to drop serious cash on such things.

But then there’s the other kind of book envy–the type of thing that used to plague me everytime I’d walk into a Barnes & Noble and stare at row upon row of shelves and all those books written by people with agents and editors and publishers and (sometimes) marketing budgets. As compared to me, with my stack of rejection letters from agents and publishers loaded with stock phrases like “not at this time” and “best of luck placing your work elsewhere.”

Luck. Sometimes it seems like success in publishing is more about luck and timing than talent.

François-Guillaume Ménageot – Envy Plucking the Wings of Fame

I would walk those aisles trying to find a way to turn that depression and envy into inspiration. All that creativity, I should have been thinking, all that perserverance. But instead, I was often thinking, What have they got that I don’t? In some cases it was way more talent than I’ll ever have. But in some cases, I swear it still came down to luck and timing.

So I spent time envious, and waiting for lightning to strike. And eventually I decided to make my own lightning and go the indie route. I still feel a twinge of envy at B&N, but it’s not as intense. And it’s mainly because I’ve come to realize that I’m not looking for lightning to strike anymore, not even with my efforts at self-publishing. And why?

Because I realize lightning has already struck. I’ve got a good job, great family, my health, more material possessions than are good for me…more reasons to feel good about life than I can count. What’s to envy? That I no longer have an agent and other people do? That my books are no longer crossing the desks of editors at Random House and other people’s manuscripts are? That every book I sell comes as a result of the marketing efforts I’ve been making and other people have big publishers with marketing departments?

I could go there, and there’d be a lot of bitterness involved. Or I can look at my Amazon author’s page and see that I’ve got books out there for people to discover. And I can reflect on the positive reviews people have given me–both friends and total strangers. And I can keep working on getting my books out there for the biggest audience they can find.

And I can start writing the next one.

Envy won’t get me far. I don’t know how much further looking on the bright side will get me, but I’d rather take that approach than the other.


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