There are some folks who think I was too hard on Tess Gerritsen (A writer whose work I admire and enjoy, by the way) for lamenting on her blog that her latest book only reached #17 on the New York Times bestseller list. She also wasn’t too pleased about my post. She wrote on her blog:
It seems that writers who reach a certain level of success aren’t allowed to
have any insecurities, any doubts about our careers. We shouldn’t be allowed to
wonder if our sales are in a death spiral, whether we’ve lost "it". We should
simply smile and wave and feel like, well, the untouchable queen of England.
I think Tess missed my point. Sharing her insecurities is great (I find it very endearing, actually) it’s what she said and how she expressed it. Can she really expect people to sympathize with her angst about only hitting #17 on the NY Times bestseller list? If that’s a problem, I think it’s one all writers would like to have.
My agent calls those "champagne problems." It’s like a lottery winner saying he’s depressed he just won $500,000 because he won $1 million before… or a TV producer with the highest-rated show in America who is miserable because his series didn’t get an Emmy nomination for Best Drama. On the other hand, I think any writer can appreciate the insecurities Tess feels when she begins each book:
The truth is, I’ve never conquered my insecurity as a writer, and having hit
the list doesn’t change that. I’ve never lost touch with the feeling that
success is a never-ending struggle. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I
slogged my way up as a paperback romance writer, that I wrote nine of those
before my first hardcover, and I’ve never forgotten what rejection feels like.
Every time I sit down to start a new book, I’m always hit with that panicky
feeling of "How on earth did I do this the last time?"
That’s refreshing to hear coming from someone with the kind of success Tess has had…and it’s good for other writers to know, particularly those struggling to make it. So please, Tess, don’t let my comments stop you from being so open, honest, and helpful on your blog. God knows I’ve certainly made the mistake of saying exactly the wrong thing on my blog… in fact, I do it almost daily. I may be doing it again right now.
11 thoughts on “Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams”
Writer’s Insecurities and My Open Letter to Tess Gerritsen
Lee Goldberg posted in his blog entry titled: The Struggling Writer:
Gee, life is tough. I guess when you reach a certain level of success, you lose all perspective. Having a book reach #17 on the NY Times bestseller list may put Tess in the doldru…
Lee, yeah, I can understand how my reference to champagne rubbed people the wrong way. But I wrote that piece as a follow-up to my 7/23 blog entry about the mechanics of making it onto the list, and how Wednesdays can be, for a writer, either a “scotch day” or a “champagne day”:
“For an author with a new book on sale, nail-biting time reaches a peak on Wednesday afternoon. That’s when publishers receive word from the NY TIMES which books will appear on the published list in the Sunday TIMES ten days later. The news usually comes by phone call around five or six p.m., from your agent or editor. A call that can either be a happy “Guess what, you’re number five!” Or a glum “We just don’t know what happened…”
And following that call, it’s time for either celebratory champagne or a stiff shot of Scotch for the author.”
So my reference to champagne was simply my shorthand for exactly what happened that day. (Since I got so many emails from my readers after Wednesday asking … “Well, are you going to TELL us?”)
I don’t know if reading it with that history in mind makes it less objectionable. I hope so.
Ah. So while you’re rubbing our noses in your success, now you’re ALSO telling us it’s ok to sit around and drink in the middle of the day? Well, that works for me…. 🙂
Yeah, Lee, next you’ll be making fun of Walter Scott and calling people fu… Oh, wait. That’s Tod. And it’s his trademark.
I took Tess’s comments in the same light I would take anyone’s comments at a different stage in their career. I would not begrudge an Olympic rower their worries and fears about a slower time in a race just because I am still rowing in glacially slow zigzags down the Charles, terrorizing the herons.
I recently read some blog entries on envy, via PBW, and the negative reaction to Tess’s post by some seems to me to be a variant of that. This mindset contributes to the cliques people sometimes complain about at conferences — certain published authors only socializing with other published authors.
Although obviously not the sole explanation, I can imagine that it would get very very tiresome for someone who has every right to worry about the path of their career to have someone at a different stage make judgments about what are, and are not, legitimate worries to have and to share.
I’d give a mighty strange look to anyone who similarly jeered at me for worrying about polishing a manuscript when they had not yet managed to finish one.
It’s no secret to any of us that highly-successful, multi-published authors still feel insecure, still worry about the success of each book, even about their ability to write. No one becomes less human when they hit the NYT Bestseller List — they just get a whole new range of worry options.
I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t tell you about writers’ “Tequila days”.
I don’t see why Tess’s concerns are trivial just because she’s a NYT bestselling author. I agree with Molly. What Lee posted here sounds like it stems from professional jealousy, nothing more.
Nowhere in her blog, did she gloat the fact that she was a NYT betselling author and others weren’t. She was expressing her concerns and her worries as an established writer. In addition, she comes across as a very nice person — sweet and open and warm — in her blog entries.
When you’re a new hungry writer, you have everything to gain and nothing — or very little — to lose. As you climb the ladder higher and higher, you have very little to gain and everything to lose. Isn’t that frightening? So why is that it’s OK for unpublished and/or not bestselling writers to express their anxieties and worries, but NOT OK for someone like Tess to do the same?
I don’t think it was as much that she expressed her insercurities it was how she did it. Now reading it more in context, I understand more what she was saying. And I sympthise with her as well as wish other writers the chance to make the list.
I’m a huge fan, both of Tess and her blog, and frankly, she’s given me, as a new kid on the block, a lot of hope and inspiration.
The unpublished treat the published like ungrateful, whiny children should we dare to even HINT that all is not Nirvana in our publishing journey.
Publisher didn’t promote your book?
Too damn bad, at least you HAVE a book. At least you HAVE a publisher.
Worries about meeting your sell through?
Too damn bad, at least you HAVE book. At least you HAVE a publisher.
Worries about revisions, or the fact your agent didn’t negotiate a small enough reserve against returns, and now you have a $186 royalty check?
Too damn bad, at least you HAVE a book. At least you HAVE a publisher.
It gets to the point you just shut up and don’t say a thing because of the jealousy. Now why would we, as other writers, do that to Tess? We know, or are learning, the ropes. She’s open, she’s honest, and let’s face it, the bigger you are (industry-wise, of course), the bigger the problems.
It’s refreshing to read a New York Times bestselling author willing to ADMIT IT!
You go, Tess. Keep it up.
You know, Natalie, when you put it that way, I feel like a fool. I stand corrected and owe Tess an apology.
We all have insecurities. Those come from the inside, where we are all quivering, whinging babies, not from the outside where some of us are desperately seeking representation, some of us are waiting on pins and needles for that first sale, some of us are languishing on the midlist and getting $186 royalty checks, and some of us are on the bestseller list and afraid we’re going to fall off and be a has-been instead of a wanna-be. We are all, basically, insecure. It doesn’t go away.
There is simply no denying that, though the bestseller has reached the top of the publishing mountain and all is not roses, she’s STILL at the top of the heap. There is something no one really likes about whinging from people at the top of the heap who are living the dream that we all have. Yes, it’s NOT all roses and rainbows, but at some point, you have to look at your problems and say “MAN, I am LIVIN’ THE DREAM!”
So on the one hand, I feel for Tess and her very human insecurities. I really do. We all have those fears. I understand how she must be feeling because I was once at the top of my career and I fell from the peak to the base of the mountain, bouncing on hard, spiky rocks all the way down. All due to forces beyond my control. More about that later. So I get it. And I’m not jealous of her success. I’d sure like some for myself, but I don’t begrudge her hers.
And on the other hand: WWWHHHHAAAAA! I’ll trade my problems and my not even $186 non-existant, non-royalty, non-check and my non-bestseller non-list desperation for her fear of being a has-been IN A SECOND. I’ll trade wanna-being for BEING and fear of has-being any day of the week.
Despite being a real wanna-be as a novelist, I happen to be a pretty successful journalist. This is my second go at the gold ring, because I had it all in 2001 and saw it all go down the drain with the tech industry, publishing industry and stock market. It took three years of busting my a$$ to get back to half of where I was. And despite the fact that the money isn’t here yet, I have arrived.
My problems, tough though they may be for me, are nothing to what the still struggling are suffering. I realize well and good that I have arrived and don’t have much right to complain when I’m sitting here near atop the mountain. The people still struggling up the slopes aren’t going to have too much sympathy for me when I whinge about my troubles because I have to pay $17 to Paypal to get a $600 paycheck on the 1st instead of on the 15th. They won’t feel bad when I had to walk away from a client away who wanted to impose a nasty WMFH contract. They aren’t going to pat me on the head when I’m worried about getting the 3 features and 2 reviews done by the end of the month when school starts in a week and I’m paniced about whether I really can pull it off again. THEY see what I often do not: I have caught the gold ring and I am living their dream… and my dream.
Now what is it again that I have to complain about?