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Sunday, April 15, 2012

What Happened When I Made the List

Before I was a professional author, I used to imagine what my life might be like if I ever became an author or what life must be like for successful authors. I didn't imagine a lot of glamorous things, because I figured that authors spent more time writing than they did at parties in Hollywood. Some of them probably spend more time authors, but I imagine that not that meant authors spend much hobnobbing with celebrities.

I'd always imagined this moment in my life. It was a big party, with all my friends and family, and there would be things hors d'oeuvres and champagne in flutes. This party would take place after something fabulous happened, like when I got a big book deal or made the NY Times Bestsellers list.

Here's what actually happened the first time I made the NY Times Bestsellers list:

It was roughly 4:30 in the afternoon (Minnesota time), and I was sleeping. I do usually sleep quite late, but I actually wasn't feeling good that day at all. I think I may have thrown up that morning (not related to the Bestseller list - I just wasn't feeling well). My editor Rose called and woke me up. Here's how the conversation unfolded:

Rose (very excited) : "You made the bestseller list! Switched is number (something. I can't remember what number. Let's say... eight.) Congratulations!"

Me (sleepy and not as excited): "Really? That's cool."

Rose (somewhat baffled my lack of excitement): "Yeah! How are you feeling? Are you excited? Everyone here is excited. Switched is doing so well."

Me (trying to sound more excited): "Yeah. It's great. I'm excited. (pause) I'll probably be more excited later."

Rose: "Okay. Good. Well, I'm going to have a drink to celebrate for you, and you should have one too!"

Me: "Okay. (bad fake laughter) I will. Thanks."

Rose: "Congratulations, again!"

(Side note, Rose probably is the nicest person ever).

I remember lying in bed thinking I should've been more excited. And then I became worried I wasn't excited, like I'd become too jaded and numb, and I was slowly going to morph into a Patrick Bateman-esque psychopath who has to kill hookers to feel anything real. I was not happy about that prospect because I don't like blood, and I don't even know where to find hookers.

This wasn't anything new, either. In the beginning, like in 2010, when sales were beginning to take off, I'd been very excited and anxious and on a constant emotional roller coaster. But at some point, I'd just stopped reacting.

I could tell it was disappointing, or at least confusing to the people in my life, like my agent, my editor, my mother, my assistant. All these people were like, "Hey, something super awesome happened to you! Aren't you excited?"

And I'd be like, "I guess. I mean, it is awesome, and I'm grateful for it."

Then I would lapse into the same fear that I'd become jaded and lost the ability to feel.

But that wasn't it either.  Because when I talked about Batman or Archer or really anything that wasn't my career, I was very excitable. What I'd actually lost was the ability to get excited about myself.

I have this weird thing. Everything seems impossible or awesome until I do it. Then, the simple fact of me doing it leads me to believe that it must not be that hard or that neat. So even though it had been my goal most of my life to be on the NY Times Bestsellers list, when it happened, I was like, "Meh."

It took me three days to tell anyone that it had happened. And then it was only Eric and my mom. And I was like, "Oh, hey, Rose said I made the NY Times list."

Mom: "Really? Congratulations! That's so great! I'm so proud of you honey."

Me: "Yeah. I guess. I'm way back on the kid's list on the last page, so nobody really sees it anyway."

Mom: "Still, that's quite the achievement."

Me: "I don't know. I mean, the list isn't even compiled by total sales. There's this whole weird secret process on how they make the list. There could be books way out selling mine that didn't even make it."

I didn't say anything publicly about making the list for awhile, like on my Twitter or blog or even my personal Facebook. On one hand, I kinda wanted to, because I wanted to validate my decisions and my career and to show people that thought I would fail (or at least hoped I would) that I hadn't (not yet anyway).

On the hand, I still couldn't reconcile my own feelings about making the list (or my lack of feelings, as it were). And I didn't want to sound like I was bragging. I thought talking about it would make sound all haughty, and people would be like, "Ooo, you think you're hotshit now because you got some stupid list to validate you? Whatever. You're a sell out, and your books suck."

(It should be noted that my internal monologue is a complete asshole. That guy can never say anything nice). 

I eventually did start talking about it because I thought it be weird not to. And I feel this strange mixture of pride, shame, and apathy whenever I do. None of those emotions go together, so I don't even know how it happens, but somehow it does.

I love writing. I still get very excited about projects. And there's plenty of things in life that I'm passionate about and that I enjoy very much talking about. Just most of those things aren't myself or my career. (If we're at a party, and you try to talk to me about my books, I change the subject as quickly as humanly possible.)

I feel defective for not getting more excited about things the way people think I should, the way other people would. I always want to apologize to my agent and my publishers.

"What you're doing is very good and other clients, I'm sure, would be jumping up and down. But I'm just going to sit here blankly and awkwardly until you stop looking at me, and then I'll go back to working out the idea for my next book in my head or planning the design for a new tattoo. Thanks, though. Great work, guys."

23 comments:

  1. Sometimes I think it's that working writers are so exhausted by the time The Call finally comes -- and at least subconsciously, they've started to think it never will.

    When my first novel was accepted for publication, I'd just fallen asleep after more than 24 hours up, which included my daughter being t-boned while driving my car, and trying to get the wreck moved before I'd get socked with a weekend long storage bill from the towing company.

    Luckily The Call was actually an e-mail; I just printed out the letter and contract, left it by the computer, and went back to sleep. My fiancee was shocked that I didn't at least wake her up and tell her, but I was numb. By the time I got that first shipment of books in the mail a year later I didn't feel the newbie energy anymore.

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  2. Did you consider that it might be the creative process itself that is the main thing for you? Finishing a story, creating that world and the characters in it? Everything after that is really something that involves everybody else like editors, publishers and readers, it doesn't challenge you creatively in the same way and while it's nice to be validated in some way, the main thing are the stories themselves. Just a guess, I may be completely on the wrong track here but either way - there's nothing wrong with you, people are different and what excites others doesn't have to be the be-all and end-all for you. That's why we are individuals.

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  3. I think I can agree with this very well, except the hookers and blood part. You can always find hookers. But anyway.

    I'd like to think that for most writers, it's the creative process that gets us giddy and excited, but our careers and outside appearance are almost awkward to confront. Ask us about hobbies, like jigsaw puzzles or how much coffee we consume in one day, and we're happy to share. But career talk? Shenanigans.

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  4. I feel it's okay to not be as excited as those around you. I told one person at my extern site that my book went live and I shrunk back in horror when she decided to excitedly announce it to the entire room.

    Regardless of how you react, or how people think you should react, if you truly appreciate your talent, that's what matters most.

    Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

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  5. By the way, your page is rockin'.

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  6. I think we all have to wait so long for any sort of success we get a bit numb. The first time an agent I'd submitted to offered representation, I felt like dancing down the street. (Six and a half days later she changed her mind. Luckily, I'd only told fifteen people.) But I think making the NY Times Bestsellers List might get me doing a quick jig round the room.

    Maybe you just lack the Brag Gene :o)

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    1. Lexi, I told *everybody* when I landed my first agent. So, when he quit the business three years later, I had to tell everybody that, too. My only consolation is that I made my first novel sale without one.

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  7. Maybe it's a defense thing. In my up and down rollercoaster of trying to find a full time job, I found that when I did finally get a job offer, I didn't want to get excited, because I was afraid I'd get slapped down. It still doesn't feel real.

    I'm self publishing in a few months, and if things go well, I'll probably be walking on pins and needles. Afraid of sounding like I'm bragging, afraid it's only a glut of friends and family and the sales will soon die off. I cringe at the thought of announcing any kind of good news related to my novel because I'm afraid it will sound stuck up, and that karmic justice will snatch it away.

    Either way, congratulations on all you success. You're doing what you love. Celebrate that and don't worry if making the best seller list feels numb. As long as something makes you happy, it's all good.

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  8. Amanda. You are an inspiration to me. And you spoke words in here about worries that I to have, the unfeelingness thing. You made a Canadian laugh at your post today. Thanks for being awesome.

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  9. Amanda, you are an inspiration to a lot of us. You worked so hard to get to where you are today. I have to admit, I'm alot like you in the way I think; I struggle to get excited about things that I've accomplished. But you did it! And we admire you for it. :) I can't wait to read more of your work!

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  10. I totally get that. It's all very surreal. *Hugs for you*

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  11. Hmmm...making The List didn't throw you into fits of hysteria and the need to shout "Look at Me! Look at Me!"

    That's cool.

    Different strokes for different folks. By the way, I think my Inner Critic and your Internal Dialogue went to the same school of "How to give self-bad banter with vigor." They sound so much alike.

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  12. I do the same thing. Really I do. I shy away from anything that has to do with my achievements...and I have no idea why.

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  13. I think you're just very humble about your accomplishments and that's why you deserve them. I too dream often, perhaps not to be on the bestsellers, but to be able to support my family with my writing. That to me will be a dream come true:)
    Congratulations on all your successes:)

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  14. It is definitely humility, and maybe a dose of self-doubt. Your long-nursed image of who can be successful doesn't include yourself. Just know that the fact that you have made it on sheer will and talent, and an ounce of luck make the every-men and women of the world feel very empowered. You're amazing. I hope you can have moments when you really feel the truth of that. Start by sending that internal critic to charm school.

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  15. I honestly think a lot more people feel that way than are willing to admit it. I haven't had anything major published as of yet (but am working on it) and yet this exact same scenario has been in my head for years. It's just stuck there, because I know if I ever *do* achieve those goals I've set for myself that I will mostly likely have that exact reaction, the same one as you. (In my head that voice will say "well if I finally achieved it and I didn't even have to almost die for it, I guess it wasn't that hard to begin with now was it?") Because I know myself and I tend to be an overachiever. And I tend to want *everything* to be perfect and awesome when I finally reach it, but there is also that side of me that *knows* life just doesn't work that way and even when things are pretty close to perfect and awesome, that feeling doesn't even last.

    I think we as human beings just have that built into us. We set certain things on pedestals whether they're goals or people, and for a long time we need that to push ourselves. It's only when we get there that we realize it's not as great as thought it would be and we still need more to validate our self worth. It happens a lot with people who are high achievers in any particular part of life, from what I've heard. It happens with people who feel they need something to validate themselves. My friends have been warning me about this for years, and I know they're right. I think sometimes you just have to take a step back and realize for yourself that you did something good, that you did something that relatively few people *can* do. Just let yourself think about that for a while and maybe your feelings will change. It may take a while before it sinks in just how far you came and how what you've done makes you just a little bit special. It may be a while before you can finally feel the emotional fruits of your hard work (especially if you're still trying to become a household name). Don't beat up on yourself too much. You've done good. You're a good writer and you've inspired a lot of other writers just by doing something you love. That's not bad. :)

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  16. From reading your past posts, I know that you've put so much effort into every project you've set your mind to. You haven't become jaded, but more so have become more realistic on what it takes to create the success that you are now experiencing. Also, you sound down-to-earth, and more humble than most other individuals who have made it this far. Congrats to you!! Celebrate your achievements and enjoy life to the fullest. Don't ever feel ashamed for what you've accomplished. There are SO many people out there who really enjoy your work and appreciate what you've done.

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  17. This post made me want to curl up in a ball and cry. It's so tough being at the other end, you know, the one where you have that terror that no one is going to buy your books and you'll be stuck working in a mindless job for the rest of your life?

    I absolutely adore your honesty in everything you post. But I'm also insanely jealous that you don't have to get up at 5.30 am every morning, write mindless processes, and get home at 6.30 pm with no energy to write a single word.

    If you don't celebrate your successes, can you ever truly be happy?

    Also the validation of making any best seller list has got to at least some what improve one's self esteem.

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  18. I understand completely, When I wrote my first book (just to see if i could) and people were like "wow, it's good, it's really good"....I pretty much was like "mhmmm..." basically believing that they were my friends and my family, OF COURSE they'll tell me it was good. Now, probably 50 people have read it, and they were all like "WOW!!! It's great!! Write another!" and I still just smiled and said "thanks" not really believing that it was possible that it was that great. I say things like "I'm no Stephen King, or I'm no Janet Evanovich!" because to say anything else would feel well, just plain arrogant.

    When I grew up, nobody told me that one day I could be president. nobody told me to "aim high" or "reach for the stars" I always knew that I'd grow up, get a job, if i was lucky, one that didn't suck, and maybe have a house and a dog, and if things really panned out, maybe a husband who I was crazy attracted to.....

    I don't know how you were raised, or where your "courage" or "drive" to do something "MORE" comes from....I personally like the idea that you sold your books on amazon so that you could make a couple bucks to go to Chicago for the Jim Henson exhibit.....as I see it, it's life's "simple pleasures" that are the most motivational....but congrats Amanda, NYT Best Seller list is a milestone that you can be proud of, in your own way, even if it's all by yourself, or down the road.

    Rose will understand...."artists" like Val Kilmer, they probably don't respond by jumping up and down to this sort of news either! ;) Artists!!

    ~hl~

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  19. Amanda that's because you are humble, and noy because you lack excitement. Don't feel bad. I am the say way. I don't talk much about myself or about my every day job. I just like to enjoy life around me and not be self center that's all.

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  21. Have you considered doing Spam Sculptures?
    It might super charge you. :)

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