About two months ago I was obsessively checking my amazon.com sales ranking (I'm told this is a common addiction among newly published authors and that sometimes said authors must be hauled off to rehab) when I came across a gem of a customer review, entitled "Austen Addict Needs Rehab." This title was not, in fact, as serendipitous as it appeared, as I discovered when I read the first two sentences:
Laurie Viera Rigler should resign her membership in the Jane Austen Society. I don't see how anyone who admires Austen's work could associate that great author's name with this tripe.
I happened to be in a fairly confident mood that day, and so I was able to laugh it off. After all, I knew when I was working on this book that should it ever be published, it was likely to arouse the ire of some and the approbation of others, Janeites being a particularly passionate bunch. And if I've learned anything from my years of reading Austen, it's the importance of laughing at myself.
So, aside from the absurdity of the reviewer's proclamation, how was I able to resist the temptation to take any of this personally? Glad you asked. I'd have to say that other external forces of a positive nature, such as finding out Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict debuted on the Los Angeles Times bestseller list and several good reviews made this call for my resignation from JASNA seem a trifle, even an amusing one.
Inevitably, all highs wear off. It could be that (a) you get a bad review. Or (b) you're having a hard time zipping up your jeans. Or (c) that cute guy who lives across the street didn't smile back at you. It doesn't matter, of course, that (a) the reviewer simply didn't enjoy your book but did enjoy making herself look clever at your expense. Haven't you ever done that in private conversation? The only difference is that newspaper reviewers get to be catty in public. It also doesn't matter that (b) you happen to be premenstrual AND ate pizza for the last three days, so of course your jeans are tight at the moment; and (c) that cute guy across the street wasn't wearing his glasses and didn't see you smile. In fact, he didn't even know that blurry blob across the street was you.
Nope, none of that matters whatsoever. By the time you've been through (a), (b), and (c) and who knows how many other imagined slights, you're ready for some more self-flagellation. Let's see--what would hit the spot? I know! Let's check our amazon.com ranking. No. This cannot be true. It just shot up 5,000 points in four hours?? How is that possible? Does my book really suck? Is it all over? Am I the biggest loser on the planet?
But wait, there's more: Surely the answer to the question of whether or not "L" must be stamped on my forehead awaits me in the review section of my book's buy page. Let me scroll down a bit and--NO--not another bad review. This one is so awful ("I chose this book for my book club pick. I was so NOT impressed that I am going to tell the other book club members not to waste their time") that I feel compelled to re-read the one that says I need to resign from JASNA.
And you know what? This time I'm not laughing.
I've thought about this descent at length, and I've come to the conclusion that something has to change. And you know what? It isn't my membership status in JASNA. In fact, since then I've become a life member.
No, what needs to change is me. My habits. My beliefs. Was I going to allow other people to determine my happiness based on something as inconsequential as whether they love or hate my work?
After all, is my book any better or worse than it was because of the good review? Or the bad review? Of course it isn't.
All I know is this: If I sit on the praise/criticism seesaw, I'm doomed to the inevitable down after going up. Anyone ever see a seesaw stand still with someone at the top?
I've decided to find my happiness elsewhere. I've also decided to stop making devil's bargains with myself. To wit: I am a master at all those "If only this happens, I'll be so happy" wishes. At first it starts out with: "If only I had an agent for my book, I'll be so happy." Well, I was/am. But then it turned into, "If only I get a publisher for my book, I'll be so happy." Then it's "If only the book gets a good review, I'll be so happy," and "If only it sells a lot of copies, I'll be so happy." Have I kept any of those promises? Only temporarily. All it takes to make the seesaw go down is the first bad review, drop in sales figures, too-tight jeans, or imagined slight from my neighbor.
So here's what I choose instead: I choose the happiness that comes when I practice gratitude for all the blessings in my life. I choose the happiness that comes when I'm giving a reading and my sole mission is to make the people who came to see me happy. I choose the happiness that comes when I delight in the pure joy of creating a strong scene or a funny moment. I choose the happiness that comes from whatever comes.
Failure, I've decided, is not an option.
May happiness be yours to keep.