Today four friends and I spent a few hours on Lake Michigan. We don't own a boat–we chipped in together at a charity event to share the cost of a cruise. The man who donated it owns a 50-foot yacht, and he took us around the lake.
The experience got me thinking about how often we compare ourselves to others who have more money or success than we do. In the book world, this means looking at authors who've sold a little more (or a lot more) and feeling unhappy with our own progress.
The day started when we parked near Belmont Harbor and walked along the docks. I marveled at all the people who have the money to buy and maintain boats.
I checked and Google told me the average price of a 41-45 foot boat is $250,000-$550,000.
As I'm not that much of a lake or outdoor person, I don't know if there's any amount I could earn that would make spending that much worth it to me. But I admit to feeling a twinge of envy that there are people who can afford to pay more than my condominium cost for recreation.
The middle part of our cruise involved a stop in a harbor near McCormick Center where a famous 198-foot yacht is docked. You can see it here through the window of the boat we were on. It has 6 cabins for guests and 7 cabins for crew. Its estimated value is $750 million.
The owner of “our” boat laughed at how small his yacht seemed in comparison.
Which is when it hit me–no matter where you are or how well you're doing, there's always someone doing better.
Going back to writing and selling books–if you have no books published, you might look at someone with one or two and feel like you're so far behind.
But when you do publish a first book or a second, rather than congratulate yourself and feel good, it's easy to immediately compare yourself to people who've published a seven-book series or whose books top Amazon best seller lists all the time. If you reach that mark, you might look at people who are New York Times Best Sellers or publish a book every other month.
Or maybe from the start you look at J.K. Rowling or Stephen King and think, “Why am I not there?” Or worse, think “I'll never get there.”
It can be good to look at someone who's ahead of us, who's achieved what we hope to achieve. It motivates us when we're tired or frustrated, just as runners who race with those faster than them tend to increase their own times. That's why it's good to aim a bit beyond wherever you are.
But if you look too far ahead or do it too often, it can be discouraging.
From me to J.K. Rowling is a gap that appears unbridgeable, and the reality is, few writers will ever achieve that level of fame and monetary success, though they may earn a very good living.
So when choosing who to compare yourself to, let your feelings be your guide.
If thinking that someday you could own a castle like J.K. Rowling's causes you to sit down and write when you don't feel like it or to research those advertising opportunities, then by all means do it.
But don't compare yourself to J.K. Rowling if it makes you feel hopeless or that you're falling short no matter what you do.
Instead, try looking to someone whose writing you like and who has one more book out than you do (even if that person has one and you have none). See what you can learn from that person's writing or marketing. Set a goal that's a little higher than you think you can reach and start working.
And don't forget to write down where you are now and set a time six months or a year down the road to check in on your progress. That way, when you get the book finished and published, or you reach the sales goal you set, you'll remember where you've been and you'll give yourself credit, rather than looking again to someone else and feeling you've fallen short.
And if you don't quite reach your goal?
That's valuable feedback, too. Use it figure out what you need to do differently, set a new check in date, and get back to work.