July 4th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
A NYT Bestseller Has a Meltdown

So, I wrote up an entire post for today, then decided not to post it.  It’s full of whining and insecurities.  Completely irrational insecurities.  I went back and forth, telling myself that this blog is about the reality of being a working writer, and insecurity is a big part of that.  Moreover, I think it’s important to tell people that being a NYT bestselling writer doesn’t make those insecurities go away.  In some ways, it may amplify them — high expectations mean spectacular ways to fail.  I really want people to know that landing on the NYT list doesn’t solve all your problems.  It’s nice, it opens doors, but it’s not a finish line.

Early on in my career, I frequented a listserve for writers.  I had only sold a few short stories at the time, but that still made me one of the most published writers on this particular list.  One day I posted a heartfelt warning, discussing how hard the business was and continued to be.  I don’t even remember exactly what the topic was that instigated this.  But one of the responses I got back was, “What do you have to complain about, you’re published.”  Yes, people really do say that.  My posting to that list slowed way down after that, since I felt like a lot of what I was saying was coming across as over-privileged whining.

That’s partly why I decided not to post my original rant.  Because it was kind of a whining freakout.  I’ll try to say the same thing, but more objectively, with less emotion:

I’m worried about the new Kitty book.  It’s gotten good professional reviews but Amazon reviewers don’t seem to like it.  Or rather, they like it but not as much as previous books.  I’m trying to tell myself that this doesn’t mean it’s a bad book, it means I’ve generated very high expectations, which is good, except that eventually I’m bound to disappoint someone.  And as my friends keep telling me, I’m always worried about the current book.  I go through this every single time — same fears, same worries, everything.  I forget how bad it is, every single time, until it hits me again.  So, there’s no reason to worry, right?

Really, I shouldn’t read reviews at all, but I’ve said that before, and I yet keep reading them.

Here’s one of the other realities of being a NYT bestselling writer:  the anxiety of wondering what happens when I’m not anymore.  I mean, I’ll never not be.  That’s just how the marketing works.  “NYT bestselling writer” will be in my obituary.  But what happens if the next Kitty book doesn’t hit the list?  Does it mean I’m done?  It’s that problem of expectation again.  My definitions of success and failure have changed. How strange is that?

I’m trying to remember that my anxiety is normal.  What I really need to keep in mind:  there are things I can control, and things I can’t control.  How people respond to the book, whether it ends up on the list, are things I can’t control.  All I can do is try to deal with my anxiety in a sane manner (Wine?  Knitting?) and move on.  I think I wrote a good book, and I’m trying to make the next one good.  That’s all I can do at this point.

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21 comments to “A NYT Bestseller Has a Meltdown”

  1. Mary
     · July 4th, 2011 at 7:39 am · Link

    The pressure to perform must ramp up to unimaginable levels once a book or series is a success, like yours. I mean, it’s scary enough sharing my work with people and I’m not yet published. Thank you for sharing and, like Dory said, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”. (She’s one smart blue fish, no?)

  2. Laura Lee Nutt
     · July 4th, 2011 at 8:56 am · Link

    Thank you for sharing your struggles and anxieties with us, Carrie. It’s comforting to me to know that, when I finally reach the point you are at now, it’s okay to still feel insecure.

    With regard to the latest Kitty book that you’re worried about, you have my sympathies. It made me think about all the times I’ve gotten rejection letters–I’m approaching 100 at this point, more than if you count silence as a response–and all the advice I hear is, just keep writing. Move onto the next project and don’t think too much about the one you’re querying. That’s hard. Even though I’ve put some projects away because I haven’t gotten any bites, they still linger there and make me doubt. It takes a lot of effort sometimes to push forward. I imagine it’s similar for you now.

    Again, thanks for sharing. And happy 4th of July.

  3. Anju
     · July 4th, 2011 at 9:45 am · Link

    I guess the insecurities never go away. They just change. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Jessica Bell
     · July 4th, 2011 at 9:55 am · Link

    I can totally understand these fears. I have these fears and my first book hasn’t even hit the shelves yet! I suppose I’ve got plenty more dear to look forward to. Thanks for sharing. And I’m sure your whiny post was just as good :)

  5. Jessica Bell
     · July 4th, 2011 at 9:56 am · Link

    *fear, not *dear. argh.

  6. DebbieW
     · July 4th, 2011 at 9:56 am · Link

    Leave it to you to “whine” in a thoughtful & insightful way! I say that seriously because *whatever* you write is articulated so well & it is important for READERS as well as writers to hear the realities of life as a writer. If more readers understood some of what happens behind the scenes, maybe they would see how they can HELP to support the works of authors. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must finish reading “Kitty’s Big Trouble” (I slowly savor my first readings) so I can then post positive reviews at Amazon! Keep up the great work, Carrie, because you DO write such engaging stories! (Loved the “Mr. Kitty” & bootleg Janis Joplin quips!!!)

  7. Gabryyl
     · July 4th, 2011 at 10:18 am · Link

    As my neighbors (42 yr old mom & 16 yr old son) , my mother (63) and my niece (20) have all attempted to steal ALL of my Kitty books recently, as well as trying to bribe me to be next to read the new one, I don’t think you should be too worried. 😉

  8. Carrie Vaughn
     · July 4th, 2011 at 11:22 am · Link

    Yes, that is very good advice!

  9. Carrie Vaughn
     · July 4th, 2011 at 11:23 am · Link

    Thanks for the comments, all! Happy fourth!

  10. Rhiannon Frater
     · July 4th, 2011 at 4:37 pm · Link


    Thank you for sharing this post. Tomorrow is the official release date for my first novel. THE FIRST DAYS is being published by Tor and this is my first release from a major publisher. I’ve been a lot more anxious than I thought I would be. Though I am happy about the reviews I’ve received so far (especially the one from Publishers Weekly), I’m trying to avoid the reviews. I thought maybe I was suffering some sort of rookie syndrome, but it’s a comfort to see that I’m not the only writer who feels this way.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, for sharing.

  11. Sasha White
     · July 5th, 2011 at 12:44 am · Link

    I agree, it seems that no matter where you (as you in general, not you particularly ) are in your career, there are insecurities galore. And it’s okay to give in to them and stress-for a bit. As long as you don’t let it incapacitate you.

    Hugs on getting over this bump. I’ve no doubt I’ll enjoy this Kitty book as much as the previous ones.

  12. Linda Fausnet
     · July 5th, 2011 at 8:50 am · Link

    Im still an unpublished (aka struggling ) writer, but I can definitely understand your struggle. I think sometimes people think because you have “made it”, that criticism no longer hurts. People think big movie stars are immune to bad reviews because of their success, but they’re not. Successful people are still human and have the same insecurities that we all do. Remember, being courageous isn’t the absence of fear, its being scared and going forward anyway.

    Congrats on the book launch, Rhiannon!

  13. Charlene Teglia
     · July 5th, 2011 at 10:37 am · Link

    I’m not sure you realize how hard it is to maintain and grow a career until you start selling; before that, the focus is on the big goal of “sell to pro market”, and it’s hard to see past that. But it’s so true that once you’re “there”, it’s only the beginning. And few careers just go up in a continuous straight line. This is why it’s good to have friends in the business to talk with, because yes, career problems are good problems to have as opposed to “I just want to start my career”, they are still real, valid problems and being told to stop whining doesn’t help us create strategies and solutions.

    I have been saving Kitty’s new book to read while recovering post-baby. I’ll post my review on goodreads/Amazon when I finish. :mrgreen:

  14. Lynn Viehl
     · July 5th, 2011 at 1:35 pm · Link

    First I’d like to see you change the title of this post so I’d stop getting sympathy e-mail from people who think I wrote it. Removing the related links to my old posts on my royalty statements would also prevent confusion.

    There’s nothing that can stop you from reading reviews or worrying over the lists, and it’s hard to voluntarily give it up. What you can do is try to have some fun with it. I do giveaways based on whether or not one of my releases makes the NYT list, and readers love guessing. As for reviews, just stop reading them. Or get creative with them; print them out and use them for a paper mache or other art project. I’ve been making an origami crane chain out of the hate-mail I get, and it’s very therapeutic.

  15. Carrie Vaughn
     · July 5th, 2011 at 1:45 pm · Link

    I’m sorry for the confusion, Lynn. I’d meant the title as a tribute to your earlier posts. I can change the title, and see if I can figure out how to remove the related links.

    Thanks for the suggestions!

  16. Carrie Vaughn
     · July 5th, 2011 at 1:45 pm · Link

    Congratulations on the release!

  17. Carrie Vaughn
     · July 5th, 2011 at 1:51 pm · Link

    Well, the “related links” section appears to be part of the template and there doesn’t seem to be a way to edit it.

    Any ideas, Sasha?

  18. Sasha White
     · July 5th, 2011 at 3:43 pm · Link

    Sure I can go in and delete all things related to Lynn’s post. Sorry to disturb.

  19. Sasha White
     · July 5th, 2011 at 3:53 pm · Link

    Oops. I was wrong. Without deleting the posts themselves, there’s nothing I can do. The Related Links feature is automatic, and in order to take it off this post, I have to take the feature off the site completely, and as it’s something blog readers requested I’d prefer not to do it.

    The only reason it’s linking to them is because of the titles in the post use the term NYT bestseller, which you both are. ANd despite the fact that they are written by different people, they are related in the way that people are curious as to how NYT bestsellers do react to things. Changing the title of either of the posts now wouldn’t help either, as it wouldn’t change the title that goes in the link, and that’s how they connect.

    Lynn, if you want me to delete your post completely, I will. It would be a shame, but I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable or distressed by being connected still.

  20. Carrie Vaughn
     · July 5th, 2011 at 5:17 pm · Link

    Thanks for looking into it, at least.

  21. mlle. x
     · January 31st, 2012 at 2:20 pm · Link

    You’re reminding me of a conversation I recently had w/ a goodreads friend about the newest Joanna Bourne book. I thought it was excellent and gave it four stars, but I have to admit that my review was tepid.

    This friend of mine liked my review and said I’d made good points about the pluses and negatives. I hopped on over to look at her review and she’d given it five stars, showered it with glowing praise. The thing that snagged my attention most? It was her first Joanna Bourne book.

    I could only conclude that my tepid review was the product of my high expectations. I think she’s excellent, hands down, I buy her books without questions, recommend them often, but I probably won’t be frothing at the mouth in my reviews until she actually tops herself…which is almost impossible to do, considering how great her past books are.

    I’d say that I regret writing a tepid review but I don’t think you can change that new happy/old happy dynamic. It’s the same with people and places and puppies and everything else.

    So I think you have a point about reviewers with high expectations but I wouldn’t worry if that also means they’re loyal and content.

    By contrast…I am a huge Charlaine Harris fan. I read her for years before the HBO show was a whisper on the wind. I’ve read all her series, even the one about the librarian. In order. But I hate the way the Sookie series is fizzling out with a whimper and my last few reviews aren’t just tepid they’re sort of, I don’t know, long-suffering or resigned. A different feeling entirely.

    Of course, once loyal fans are hooked on a series we’ll follow it into the dumpster. It’s a horrible compulsion.


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