Friday, June 7, 2013

My stories are outselling the owner of Amazon's and here is how that fact has changed me.

I had a unusual realization just now. I was watching Charlie Rose like usual and Charlie had as a guest the wife of the owner of She is a novelist and has released a new book. The conversation was interesting, and as an author myself, I like to know what other authors' experiences are like.

Mckenzie Bezos' passion impressed me. She wanted to be an author since she was 12 and she met Jeff Bezos years before he opened the largest book store in the world. Mckenzie is really passionate about writing. She went to Princeton so that she could be taught by Toni Morrison and she worked on her first novel for 10 years.

After the interview I couldn't help but go to Amazon and check out her book's ranking. An author's Amazon ranking is basically the measure of an author. It is how we judge each other. That, and the money, are how we keep score.

Well, what I found out from her ranking is that I have about 4 short stories that are outselling her novel. When I saw that I got a quick rush of satisfaction. But it was only for a second. What followed quickly was a feeling of guilt. I had felt good because I was outselling the wife of the owner of the biggest book store in the world. She had all of the advantages in the world, including promotional opportunities like being on Charlie Rose, and I was outselling her. Some might say that that is a legitimate reason to gloat.

But the guilt I felt was because, for the first time, I saw being an author in a different way. I've said many times that I don't enjoy writing. I enjoy having written. I'm a story teller and writing is the only way that I can do it. But take a way the billion dollars and Amazon advantages and she is just like me. She desperately wants to write. But more than me, she lives and breathes it. She is so passionate about it.

And staring at her book ranking, I suddenly saw her, not as part owner of Amazon, but as an author who is struggling to capture the heart and imagination of readers. In the core of her being, it doesn't matter if her family is worth a billion dollars, because no amount of money will truly satisfy her soul like the chance to make someone laugh or cry from reading her words. And having the opportunity to make someone laugh or cry is not a life experience that you can buy.

Her internal measure of self is exactly the same as the poorest of my author friends. We all write for similar reasons and because I am currently succeeding at it more than someone else, isn't something to gloat about. It doesn't seem right to point at another author, who wants nothing more than to enrich someone else's life and put them down because they haven't figured out how to accomplish this generous act of spirit. I'm naturally competitive, but suddenly competing about how successful you've been at taking someone on a journey of imagination, just seems wrong.

I think, from this point forward, I'm going to pull back on how often I tell people that I'm an international bestselling author. I know that I bring it up so often, and so quickly, because I struggled for so long. But somehow, after watching that interview with a struggling author who wants to write for all of the correct reasons, I feel that I need to show a little more quiet gratitude. She's not out trying to crush the competition like her husband. Her greatest satisfaction in life comes from bringing other people joy. That is at the heart of being an author. Because I am who I am and have gone through what I have, I never truly understood that humble desire before. But I do now.

I make my living as an author. There are those that are moved by my work. It doesn't matter how many or why they're moved. I have been granted unrestricted access to the imagination of people. It is almost a sacred act if you think about it. And for that, I am grateful.

And in the wee hours of this quiet night, I wish my brotherhood of authors, including Mrs. Bezos, the same privilege that I have been granted. Being an author isn't a competition; it's a connection. And as long as you're able to financially sustain yourself, it isn't the masses that matter, it's the connection you make with one individual. That individual is the person that is reading your book. Nothing else really matters. I learned that tonight and I'm glad that I did.

It was a good interview. I think that watching it has made me a different person.

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