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A Lesson for Those who Feel Less Than

Strap in. This is a long entry.

I am an author. I am published in a niche market with a niche publisher. In the beginnings of my career I dealt with something very real: prejudice. Other authors who were published with big publishers in big markets assumed they were better than me (and they were right about that at the beginning). Not all of the big authors in my social sphere acted this way–in fact, most didn’t. But I, being young and insecure, assumed they all felt this way.

In the beginning, I didn’t know much. Character motivation, plot movement, story arc, setting–none of that meant anything to me. I wrote a story because I had a story to tell. I became published. So I wrote another story. The publisher acquired that one too.  I learned a lot, edited, became better–much better. I sent my third book to the largest publisher in that niche market and was accepted. It was exciting because I knew the book was good. It thrummed all those emotional strings. The characters were well-developed and the dialogue sang. But I was still in the niche market. And I felt inferior to those published in their huge markets. The thing was that there was a  stigma about writers in my niche not being any good. The rumors were that only hacks wrote in that genre. To be fair to the rumor mill, there were a lot of crummy books put out back then (my first two among them), but there were a lot of great books too. I decided to be part of the solution. I was in with a guild of authors and we decided to change the stigma by raising the quality of literature in our market. We did that through conferences, mentoring, and classes. We did a lot of good. And I wrote more books. And grew in the craft with every one of them.

I was traditionally published.

And felt inferior.

I made the top ten best sellers list in the entire market.

And felt inferior.

I sold out of my first print run and went to a second printing.

And felt inferior.

I had radio, magazine, and newspaper interviews.

And felt inferior.

I won awards.

And felt inferior.

And then one day at a science fiction and fantasy symposium, I met Orson Scott Card. I’m a huge fan of his–always have been. I stood in his line to get my stack of books signed. I became too awed to do much aside from slide the stack to him when it was my turn. He tried to engage me in conversation. I think I might have drooled in response. But the person behind me said, “She’s Julie Wright. She’s an author too.”

He stopped signing my first edition of Speaker for the Dead and looked up at me. “You’re published?”

I dug my toe into the tile floor and ducked my head into my shoulders in the shrug gesture you can only manage to pull off when you are desperately insecure.

He must have taken that as a yes because he then asked, “What do you write?”

I dreaded answering, knowing the prejudice among authors, but I replied that I wrote a lot of things but was only published in my niche market.

He frowned. “Did I hear an apology in that answer?”

Which made me hit the mental brakes.

And then he said something that changed me.

“Didn’t you choose to write in that market?”

“Well . . . yeah, but . . .”

“And you’re published in the market you chose to write for. There’s no shame in that. Who’s your publisher?”

I told him and he actually looked like he might reach across the table to smack me. “So you’re trying to tell me that you chose to write for a particular market, you’re published with the top publisher in that market, and you’re apologizing?”

It sounded so bad when he put it like that.

I don’t feel inferior any longer, and not just because Orson Scott Card demanded I feel better about myself. I don’t feel inferior because I know I am good at what I do. And I finally realized my previous insecurities were not because those big authors were looking down their noses at me. I felt inferior because I hadn’t accomplished all that *I* wanted to accomplish *YET*. It wasn’t them making me feel small. It was me making me feel small. So this lesson for me has been learned. This was all several years ago. So why am I writing about it all now?

Because whispers like wind shaking leaves have come to my attention of other authors feeling small and insignificant because they chose a different publishing path. They’ve achieved great things. They have succeeded in the spheres where they have ventured. They have sales, fans, some have awards. And they feel inferior.

This post is my request for them to stop apologizing for their accomplishments simply because their accomplishments are different from someone else’s. They have found success in the very thing they set out to do. Forget stigmas. And if you have goals not yet realized, that’s okay. To be going forward, stretching, becoming your best you . . . well, isn’t that what we’re here for?

As Rob Thomas says, our lives are made in these small hours, these little wonders. So make those small hours wonderful. Be happy.

xoxo