Believe it or not, today is the first Valentine's Day that I'm in a relationship. Or rather, a love relationship. Throughout my adolescent and young adult life, Valentine's Day was a day of dread, when I longed for a card or a heart-shaped box of chocolates from someone special, someone outside my family, someone male, who longed for me. I longed to not be the kid with the fewest Valentines in the class, the teen with no carnations from admirers or a date to the dance (I even remember one year in which the carnations were handed out on a Friday and I was out sick; I returned on Monday to find three wilted, somber carnations from my girlfriends). I wanted a bouquet of roses delivered to me at work. I wanted a romantic dinner for two.
I wanted to be loved. Like, in love, love.
By my thirties, I said, "Fuck it." Not just to the day, but to the whole damn fairy tale.
After all, it wasn't about the hearts and roses and candy. It wasn't about the romance and the cards and the sentiment. It wasn't about a day. By my forties, I'd learned that love wasn't something to be attained. I'd learned to shower myself with roses and romance and heart-shaped cakes. I bought myself cards, left myself love notes. I took myself to the movies and the museum and for long walks on the beach. I fell in love with myself. I fell in love with my life. And I radiated that love outward whenever possible.
And yet, as a single person, I still couldn't help but feel ostracized every February 14th. Especially in the advent of Facebook-- I remember one year in which the trend was to post profiles photos of you and your significant other. I openly voiced the discrimination. Since then, I've stayed away from the fray as much as possible, and remained vocally cynical of the day.
But here I am, on Valentine's Day, in love. Engaged. Living with a man who is the reflection of the love and light in my life. For the first time. And I confess: I'm conflicted. How do I treat this day that has historically treated me and other singles rather shittily? How do I not turn into a hypocrite? How do I reconcile going out to dinner with my sweetheart tonight, and the heart-shaped pendant he presented me first thing this morning, with the commercial, Hallmark-hellish aspects I've avoided and abandoned these last few years without abandoning others?
By remembering the message Sarah Girrell and I delivered via protagonist Eva Perino in our novel, Why I Love Singlehood:
Singlehood is a State of Mind
This is my message to singletons and couples. A day devoted to love is nice in theory. But a life lived lovingly every day, regardless of relationship status, is the best gift you can give to yourself. That may be a corny sentiment, but I've experienced its truth.
Yes, my fiance and I are acknowledging the day. Yes, I love the simplicity of the pendant and the thoughtfulness behind the gift. But, had there been no Facebook, no displays at Target, no gaudy jewelry commercials, I doubt today would have been much different. We still woke up to laughter. We still give each other space when needed. We still don't depend on each other to be the supplier of happiness. It's not that every day is Valentine's Day. It's that every day is the love of our life.
Yesterday I stumbled across a blogpost in my Facebook newfeed (click here to read it) that, according to Amazon, "only 40 self-published authors are a success" and "making money." Before you get thoroughly depressed, however, read on and you'll find that "making money" is defined as "selling more than one million e-book copies in the last five years."
We'll get to that in a minute.
I'm not going to address the stats featured throughout the post that were taken out of context. Instead, I'm going to address the following two quotes:
"In fact, writing is a poor man’s occupation."
"So if you’re not selling your books, take heart, you’re not the only one. If you’re considering becoming a writer, think twice, it won’t make you rich."
Nothing irks the shit out of me more than when a fellow writer -- especially a fellow writer -- spouts this kind of nonsense, and uses a gross definition of one million ebook sales as the bar that determines "success."
Here's the thing the blogpost didn't mention:
I don't have the numbers on this, but I'm willing to bet that, aside from celebrities, Stephen King, E.L. James, and J.K. Rowling, there are also probably only about 40 traditionally published authors who have sold one million books in the last five years, ebooks or print.
It also doesn't mention the number of authors, traditionally or self published, who are making a living from the royalties of their book sales, ebook or print version. I'd be willing to bet it's still a relatively small number compared to the thousands of authors who publish every year, regardless of the track they choose. However, I could probably name about 15-20 author friends -- myself included -- who fit in this category.
I don't deny that writing is a difficult business in which to make a living. There is no quick road to publishing success. The competition is fierce, and sometimes exceptionally written books--traditonally or self pubbed--don't find commercial success for reasons unknown. It doesn't help that, thanks to the ease with which one can publish now, the market is saturated. I also don't deny that I was one of the lucky ones, having been in the right place at the right time with the right price when my then-self published novel Faking It peaked at #6 on the Kindle Store Bestseller list around this time in 2010.
But it is possible to make a living.
Yes, publishing requires perseverance. Yes, the chances are that the more books you publish, the greater ability you'll have to eventually sustain a living. And regardless of whether you sell one or ten or one hundred or one thousand or ten thousand books per year, write good books, dammit. Hone your craft. Always respect and focus on your craft.
I've got no problem with people who use money as a motivator for writing. I've certainly got no problem with people who want to write books and make a living from it. I was one of those people.
Since 2010, I've sold, worldwide, in English, German, and French, print and ebook, close to 450,000 books. I've had some great luck and support and also put in a lot of hard work. But my success isn't defined by those numbers; rather, I define my success as having had the tenacity to write novels that I'm proud of, find an audience, and eventually make a living without setting unrealistic expectations or letting naysayers set the standards for me or feed me the bullshit that it's impossible to do so.
If you're a writer, and you want to make a living from it, either as a self-published author or with a traditional publisher or as a freelance writer, I cannot tell you that it will be easy or that it will happen quickly. I can tell you, however, to go for it-- as long as you write kick-ass material. Set your own goals and standards for success and making money, but dammit, write well.
I'm an author of commercial women's fiction and a writing instructor. My claim to fame: I can say the alphabet backwards.