I laid in bed the other night, my mind adrift with thought after thought keeping me from my slumber as I simultaneously stared off into space, pondering the answer to one simple question.

Why do our expectations — or society’s expectations — not match reality?

I thought of numerous ways to address this question. Some were elegant, some were blunt. Others were passive and sarcastic, yet others direct and rage-fueled. No matter how many ways I went about attacking the question, I never quite came to the same end result. Was this, perhaps, a simple question without a simple answer? Was I wrong to seek out a silver bullet to explain human actions and behaviors, particularly in a time where we are so divided as humans?

In December of 2015, YouTuber and podcaster Gaby Dunn wrote an article on Fusion.net titled “Get rich or die vlogging: The sad economics of internet fame“. The article covers the unfortunate realities of being internet famous, particularly the large divide between the public perception of those who are internet famous versus their own reality. Unless you’re one of the top content creators on the internet, there’s a good chance you’ve got another job to help you make ends meet. When that job is in a public place like a restaurant, internet celebrities are forced to deal with questions about why they’re working there at all.

There was a particular line in the article that really hit home for me, even though I’m nowhere remotely close to being internet famous. It was as follows.

YouTubers are allowed to have struggled in the past tense, because overcoming makes us brave and relatable. But we can’t be struggling now or we’re labeled “whiners.” – Gaby Dunn

I have this inherent guilt somewhere deep inside me that comes up more often than I’d like to admit. It’s almost always around when I’m trying to publicize my book, regardless of whether it’s for the charity drive going on now or for profit otherwise. It’s this nagging feeling yelling at me to shut up. To stop asking people to buy my book. To stop asking for their help in sharing. If people want my work badly enough, they’ll come to me for it. There’s no need to try to push my creations on them.

I know where this feeling comes from, I think. Asking for help is to show weakness, or so it was ingrained in my mind from a young age. If you ask for help, you’re a charity case. No one likes a charity case. No one wants to hear you whine. If you can’t succeed for yourself — BY YOURSELF — then you have no one to blame but yourself. Involving other people only runs the risk of dragging them down along the way.

In May of this year, shortly after I found out the publisher that had signed on to publish my book was going out of business, I traded emails back and forth with Kat Argo, who had very kindly offered to help me figure out what in the hell I was doing self-publishing. In one of our emails, she made a comment essentially suggesting that I shouldn’t have high expectations for the sales of my book.

I knew she was right. I was (and still largely am) an unknown author writing in a relatively saturated genre. My book, while decently written, wasn’t perfect. If I could do it over again, I would have worked to be more inclusive in my writing — perhaps by explicitly calling out which characters were persons of color or minorities rather than leaving it up to the readers to assign race in some situations. There were things I had done well and things I had not done so well. My only marketing was word of mouth and even that has its limitations.

Yet, I was optimistic. There were a few people rooting for me to do well. There were a few others — albeit a significantly lesser number — not only wanting me to do well, but believing that this book would become a success. Their words made me hopeful that Kat would be wrong…that the reality of being an author would not match the pragmatic expectations being set before me.

It’s too early to determine if my book will become a long-term success. It’s evident five months in that the book most certainly is not a short-term success. The book is relatively well reviewed on both Goodreads and Amazon. Most of those who have read the book and have shared feedback have been optimistic. But turning what was months and years of hard work into a published book was the easy part. Selling it and marketing it — two skills that I not only objectively lack, but that I’m objectively terrible at — is the hard part.

We have a tendency as humans to seek out those similar to us. The similarity we seek is not the same from social group to social group. Whether it’s race, economic class, religion, sexual orientation, sports fandom, subcultures, or some sort of clique, humans are a tribal people by nature. We will look for some way to feel like we belong.

When we see someone or something in our tribe that we don’t like or that differs from our social norm, we retract, like a tortoise head into its shell. While those in our group will try to distance themselves from that act of difference — particular if that action was harmful — those outside of the group often use it as a way to build an us versus them mentality.

“State U.’s fans are saying something bad about my team, State Tech! Their fans are terrible people!”

“This movie character who I share a defining trait with is actually the bad guy in this story due to actions that have nothing to do with said defining trait! The director is a terrible person who shouldn’t make movies ever again!”

“Her skin color/gender/religion is different than what I identify as superior (read: my own)! Throw them out of this country and build a wall so they can’t get back in!”

I’ve found it very difficult to talk to my family about my book. Unless they’ve found out through their own means — which seems unlikely as most of my family are the type of people to mention something that gets on their nerves — the majority of my family doesn’t even know I’ve written a book. I think I’m okay with that.

I’m not sure though. The book itself deals with topics that were considered to be taboo growing up. Whether its race, sexuality (whether it be homosexuality, bisexuality, or just pre-marital sex), mental illness, or the use of religion as a driver of fear, there’s a lot of topics in the book that would create awkward silences at Thanksgiving dinner if people knew I wrote about them.

On one hand, I should have done a better job of addressing more issues in my book. On the other hand, am I really doing enough with my writing if the people I know are going to be the most against what I have to say don’t know I’m saying it? Is it my responsibility to market my book, sell my book, and break down the cultural silos that have developed between me and my family? The same silos that have developed across America only to lead to an overtly bigoted individual getting elected to the highest public office in the land.

You can suffer for your success. You just can’t let anyone see it. That what the internet wants. That’s what social media wants. That’s what society wants. They just want to see the feel good story at the end. They don’t care about the shit you had to go through to get there. Just give them the end product.

That’s not reality. Those aren’t the expectations we should have as a society. It’s hard work to be successful. It’s hard work to make yourself into something. And if you, society, can’t handle the fact that I get a little (or a lot) down on myself when things aren’t going well, that’s a you problem, not a me problem.

That said…it’s a problem I can’t get out of my head. It doesn’t go away. No one set these expectations.


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7 thoughts on “Expectations

  1. First of all: yes, use your experiences to help make you a better writer. It’s good to consider how you’d like to improve next time. But don’t start going down the path of thinking your slow sales are because your book isn’t good. Your book IS good. I know, because I read it, but the reviews back me up too. Kat was warning you that it might not sell well because your exposure is low and books are hard to sell–not because there’s anything wrong with it. If the exact same book came out with JK Rowling’s name on it, it would sell like hotcakes. So don’t be too hard on yourself.

    Second: don’t forget that getting this book out there is a good step toward getting the next one to do well, and the one after that.

    Third, and finally: asking for help is not weakness, it’s community. No one starts out with people flying at them begging them to take their money. Marketing isn’t whining or begging, it’s like a job interview… you’re there to showcase why what you have to offer is valuable. Humility is good, but don’t undervalue yourself. Don’t beg people to buy your book, share the great news that the perfect book for them is available for purchase. You see? Think about people you admire…say John Green. You think that dude doesn’t market himself? Heck yes he markets himself. And he doesn’t beg, and he doesn’t come across as cocky either. He says “look what I have to offer y’all.”

    You can do this!! You’re worth it girlfriend! 😉

    Oh and also blame Trump because he’s so awful no one wants to read books right now.

    1. Thanks very much for the kind words. I recognize that at least a portion of this post is me being down on myself, which is unfortunate. That said, I really do find it strange that people who are in the public spotlight yet show emotions beyond happy are characterized as being emotionally unstable. While I recognize that this stereotype is more commonly attributed to women, it comes up enough with any gender that it’s distressing. We even joke as a society about how the struggle is real — as if struggling is feigned in some way.

      I’m trying not to blame Trump for literally everything in the world right now. There are many, many things that he has encouraged and has done wrong far more heinous than me being down on myself. To blame him for something so minor takes away from the gravity of the actual batshit crazy stuff that’s happening because of him.

      I like how you compare marketing yourself to a job interview, especially because that’s an environment that I’m infinitely more comfortable in than marketing myself. Now I just have to figure out how to interview well in this realm. No idea how that’ll happen, but I’d love advice from you or others. I feel like that’s a post coming down the track.

  2. This is interesting on a lot of fronts for me.

    1) I read Anna Kendrick’s book (Scrappy Little Nobody) and she talked about even though she was getting lots of publicity and becoming well known, it doesn’t mean she had (or maybe has) a lot of money. She tried getting a production company to pay for a cheaper hotel and let her keep the difference while promoting a movie because she was low on funds (they wouldn’t). Or how she would go from a red carpet in borrowed clothes to an apartment with 2 roommates and stained carpet because it was cheaper to forgo the deposit than pay to have it replaced, so when people asked what it was like to be famous she would say “Well not a lot has changed, honestly” but they acted as if she was being only humble instead of honest.

    2) Self-promoting sounds awful…I’m so sorry. No advice, because that’s the kind of thing I hate…but I’m sorry.

    3) Obviously I haven’t written a book, but I wonder about similar things when it comes to family. Especially regarding this past election…is it worth pointing out ALL THE WAYS THEY’RE WRONG or should I just keep my mouth shut and take an imaginary shot each time they say something I disagree with (because, truthfully…while I don’t want to be passive, I have lost pretty much ALL faith that any Trump supporter can respectfully entertain an opposing idea without bursting into flames…not nice but it’s how I’m feeling atm).

    1. Fixed the typo and deleted your other comment.

      I kind of want to read her book. She seems like an incredibly down to earth and relatable person in spite of the fact that she’s famous. Perhaps I’ll get it as an ebook from the library.

      I full envision Thanksgiving being a very rough time to be home visiting my family. I hope so badly that I’m wrong, but I don’t think that I will be. I’m one of only a couple of liberal people in my entire family, so it may make for a long holiday season.

  3. I was preparing to type up some super encouraging, deep, and thoughtful response, but Brittany and Samantha kind of already said everything I would say.

    Whether it’s internet fame, becoming an author, joining Hollywood, any of it–these things are so much harder now than they ever have been. While there are people who still support the creative arts, that number has shrunk. People want everything, but don’t want to pay to get it, and I think that is where the biggest problem has come in.

    Trying to get my creative, graphic design, and photography business off the ground, I saw so many people undervalue my work–not because they felt it wasn’t good enough, but because they felt they shouldn’t have to pay for value. Websites like Fiverr help create this idea that content and creativity shouldn’t cost much.

    I realize this all doesn’t sound super encouraging, but bear with me. It’s hard as shit–but its nothing you’re doing wrong or not doing right. Your book is absolutely fantastic. I’m hardly one to sit down and read a collection of short stories these days, and I was pulled in to every single one of them. Especially the ones that made me uncomfortable.

    Asking for help isn’t whining or being weak. Trying to figure it all out isn’t either. The good news is, us creatives group together and work together to help one another along–anyone who isn’t willing to support others’ creativity has missed the whole point.

    1. I really appreciate the kind words you said and the confidence that you (and others) have had in me. It’s really nice to hear and I really do appreciate it.

      I do think that there is this perception that you can’t still be working out how to be a creative person and still be successful. It’s kind of like being an adult. You’re technically an adult at 18, viewed as being “responsible” somewhere shortly after, but most people don’t feel comfortable being an adult until much later. I get that differs person to person. The idea persists however.

      Between writing this post and a couple of other things I’ve done, I have realized I need to try to write something to get all this out of my head. So I’ve started writing something up — we’ll see how it goes.

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