Focus On Creation, Not Competition.

A reflection on integrity, creativity, and success.

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Image by TeroVesalainen on Pixabay

Competition can be a good thing. It urges us to strive to make sure we do our best, and that our product is as good as anyone else’s. It makes us less willing to settle for something less.

However, it can also be unhealthy if we let ourselves be consumed by it. When a job or a hobby becomes all about being number one, and being better than everyone else, it takes us into territory far beyond what is good for us, and often beyond what is good for those we consider our competition. 

I see both things happening in the Indie Author community. 

Most strive to ensure their covers are eye-catching, their stories are good, and their books are error free. We compare our books to those in the same genre, so that we can gauge the likely level of attraction among readers.

Most of us see our fellow authors as people we can learn from. As a rule, The Indie author community excels at being helpful, free with advice, and positive and encouraging of one another. 

Some, though, seem intent on dragging others down— as though putting someone else down will push themselves further up the rungs of the ladder. Some resort to insult, backstabbing and rum our-mongering. Some sink low enough to leave nasty reviews and one-star ratings on their fellow authors’ books. Some find ways to cheat the system or rig contests to gain visibility and prestige. And some go even lower than that: plagiarism, book-stuffing, and various other ways of scamming the reader and making a lot of money that would otherwise be going to honest writers. Sadly, this discredits the entire Indie community in the eyes of many.

I abhor those behaviours, especially the more extreme they get. There is no place for them, no way to justify them, and certainly very little tolerance for them at all amongst those in the community who have any integrity. 

I also think that it’s a very sad indictment on how some people view their profession. Whether they are authors, realtors, bankers or whatever they do, how tragic is it that they are so fixed on their perceived image and definition of success that they will do anything – even risking destroying the very career they prize – to achieve that. 

The warning is clear: pursuit of “success at any cost” will probably bring about the very opposite.

If you see everyone else in your field as competition, you won’t find any joy in what you do. 

I would much rather be the writer who produces quality work that readers will love, even if it means I can’t quit my day job yet. I would rather be a poet who touches someone’s soul than a lowlife who helps themselves to someone else’s work or reputation.

The key to both success and integrity is simply to do your job well. That will speak for itself. 

A Job Done Well.

Today’s chance meeting with a former student gave me a proud moment or three.

This morning I took my father to town for a medical appointment. It all went well, and quite quickly, so he decided he’d like to shop for a couple of things he needed. 

The picture portrays a row of men's shoes in a shoe store.

As part of that shopping expedition, I took him to one locally owned store where the service has always been excellent. 

It was a lovely surprise to see one of my former students who now works there. 

“How are things with you?” I asked her. 

“Really good!” she answered happily. “I really enjoy working here, and the boss is great to work for.” 

When I introduced her to my father, she responded with respect and chatted with him about what he was looking for.

With utmost professionalism and kindness, she helped him find exactly what he wanted and made him feel as though he was her most important customer all day.  What a blessing to be able to have such a positive impact on an elderly man’s shopping trip, which for him have become quite rare.

In doing so, she both impressed me and made me incredibly proud. 

Her boss also happens to be the dad of some of my former students. When I asked after them, he told me they were happy and well, and enjoying what they were doing. 

As a teacher, it’s harder than my students know to wave them goodbye and set them free to fly at the end of each year, but it is wonderful to know that they are happy in their chosen path and making their own way forward in the big, wide world.

Whether they choose university, a trade, hospitality, retail, or other pursuits doesn’t matter to me, as long as it’s what they want to do.  

I have no intention of trying to take all the credit for any of my former students’ successes – far from it. I know I am only one of many who have helped and taught them, and encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams. Even so, today I can enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that, for at least those three, it has been a job done well. 

‘Smoke and Shadows’: #1 New Release in Women’s Poetry!

‘Smoke and Shadows’ has taken the flag for ‘#1 New Release’ on Amazon’s US store.

I will readily confess to being a little overwhelmed right now. 

‘Smoke and Shadows’ has a little orange flag beside the title on Amazon US, declaring that it is the #1 New Release in Women’s Poetry. While I know it won’t last terribly long, I have to keep reminding myself that it’s a. real and b. not a cruel joke. 

It was a strange mix of surprise, pride, excitement and humility that hit me when I signed into my browser after a few days away from home and that popped up.

It also comes up when anyone clicks on ‘Hot New Releases’ and scrolls through the various genres. That’s a pretty neat trick!

I know that I have worked hard to ensure it’s a great collection, and I am incredibly proud of these poems, but I know that it couldn’t have happened without readers being willing to give my work a try, nor without the support and encouragement of those who help with tricky things like marketing and promotion.  I couldn’t have done any of it without those key individuals in my life who remind me regularly that I can do this, that my work is good, and that there is no reason why I should not deserve success. 

To each of those people: thank you for helping me achieve this honour, as fleeting as it may be. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your contribution to my achievements so far.

Of course, it all depends on how one defines success.  Some people might consider dollars in the bank as a sign that they’ve made it.  Some might look at whether or not they can quit their day job and just write. Some might want to achieve “celebrity” status.  Others focus on book sales, page reads, and their ongoing rankings in various lists and stores.

I won’t deny that any or all of those things would be nice, and I absolutely do hope that people will buy, read and hopefully enjoy my books, but for me, the ultimate success as a poet is when someone tells me that my poetry is relatable, that it moved them or made them cry, or that it helped them to put a painful experience behind them.  One of my favourite comments about my book Leaf came from a young woman who told me, “I read your poems, and I knew I wasn’t alone in this world. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to know someone else understands what I think and feel.”  That has never left me, and never fails to spur me on.  The fact that people connect and relate to my work in that powerfully emotional way is how I measure my success as a poet. 

So, I don’t need that little orange flag to show that I’m successful. Nevertheless, I’m very happy to have it, and I’m going to take pride in it.  And I might brag about it just a little… because I know it won’t last long. And in all honesty… I’m going to tell everyone I know, just because I can. 

An Author With A Mission.

Developing my mission statement helped me to clarify my goals in a way that I had not done before.

When completing an author interview recently, I was surprised to find a question about my mission statement. My immediate reaction was, “My what?”

 

My next thought was of Jake and Elwood saying, “We’re on a mission from God!” in The Blues Brothers.

BluesBrothers
Image from tenor.com

Of course, it makes sense. If I can crystallise my goals in writing into a statement, it’s going to make them easier to achieve.

 

I do that all the time as a teacher. I think about objectives, learning intentions and success criteria all the time. So why didn’t I think about my objectives, intentions and success criteria as a writer? To be completely honest with you, I have no idea.

 

So, I started to work on my mission statement by writing down some basic questions:
What do I want to achieve?
What do I want my readers, or potential readers, to know?
How do I measure success?

 

Simple, right?

 

Wrong.
They’re actually really complex questions.

 

What does success as an author mean? Is it selling a million copies of my books? Well, that would be nice, of course, but it’s not just going to happen without me doing anything to achieve that. Who is going to buy my books if they’re not actually any good? My goal has to be one that I can achieve, and it has to be one that I can measure to see if I’ve met the mark.  My goal , therefore, is to write something that people enjoy and benefit from, not to become a millionaire. Because it’s more achievable, and measurable through both feedback and sales, it’s far more satisfying and encouraging than hoping for something that might never happen.

 

What do I want my readers to know? Recluses are mysterious, sure, but that only has limited appeal. What I really want them to know is that I understand what I’m writing about – grief, love, pain, pleasure, excitement, fear, exhaustion, joy. I want them to know that what I’m writing is real and meaningful. I want them to know that if they’re going through something really awful and difficult, I get that because I’ve been through some awful and difficult stuff too.  Particularly in my poetry, I want them to catch a glimpse of my soul, or see some blood on the page – metaphorically speaking, of course. I want there to be understanding between us. I want to connect.

 

So, measuring success isn’t in how many copies of each book I’ve sold, or how many dollars I’ve made. For me, success is in knowing that I’ve touched someone’s heart, or encouraged them, or entertained them. If they read my horror stories, I want to know that I scared them and they loved it.

 

The beauty of this process of setting goals and working toward them is that I can see with every review that I am achieving my goal, even more effectively than I can with each sale.

 

I owe enormous thanks to the person who asked me about my mission statement. They helped me clarify my goals in a way that I had not done before./div>

So, without further ado, this is my mission statement as an author:

 

Joanne Van Leerdam is an award winning poet and multi-genre author who is committed to writing meaningful and thought-provoking literature for the enjoyment of her audience.
Joanne is a thinker and puzzler, a reader and musician, a traveller, and a teacher who has never lost the joy of learning.
Joanne draws inspiration from her own experiences and observations of the world around her, crafting those ideas into works which will encourage those who struggle to persevere and inspire others to see the world from a new perspective. This is as true of her blog posts as it is of her works of poetry and fiction. She aims to continue to grow her readership into a fully global and inclusive audience.

So tell me, do you have a mission statement?