Tour Life: Code of Honesty
I'm not always the most honest person.
Don't get me wrong; in my day to day life, I try to be scrupulously honest. I try my damndest not to lie. I don't cheat on my partners. If I forget to pay for something at a store, no matter how small, I'll go back and fess up. I found six hundred dollars on the ground last year and jumped through a pile of hoops to turn it in to the police.
I'm not saying this is entirely altruistic; I'm saying my mental calculus is would I rather have six hundred bucks or be able to look in the mirror and feel smug about being the kind of guy who turns in cash he finds on the street?
And obviously I have no problem with oversharing the intimate details of my life.
Anyway, one area where I have historically never been very honest is in how I present myself to the world.
I've always spent a lot of time obsessing over what people think of me, or worrying about meeting external expectations. This means I'm often trying to tailor my personality to what I believe people expect of me: the Good Son, the Cool Boyfriend, the Player, the Successful Writer.
The Agreeable Conversationalist who'll nod along with anything you say, just to keep you happy and avoid a conflict that might diminish your view of me.
This is a pretty cowardly and dishonest way to go through life, and sometimes I wonder if there's any personality at all underneath all of these layers of agreeability and expectation-meeting.
So I'm trying to work on that, to find and embrace the person I am and not feel ashamed of it.
To focus on meeting my own expectations instead of being the person I think people want me to be, for better or for worse.
I started thinking about honesty yesterday, when I was killing time at the Minneapolis airport before my flight to Phoenix. There's a really nice bookstore in the airport, and I thought I would pop in and see if they had any copies of GALE FORCE.
Now, this was always a fun part of going on tour. In my early career, I could count on finding copies of THE PROFESSIONALS in just about every airport bookstore and newsstand in America. And I got such a little thrill out of seeing them there.
But as my career has progressed, my later books haven't shown up nearly as often when I've looked for them. And if these last few books have made it into any airports at all, I've missed them.
The bookstore at MSP had no copies of GALE FORCE. And my first instinct was to feel sorry for myself, and find someone to blame for my career kind of stagnating.
Well, if the stupid bookstore would just stock some copies, I'm sure the book would sell.
Well, if my publisher would only work harder to get the book into stores.
And with this anger and self-pity comes jealously, too, at my friends whose books are in airport bookstores and whose movie rights are selling and all of the rest of it.
It's easy to think poor me and just wallow. But I've been trying to focus on honesty, and on responding to setbacks and adversity in healthy and growth-positive way.
So as I walked out of the bookstore, I reminded myself of a couple of things:
First, if the bookstore isn't stocking my book when it stocked earlier books, it's because those earlier books didn't sell enough to make stocking the new one a smart business decision.
If my publisher isn't putting in the resources to get the book into stores, it's because the previous books didn't sell enough to make it worth their while.
If my advances are steadily declining, it's because my sales history doesn't make giving me any more money a smart business decision.
If my books are no longer coming out in paperback, it's because the publisher doesn't feel they can make enough money with another edition to make the expense worthwhile.
The dirty secret of my career is that of my nine books, only THE PROFESSIONALS has earned out the advance my publisher paid for it.
I'm blessed to have a loyal group of readers who I wouldn't trade for the world, but in pure financial terms, I'm a red line on the publisher's balance sheet.
Essentially, this means that I haven't been making a living through book sales, but rather by convincing publishers to bet on my future sales. And to this point, those bets haven't paid off.
I wouldn't normally talk about this stuff, for fear that being honest would impact my sales, or cast a stink over me that would somehow hurt my career.
But, fuck it.
I'm hoping that by talking about this, I'll shine some light on the business and the mental side of being a professional writer, and maybe help some other writer navigate this industry.
Anyway, the second thing I reminded myself as I walked out of that bookstore was that the success or lack thereof of my career is not the success of me as a person.
It hurts if my books don't sell as well as I'd hoped. But that's not a reflection on me as a human being.
It's nothing personal.
I'm a good person. People like and care about me. And I gain nothing by wallowing in self-pity or searching for someone with whom to be angry.
I cannot control whether my books show up in airport bookstores.
But what I can do is use any setback, real or imagined, as fuel to move myself forward and write a better book, bust my ass to promote it on my own, and try to build my career back up to the point where my face is on a goddamn billboard, if that's what I want.
And I can remind myself every day that I am not my sales history, and that if writing doesn't work out, I won't die in disgrace. I've always striven to live a fun, adventurous life, and whether I'm writing or wilderness guiding or just tramping around with Lucy working odd jobs, I'll still be Owen.
And simply being Owen has got to be good enough. Honestly.