On Success

And frostbite in awkward places

One of the smartest things my friend Riley Black told me when I set out to write a book (among many, many smart things) was this: Come up with your own metric for success. Because if you rely on other people's metrics, you will always be disappointed. 

She's right (she's a wise one, and not just because she's got like 50 kajillion books under her belt at this point). The reality is that a lot of books, the vast majority of books, don't sell like some memoir where a (former) prince writes about frostbite of the weenus. Most books, the vast majority of books, will not win prizes, which are by definition the things given out to distinguish the few best from the many perfectly adequate.

If you define your own book success by whether people buy it, most of the time you'll end in tears. If you define your own book success by whether others in your field love it? Again, most of the time you'll end up in tears. But then how DO you define your own success?

For me, I had to wait until about a month after my book came out. Then I received two messages within an hour of each other that made my heart grow three sizes.

The first was from a friend in my martial art. He's a middle-aged guy with a heart of gold, a veteran, a man's man who fights like he's made of steel. He messaged me and said "I finished reading the book last night. I don't read a lot of books, but it's really, really good!"

A while later I got a message from a college friend. She sent a picture of her 12-year-old son with my book. "He's had his nose in it for 30 minutes now. And this is the kid who rarely has the focus for a printed book (mostly he does audiobooks). I think your terrible puns got him hooked!"

I bounced around on air the entire rest of the day.

You might think, why? These aren't famous people. They're not other writers! They're not thousands or millions of people talking it up on Instagram or Twitter! They're just two random people you already know!

But in that moment I realized that I knew what my success looks like. If I reached those people--a man and a kid, both of whom don't really like to read--and got them hooked? I DID MY JOB. I pulled together the facts, and I conveyed them in a way that kept people who don't read reading.

I felt like a god.

Where have you been?

And what, more importantly is your measure for success? Do you have one that makes you happy? Do you have one that doesn't? Do you have one that you know you should have that makes you happy but you can't give up external pressures because you live in late-stage capitalism? I would love to hear your success stories.

And have you been reading Tove Danovich's newsletter Under the Henfluence? She's here for all your chicken related needs, and the way she writes is so charming. Fingers crossed she keeps the rats at bay (spoiler, I guess). Also CHICKEN PUNS.

Let sleeping bears lie. This family found a bear hibernating under their deck in Connecticut, which has been seeing an increase in bear population recently (and a skyrocketing increase in bear-related panic). They've decided to bear with him until spring. This happens a lot where people and bears intersect, and decks with nice open, sheltered undersides are not unpopular! I've also seen them under sheds, dump trucks, downed trees, you name it.

Where have I been?

Had a nice chat on Times Radio ahead of the UK release of my book, which happened January 19!! If you're in the UK you can now buy a copy, though I believe they are still American versions, which means the spellings may be a bit odd. Hold on to your red squirrels, Brits, you've got something coming.

I did a Q&A with the Fiction Advocate for their new feature: Non-fiction about non-humans. I really love the questions they posed about the structure of the book!

Pests has been reviewed in UnDark! I'm still just thrilled that Rachel Nuwer read my book and liked it! I loved her book Poached, which is, um, about what it says on the tin. I love how she not only discusses the animals, but WHY people are driven to kill them illegally.