Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How Do You Define Success?

The key question for most of us - how will you know if you're a successful writer?  By what standard will you judge yourself?  Do you want to be fabulously wealthy, with legions of adoring fans?  Do you want generations yet unborn to speak your name with a reverent whisper?  Do you care if you're forgotten?

The answer, of course, is up to each of us as we write.  First, let me take on some of the more, um, idealistic amongst us.

A lot of writers have dreams of being famous.  They want people to fawn all over them and mob them when they go to a book signing(at a venue where they are the exclusive draw, of course).  These people are probably writing for the wrong reason, assuming they'll ever finish a novel.  I say that since most of this type spend their time daydreaming about how they'll act with fame rather than actually writing a book.

Ask the layperson on the street how many authors they can name.  What will they say?  Stephen King!  JK Rowling!  Stephanie Meyer!  Dean Koontz!  James Patterson!  Um...lemme think...I know some more...

Outside of those few folks, there aren't very many famous ones.  There are some that those of us who are avid readers would know(Harry Turtledove, David Weber, and William Fortschen come to mind for me), but those are niche authors - famous within their subset, but not extremely well known by most folks.  The truth is that very few authors become famous, so if that's how you define success, good luck.  Not to say it absolutely won't happen, but you've got about as good a shot at winning the lottery.

Speaking of winning the lottery...

Some writers are motivated by the riches they'll earn.  I'd love to get that $1 million dollar book deal, with promises of lots of lucrative advances for future novels like Nicholas Sparks got, but that's the exception.  After cuts by agents, publishing houses, and bookstores, you might make a paltry 15% off your sales(before taxes), so you better be topping the NY Times Bestseller List, or at least coming close, if you want to be able to afford that villa in France.

Again, not to say that you shouldn't strive for it, but please be realistic about your odds.  A large number of writers starve, and most who like creature comforts - like shelter, food, and heat - have second jobs(and sometimes a third job) in order to make ends meet.

Some people define success as a writer a finishing a novel.  For me, success would be getting a novel on bookstore shelves and having people enjoy what I wrote.  Yes, I'll work my ass off in all the things necessary to get those Dan Brown like rewards, but I'll consider myself successful if I can get a total stranger to plunk down $10-$15 at a Barnes & Noble for one of my books, and then that person recommends me to a friend.

Of course, if I can find a way to write for a living, that'd be awesome too.  It doesn't necessarily mean that I need the Edinburgh castle that JK Rowling has, but being able to sit in front of my computer and type out the stories that flitter through my imagination would be a dream come true.

8 comments:

  1. I'm with you! If I can get a book on the bookstore shelves and get someone to buy it, that is success to me. It isn't like I've never fantasizes about writing fame, but like you said...there are few writers that are well known at all! For me, right now, if I can just get published...in any way, I'll be a happy girl.

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    1. Shoot, sometimes I'd almost settle for having an agent or publisher request a full manuscript. ;-)

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  2. Hi RD!

    Glad I ventured over, and read your post. Appreciate the insightful wisdom you shared within. Best Wishes to you in your writing endeavors (am willing to wager that with your good attitude good things are in store).

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    1. Thanks, AFord! I hope you'll stop by often.

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  3. Finishing a book is success to me. It's huge success actually, since it's hard for me to finish large projects. And then I self-publish it and if someone buys it, I'm ecstatic. Success, to me, is also being able to be a writer full-time. I work a lot and even though I don't make much money, I'm so happy doing what I love so writing is plenty rewarding. I write because I love it, and I hope I can continue working from home fulfilling my passion.

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    1. Amen! I love the feeling of getting a book finished, even when accompanied by the anguish of letting someone read it(we can get awfully attached to our stuff sometimes). Still, I can't wait for the visceral feel of holding a physical book I wrote in my own hands, the way I can with The Shining.

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  4. Hi! I'm a new follower from the Writer's Digest Community. I saw your blog and had to follow. I'd love it if you'd check out my blog http://www.vanessakeccles.blogspot.com/

    I look forward to reading more of your posts. :)

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    1. Vanessa,

      Thanks for checking out my blog. I've read yours and am impressed...impressed enough to add it to my blogroll. I hope you come back often.

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