Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How Do You Measure Success as a Writer?

When I began writing - almost nine years ago now! - I hadn't made any kind of plan, or listed my goals or anything that many writing organizations or professional coaches tell their clients to do when embarking on a business. I suppose it was because I didn't consider my writing to be a business. It was - and still is - my artistic outlet in a life filled with non-artistic pursuits (well, except for my kids. I think they're pretty awesome works of art, myself. :) But once you publish - heck, even way before you publish - people are constantly reminding you that this is a business. And to be successful in it - and why would you deliberately set out to fail? - then it does make sense to have some measures by which you, as a writer, can define whether you feel you've been successful. The issue is: what exactly are those measures?

Now I'm not talking about other peoples measures of success. Other people's definition of success is theirs and shouldn't be applied to you because, like everything in this business, it is subjective. One person might say someone is successful only when they've achieved the fame and numbers of books sold of a J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins. If that's your measure then great! But, personally, my measures have always been less 'out there' and maybe not as obvious in the typical business definition of success (i.e. money). For me, my measures have been to make my writing stronger and better with each book and to put myself 'out there' in the social network arena as much as I can without making myself overly-stressed and too uncomfortable. Is that it, you say? How puny those measures seem to be! But I could have kept my writing to myself - I kept a journal for many years and could have continued to do that. But I needed to stretch myself and the only way to do that was to have my writing put out there for others to see. One of the first measures of success was letting others read my work without getting physically ill over the thought. Got over that so Yay! Successful!! Then it was querying agents and letting them judge my work. Got over that so Yay! Success number two. Actually landing an agent? Wow, I'm feeling pretty successful. Go me. Getting a book published. A dream. No way. But it happened. Another measure of success attained. The biggest yet. Yes!

So, then, after all that, I must be successful, right? And, by my measures, I am. By others? Maybe not. I'm not a household name. I haven't sold a gajillion books. Or gotten a movie deal or ______ (insert your measure of success here). But I've met mostly all the measures of success I set out to do plus a few more like gotten good reviews, a second book contract, I'm in lots of public libraries, and I just learned that I earned out my advance. As a bonus my independent publisher is supportive and believes in my work and continues to champion all their authors works so I've had a lovely publishing experience with them. These may not be huge measures of success for others but they are for me. I believe myself to be successful for the place I'm in now. But, by the same token, my measures are constantly changing as life happens and circumstances change. After all, evolution is the only way to survive in life and in business.

But what is the one constant measure of success that I know will never change for me? Writing the best book I am capable of at the time. For me, writing is a marathon, not a sprint and the only measure of success that matters is set by me and not others.

What about you? How do you define your success as a writer?


  1. In the back of my head, "success" as a writer was always selling a second book. (That's just my measure for ME. As you say, every writer uses a different yardstick.) I figured selling one might be a fluke, but if I could sell another...well, maybe I really was a writer, and not just lucky.

    Since my agent snagged me a two-book deal, I'm not really sure how to define success anymore. I mean, does it count if the second book was just part of the package? I dunnoh. Guess I'll just have to wait and see if I can sell a third.

  2. I'll feel like I've arrived once my boys are in braces and I can finally recover the couch. This is tongue in cheek...for the most part. ;)

  3. Hi Linda! Well, I'm thinkin' you definitely got success, my dear. A two-book contract with Tor is a pretty decent measure. I'll be interested in what your next measure is :)

    Hi Caroline! Oh, my, braces. Two out of my 3 kids had them (looking good for The Boy so far) so I'm not batting too well on that one. But I'm getting close to the end of 2 teen girl years. If I survive that I'll definitely consider that a success!

  4. Great answers. I think it's key - that second book deal and earning out your advance. That's awesome! congratulations. :) Right now, sure I'd love to say success is landing an agent, a book deal and earning out, but until then it's improving with every book. And being happy with where I am.

  5. I think your measure of success is right on the mark. If our goal is huge $$$, fat contracts, fame, movie options...I don't know, it's like setting ourselves up for a hard, disappointing fall. Better to set reasonable goals that lean heavily on satisfaction at our own personal growth!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  6. Great question! For me, it used to be "finishing a novel". After that, it become "having a complete stranger read and enjoy one of my novels". Have been working on that for a while, but I now have a wonderful agent who is trying to help me achieve that. Hopefully, one day, success!

  7. Hi Laura: From all I've read through your blog and twitter, Laura, you are in a great place right now and your success (however you wish to measure it) can just about be guaranteed! :)

    Hi Angela! Reasonable goals are SO important in keeping your sanity as a writer. It doesn't mean you can't dream those 'out-of-this-world' dreams - just make sure you've got one foot firmly on the ground.

    Hi Jessica! Thanks for stopping by the blog. I firmly believe that we will be happier by measuring success in increments. Meeting one successful milestone will only lead to the next! Onward!

  8. For me it's being able to say I'm a writer when people ask what I do, and actually believing it

  9. I like to celebrate the little things. Yesterday I hit the 40K mark in my WIP and I celebrated. I still have about 10K to go, but hey, why not take a moment to be happy about what I've done.
    Of course the bigger celebrations came when I got my first PB contract, when I got my agent, and when my PB released. Those were great things to celebrate.
    I'll keep wanting more because I know I can do more. And you can be sure I'll be celebrating along the way to whatever is to come.

  10. Hi Jocelyn: Saying I'm a 'writer' took me SO long!I guess I didn't believe it for a while. But you are right - once you can say that it is a HUGE measure of success (belief in yourself).

    Hi Kelly! You know I think those celebrations of "little" things (although ramping up word count is by no means little) is critical. We have to be our own best cheerleaders - yet we're so easily our worst critics.