Before we can be successful, we have to know what it means to us as an individual. In writing, perhaps more than many other walks of life, there are many ways to be successful, depending on what the person – you – want to gain from your work.
And there are many people who will tell you how to become successful – often the advice is contradictory. I remember being told ‘Write the book you want to read’ and at the same time being told ‘Write for the market’.
Well, I worried, what if my taste in reading material isn’t what the market wants? I guess the thing to do, really, if you want to be published is to update your favorite reading material with what you learn from researching the market, in order to write a book that you want to read – and other people want to read, too!
For example, I’ve always loved ‘gothic’ mysteries, in particular the work of the legendary Phyllis Whitney. Her books don’t appear on the top selling lists anymore, but basically, her writing category has morphed into ‘romantic suspense’, still with the woman in jeopardy theme but a lot sexier and more dangerous and wide-ranging – and who can complain about that? So I can write the plots I love, and still write for the market, yes?
One thing I do know, there are few – if any - fast tracks to writing success. Read about many bestselling authors and you’ll learn they have been writing for years before hitting the A-list. Stephen King claimed he could wallpaper his room with all the rejections he received before Carrie’s success!
The Internet is full of Get Rich Quick Schemes – save your money, avoid them and keep writing. They often have tempting titles like: Ten Minutes to Double Your Income! Unlock Your Writing Power! Free Money Making Plans! The Secret to Writing Success! Maybe I’m biased, but I suspect the only people to get rich from these schemes are the people selling them.
Personally, I think you have to define what you consider to be success for yourself – and surprisingly, that doesn’t always come with a dollar figure attached.
Usually when we think of writing success, we think of the bestseller lists, adoring fans waiting for signed copies of our books, royalty cheques big enough to impress the stodgiest bank manager, and write-ups in the popular press. But before you throw yourself into the mad dash for the number one spot, consider this question: What does writing success mean to you? Do you even want to reach for the stars?
For some writers, the act of writing is fulfilling enough. For others, it’s knowing that somewhere out there someone is reading their work. Still others are burning with a message they need to get out into the world – whether they ever earn a penny or not. If your writing can make one person feel that they are not alone in the human condition, would that be enough to make you feel successful? Or do you want to grab the brass ring, to have adoring fans and publishers fighting to catch your eye?
Too many of us set off on the wrong road, never questioning what we actually consider to be success on our own terms. Success isn’t a generic, one-size-fits-all garment; we each need a different version of it. And too many writers come to a crashing standstill, unable to reach a goal they don’t understand or have the aptitude for, or are actually subconsciously undermining, instead of pursuing a dream that fits them just right. And then starts the painful process of self-blame, of denigrating our talent and belittling the work we’ve done when it was, perhaps, simply the wrong work, the wrong success path for us.
And if anyone has used one of those ‘quick path to success’ plans out there and been successful, I’d love to hear your story!
Glenys O'Connell is a multi-published writer of romantic suspense and comedy, a playwright, and non-fiction author. She wrote the book on writing basics: Naked Writing: The No Frills Way to Write Your Book.