Is one man's success another man (or woman's) failure? Of course. We all have different expectations, and more often than not, those expectations change over time. Early on in my writing career, success meant getting published. Simple. Straightforward. A tangible goal. I jumped up and down with joy when my first book was accepted. I can still remember that feeling...but my goals have changed over the last five years. Some authors see success as getting a Big 5 contract or having their books on shelves in brick and mortar bookstores. Some people believe self-publishing doesn't count. It means you failed to get a real publisher to accept your book. There are all sorts of different opinions about success in this business.
A friend once made a comment that stuck with me--probably because it irritated the hell out of me at the time. She asked wasn't my writing a hobby not a career since I'm really not making much money? There it is, the dreaded M word. No one wants to talk about it. Is that the definition of success? Is making money--whether it's with a small press or a large one or by self-publishing--the definition of success? When it comes right down to it, that's my current goal. I'm not retired. I have a day job, but I want to keep writing so I'm willing to try every avenue available to achieve success.
There's one more way to look at success (okay maybe more than one, but one I'm going to talk about). Reviews. Do the people who read our books like them? Are we satisfied we're producing the best book we can. If the answer to those two questions is yes, does that mean we're successful authors? Again, it's all about expectation.
There are a couple of things that make me feel successful. A few days after the free period for my most recent release, Asking For Trouble, I checked my Amazon rankings and noticed all 9 of the books on my back list had dropped at the same time. My conclusion: someone who had downloaded my new release when it was free had read it and liked it so much they bought all my other books. THAT felt like success. These little moments make what we do worthwhile.
Another milestone--I just signed a contract with Kensington (ebook and POD but with the option for mass market paperback) for a three book suspense series. It's an excellent feeling. Will I be successful with this new venture? I guess we'll see. What I truly believe is we have to keep pushing ourselves and trying different things to discover what works for us as individuals. Have I given up on self-publishing where I did see some degree of monetary success? Nope. I plan to self-pub a historical this summer. I'm looking forward to the challenge of promoting a book all the publishers said had great characters and writing but was set in a time period too difficult to sell. Maybe I'll use that as my catch phrase. This book is so odd you have to read it!
So, now you've heard what I think about success. What's your definition? Inquiring minds want to know!
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Great post, Jannine. I've been thinking a lot about this issue for the past few months, ever since the publication of UNWRITTEN RULES. Your comment about reviews really strikes a chord with me. I feel truly successful when a reader tells me my book got her through a 15-hour overnight shift.
That's what I'm talking about, Alison! Gotta love a review like that.
More than the money - (did I just say that?;-) - getting the review or the feedback that your writing meant something to someone is a great measure of success. You are right that what we consider success changes over time.
Our definitions of success do change, Margo. In part because we're always growing as authors and demanding more of ourselves. And that's a good thing!
I know what you mean about changing goals. This is a fluid industry and we have to "go with the flow." :) Sure, making money is one of the ways to determine we're successful. We aren't non-profits. We can measure our success by how well we feel about our career. Congrats on the contract with Kensington.
Success as elusive and changing as the wind, right? I like what Diane said, that it's best defined by how we feel about our career. But sometimes it takes a while to filter the outside noises and determine just how we feel. Thanks for a great topic!
Sometimes I'm not sure I know how I feel about my career. I think that has to do with everything changing so fast in the publishing industry. I often wonder if I'm making the right choices. I guess we each have to go with our gut! Thanks for commenting and for the good wishes, ladies.
Thanks for the thoughtful ideas, Jannine. I don't think we feel truly alive/successful unless we take risks. But each time we take a risk, like your deal with Kensington (Congrats!), it comes with more risks we never saw/anticipated. If we seek multiple reviews for our books, we'll get stinkers. If we 'experiment' with a genre, we might get rejections. On and on. Thick skin, required :-)
I agree, Rolynn. Alligators probably envy my thick skin!
My goals change. I don't always meet those goals. I got published. Won some awards. Got two very good contracts with the Big Five, one with an advance. But my reviews are very, very slim--none have more than 30. Does that mean I'm not successful? I don't know. I prefer to measure success by enjoying what I do. Do I enjoy the books I produce? If I don't, I'm working on it some more. Is it a hobby? I write from 9am until midnight every day except for times away from the computer to make the bed, do the laundry and cook. If one can classify that kind of dedication as a hobby, they're goofier than I. Great post.
Yep, that's why the hobby comment bit. We put so much time into this. If we started a restaurant or retail store that was running in the red the first few years, would anyone suggest that was a hobby? Of course if the business didn't start turning a profit, they'd probably quit. We don't quit! Thanks, Vonnie.
Very well said, Jannine. Like you, in the beginning, I just wanted to be published. (Although, that might not be 'exactly' true. I graduated high school in 1980, and the yearbook printed quotes from some of the seniors asking, "What will you be doing in the year 2000?" (Like that was light years away), and my quote was, "I will be a best-selling author." LOL. I didn't quite make that goal, still not a best-seller, and it was 7 years after 2000 before I published, but I guess that goes to show, I've always had my eye on the prize. I still have the yearbook, FYI.)
I think authors at various levels still strive to reach different goals. I would love to become wealthy from writing, but I think I mostly measure success, like many of you other ladies, by learning that someone read and enjoyed my book(s). Even a bad review is a measure of success, because it means a complete stranger took the time to read and trash your book. :-)
Vonnie, dear GOD, woman, how the heck do you write from 9 to midnight???? I have a day job and several side jobs (editing, etc), so I don't have the time to devote like that anyway, but my brain is always fried after about 4 to 6 hours of writing. Even with breaks.
Sorry I'm so wordy, and Jannine, MAJOR congrats!!!
Too funny about the year book, Ally. I started writing my first novel the summer after I graduated from high school--in 1980. Must have been a good year. LOL I knew exactly what I wanted too. Hmmm, maybe I should dust that puppy off and finish it! I think the original is handwritten in an old notebook somewhere.
I think that success is personal and what you feel inside. I have 8 books published. Do I make a lot of money? Nope. But... I have 8 books published! Other people read my work and have made some wonderful comments in the form of reviews. No matter what anyone else says about me, I feel like a success.
Congratulations, Jannine. You rock!
A great post. Sometimes, I feel successful, sometimes not, but I know it's up to me. Like others have said, it's personal.
Jena and Liz,
You're right. It's how you feel about what you've accomplished that matters. Thanks for commenting!
Congrats on the new contract!
I think we all have to define success based on what we want - and it changes over time. Or maybe we get greedy - starting out when just finishing the book is success, then getting a request for a full, a contract, good reviews - all are success 'markers' and each one is satisfying in its own right, depending on the individual.
Of course, if I can use the M word, Money is a major success marker for most of us - but let's face it, we'd all probably still write if we never saw a penny, yes?
We probably would all still write, Glenys. But maybe we'd be able to write more with that monetary success marker. Sure would be nice!
Money only matters to me in that it may afford me the opportunity to write more. And I'd love to be able to provide my family with more money and pay back my husband for the faith he has had in me. But I'm pretty content with my lifestyle, so money isn't a success marker for me.
Would I love to be a best-seller? Sure. Would I love to be signed by a big five? Maybe, but definitely not a goal. The only reason I would desire that is to get my characters out to more people, people I can't reach on my own. But I love the freedom of self-publishing and would not like to give that up.
Bottom line? For me it's about introducing characters I love to people who also love them. I feel I owe that to the characters. Is that weird?
Major congrats on the contract, Jannine! That's wonderful! And thanks for sharing your post!
I'm with you on the freedom of self-publishing, MJ. It's kind of addicting being able to see your sales in real time and make your own decisions about every aspect of your book. But, I'm hoping having a big publisher behind me will expose my books to new readers. It's frustrating knowing so few readers know about me or my books. I guess I'll find out if it makes a difference. Thanks for stopping by!
I know what you mean about the benefits of self-publishing, Jannine, but some day I'd like to see one of my books on sale in an actual store. (So happy for you on your Kensington deal!) Ultimately for me, success will be if I can replace my day job salary with book royalties. Because then I could spend my days writing. That to me would be success.
Leah, when it became clear my royalties weren't doing a heck of a lot to bolster the family income I got two jobs (summer at the boat ramp, winter at the rec center) where I can write between customers. Okay, so maybe they aren't anyone's idea of a dream career, but someone is actually paying me to write so it works for me!
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