Monday, March 8, 2010

How Do You Measure Success?

The time between posts does fly, doesn't it? Especially when I'm working on other things. I have another cool post to share about the iPad, but I'm beginning to feel like a one-woman fan club, and since I don't plan to purchase one for a while, maybe it's best to give it a rest. With that I'll move on to something that I've been thinking about lately. That is, how individual writers measure success.

I'm sure each of us knows someone who calls himself a writer because he's been working on a magnum opus for the past decade. Though he's never been published––not even a letter to the editor––and he possibly never will be.

Then there's the person from your writing group who is featured as a local writer in your small town newspaper. You know darn well she self-published, and the other book club members plus her family make up the sum total of her sales. Yet, somehow, word got out in the community that she's a "published author" and she does nothing to disabuse them of that notion.

On the other end of that spectrum is the woman I sat next to at a wedding who participated in a writing group with the first fellow I mentioned, and I never knew she had three published, fairly successful novels of her own until I found one on the shelf at Barnes & Noble. Had I asked her when I had the chance, I'm guessing she'd say, "Oh, I've been lucky enough to publish a couple of things," but she probably wouldn't have called herself "successful."

For many, the definition of success depends on where we are in our writing career––if we even use the c-word to describe what we do. For those just starting to submit success means getting one thing published. When we cross that threshold we'll have earned the right to call ourselves writers. Some of us follow through, but some of us set up new hurdles. "The journal isn't very well-known. I'll wait until I get into one of the top-tiers." Or "I'll wait until I publish my novel."

Only today, even publishing a first novel may not make us feel successful. Many, many authors––probably the majority––publish only once and never again. So is it safe to call yourself a writer with any less than two or three published books? And what about sales? How many sales does your book have to make for you to feel successful? And just because people buy your book doesn't mean they like it. If you can't snag a "real" review from an impartial reviewer, how will you know all those friends and acquaintances you asked to review it are telling the truth and not just being nice?

Some people do no more than tap on a keyboard and crow about it. They're certain the reason they aren't yet published is that editors simply don't know good work when they see it. They will hobnob with other "writers" in forums and drop bits of advice like experts. Others will publish several stories, even books, and still feel like a charlatan. On the whole, I think the latter group makes the best writers.

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