We all say it: “I want to be a successful author.” But what (or who) defines success? Society defines success by measuring money. Most of us are aware that the chances of becoming independently wealthy as an author are infinitesimal. We are also painfully aware that even making a living from our writing is a hard row to hoe. So if we already know that finding society’s definition of success is unlikely, then how do we define success?
There is no single correct answer, and the answer to that is as varied as the authors you ask. Some writers are content just to have their book available on Amazon and don’t care if it never makes a penny. Some are thrilled with finding a traditional publisher, no matter how small, who believe in the story enough to publish it. Others won’t be satisfied unless they see their book with a Big 5 publisher. Then there’s the elusive New York Times Bestseller List that so many authors aspire to in their dreams. Movies? TV series? The levels of “success” are endless, and what defines success for you may not define it for someone else.
Of course, all of the examples above are business successes. There are craft successes, too. Just finishing a story is an amazing success—a milestone many aspiring writers never reach. The incremental improving of your craft is a ladder of success, as the style and elements of story in each new book get stronger. I remember the thrill I felt when I finally “got” how to go deeper into POV to bring the world of the story alive. Writing a good story encompasses so many elements, from the obvious like character and plot to the subtle like metaphor and word choice, that there is always a new achievement to strive for, a new mountain to climb. And each new skill mastered is a success.
We humans have a tendency to always look ahead, at the next level, the higher rung, and forget how far we have come to get to where we are already standing. With Thanksgiving this week, I wanted to take a look back and remind myself of how far I have come. I wrote a book. I finished it. I got a publisher for it. I have held it in my hands, seen it on bookstore shelves. I have sold some copies. I have signed some copies. I have faced many fears about putting my introverted self out in front of people. I have seen kids’ faces light up when I tell them about my book, and watch them start to read it as they walk away with their new purchase. I have heard my little girl say with pride, “You’re an artist, Mommy. You write really good books.”
I have come a long, long way, and that long way is paved with success.
So what is success for me? I thought I knew my definition of success: I wanted to sell a certain number of books, make a certain amount of money per month. And those goals would still be nice to reach. But real success, for me, is knowing that my book helped someone. Maybe it simply entertained them and made them happy. Maybe it served as an escape for them during a hard time. Maybe it held a message they really needed to hear. If I touched even one person, then I have succeeded.
What’s your definition of success? And this Thanksgiving, don’t forget to look back and catalog the successes you’ve already had.
Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving, everyone!