Posted by: Kerry Gans | September 25, 2018

Defining Writing Success

Here’s a question that you cannot get wrong: what is writing success? Why can’t you get it wrong? Because the answer is different for each person. Success in the arts is personal.

Sure, there are outside measures of success for authors. Number of books sold, author rankings, book rankings, awards, bestseller status, how many unique books published, books turned into movies… There are many external measures of success. Some authors use those to judge their success—and that’s okay, because that’s their measure of success.

What’s yours?

Some authors don’t care about sales, they just want to see their book in print. So a self-published book with no marketing pressure suits them just fine. Some authors want an agent. Some authors want a book contract with a traditional press, either small press or large. Some want to see their series in print.

The answer to what is success varies from author to author—but also from month to month. Success is a moving target. Sure, some people zero in on one thing from the beginning (New York Times bestseller or bust!), but many of us find success incrementally. First we just want to write a publishable story. Then we want to see it in print. Once it’s in print, we want it to sell well. And always the hope of a blockbuster movie hovers in the quiet corners of our minds.

But success is not always an upward trajectory. It can come in waves, rolling in highs and lows with each project. I am experiencing that now. I have a published book, a short story in a published anthology, and a self-published genealogy book. Not bad. But now I am struggling with a major rewrite of a manuscript I have high hopes for, but it’s not quite “there” yet. I thought it was, but it wasn’t quite. So now I am diving in again.

For me, at this moment, success is defined as finishing this book.

What’s your definition of success look like today?

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