WHOEVER you are and wherever you are in your writing adventure, you have an idea of what constitutes success. For some, the definition of success is getting their book published by a mainstream publisher. For others, it is a million-dollar advance or household-name fame on a J.K. Rowling Harry Potter scale. For others, it is selling more than 100,000 copies. Or perhaps you crave kudos in the press or from peers, winning the Man Booker Prize or making The New York Times bestseller list.
For most, publishing is a tough business. So many would-be writers have a dream to write a book and achieve ‘success’ with that book, but that dream can quickly be diluted. For a start, the demands of current bookselling markets can be restrictive — you may have a deep desire to write speculative fiction, but if you are writing it at a time when speculative fiction is not selling well, it is going to be hard to get published. Besides, you most likely need money, so you need to use your time to earn money, which means instead of writing what you are passionate about, you have to write what sells.
But the biggest dilution of success comes from within. Indeed, some people never feel successful, because their achievements are never enough for them. Inside they don’t feel like a success because they don’t consider any of their achievements successes, or one ‘failure’ looms large and eclipses any achievements. And they have no idea what will make them feel successful, which means they will never feel that way. A writer may gain a hefty advance, be published by a well-known publisher, and sell many copies then one negative review can bring a feeling of failure. A writer who has written an amazing book with impressive factual research and 500 compelling pages can feel like they’ve failed if they are rejected by one publisher.
The truth is, not all writers are going to become the J.K. Rowlings of this world. But there is more than enough room for abundant success for the writer without this. There is no need to dilute your dream with self-imposed feelings of failure. The ultimate secret to success as a writer is simple: define your own success.
The first success for every book writer is to finish the book. Only 3% of writers finish their book, so if you have finished your tome you should be feeling very successful. You should be celebrating your motivation, dedication, vision, and perseverance. After all, you have achieved something that 97% of people did not.
One key to feeling successful is to tier your successes. Once you have finished your book, your next success could be to show it to ten people. After all, it can be difficult to show your book to people, so merely unveiling it is a success.
The idea is to make your successes achievable, flexible, and realistic, and to celebrate each step when you get there. It’s important to celebrate every success, no matter how small. Plan your goals or achievements in advance so you have defined what a success is and know when to celebrate. Make these tiers both small and achievable in short time frames.
Consider for a moment a speculative fiction author. When the general market isn’t buying speculative fiction in huge quantities (and as a result publishers aren’t publishing it) where does that leave the author? It certainly doesn’t mean the author is a failure if their book doesn’t get published — the book could be brilliant, but just not in line with current commercial trends. Does success mean making money? And if it does, how much denotes success?
It is important to be practical and realistic. If your idea of success is to make a million dollars or sell thousands of copies then you’ll have to consider commercial realities. If you want to win the Man Booker Prize, then read and study those books that have won the prize before; write the type of book that the judges prefer. Be strategic with your plans for success.
It is imperative that your successes do not depend on other people’s opinions of you. If people you show your manuscript to have ‘negative’ comments, you can take them on board as positive suggestions on how you can improve your book. The definition happens in your mind. You have power over your reactions. How you define their comments will define how successful you feel.
Remember positive emotion is going to help your project and negative emotion is going to eat away at it. If you feel negative it’s going to be difficult for you to submit your work to a publisher or even publish it yourself, let alone sell it to readers.
You need to be able to believe in yourself and your work. Your success is up to you. When you are soliciting feedback or submitting to publishers, even one negative voice among ten positive voices can bring you down. Don’t let that one negative opinion drown out your inner convictions. Your work has been a result of passion and often draws on the best of what is inside you.
As Apple founder Steve Jobs said in his commencement address at Stanford in June of 2005: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Never forget that writing is a joy, and self-expression and self-actualisation can feel amazing. Don’t let your idea of success rob you of this. Besides, as this repurposed adage from the film Racing Stripes points out, writing is like relationships — when you love, you’ve already won.
© Copyright Suzanne Male 2009 Article Extract from the book Get Your Book Off the Ground, soon to be republished in The Book Author’s Therapist.