The Definition Of Success

I’m going to be bold and I’m going to call myself a successful writer.

No, I haven’t made a million in three months and I’m not dripping in money. But I’m consistently making more than goes out, I’m consistently increasing my readership and I’ve got the means to invest in future projects (audio, ahoy!) without having to dip into my own funds. Within a few years, I expect to be able to pay all of our household bills from writing.

In the light of people whose names we see emblazoned across news sites, the word success has become poisonous. A lot of people, especially those who just start out, equate success with those crazy stories of the writer who hit on some kind of nerve and sold millions.

And the thing is: they’re often just crazy stories. Those stories often have a couple of things in common:

  • The author has no idea how it happened
  • The author has no means of repeating the success, or structures in place to capture those readers
  • The author probably won’t be around for very long

Hey, if someone offered me millions for a flash success of a single book, I’d take it, but the trouble is: you can’t plan for it, this is not a healthy career, and it’s not a long-term plan for a sustainable income.

Moreover, while these stories attract a lot of news flies, I believe they are damaging to the new writer, because it conditions them to believe that hey, they can do this, too! Even if the writers themselves often say: I’m a fluke, don’t listen to me.

Those stories are also damaging because they raise utterly unrealistic expectations, and skew beginning writers’ perception of what success even looks like.

New writers who publish become disheartened when, hey, this kind of success doesn’t happen to them, while the reality is that the more you believe this will happen, the less likely it will.

You can’t plan a career around that definition of success.

You have to define your own success with much more realistic goalposts. Success need not be about income. It could be about regular publication, or about other metrics.

Define what you mean by success for you. Don’t let other people define your success for you.

One Comment:

  1. Great post, Patty. I have to say that one of the most interesting things about being a self-published author has been this almost imperceptible shift from vague (but BIG) dreams based on general cluelessness to very well-defined goals based on information.

    I admit that, when I started out, the dream was to “make it big” as they say. Effortlessly write a book that the whole world will love and then sit back and count the money. So I quickly wrote a bad book and tried to send it off to literary agents and wait for them to make me money. When that didn’t happen, I slowly wrote a (dare I say) good book and tried to send that off to others and wait for them to make me money. When that also didn’t happen, I discovered self-publishing so I did that and just waited for it to become a bestseller. When no one bought it, I had to learn how to market it, how to write quicker, how to network and all of that.

    Now, three years later, I realize how much I’ve enjoyed just becoming a part of this community. I’m able to sell consistently and even offer helpful advice to people who are just starting out. I’m learning so much about this every day and am loving the fact that it actually “feels” like work, not just luck. It’s not just a hobby, it’s my field of activity and I’m getting better at it every day. I love the feeling that I’m actually earning everything rather than just “making it big”.

    That’s not to say that I couldn’t do with a bestseller and a lot of money, but I never suspected how much I would enjoy just being a part of this community and doing this work (and not just the writing part). But maybe if I hadn’t started out as a clueless idiot with a dream of instant success, if I had known how hard it was going to be, I would not have had the courage to do it. I think these crazy expectations I’ve had have actually helped me and I’ve been able to gradually change my vision of success, just slow enough so as to not be discouraged and give up.

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