Feeling Successful

What defines success? I think probably each person has an individual idea of success and what that means for them and their work.

Many put deadlines on success, like “by the time I’m 35, I’ll be a NYT bestselling author.”

But what happens when they turn 35 and they’re not even published yet?

They feel like a failure.

But the truth is, they’re not a failure. Emerging authors have a tendency to dream big and expect things to happen very quickly. After all, we’re so used to having so much information at our fingertips. Most anything you want to know or what to know how to do is just a Google search away. We fast forward through commercials now, too. Everything moves so fast in our lives, we, of course, expect our writing careers to move fast, too.

The reality is the opposite. Most writing careers take years to build before they tip. My friend Cherie Priest put it perfectly when talking about her great success with Boneshaker: “I was an overnight success,” she said. “It only took me 10 years and 7 books to get there.”

So we don’t drown at the bottom of a Vodka bottle, we must set realistic goals, and more importantly, set many goals. Benchmarks.

What’s true of other careers is doubly true of a writing career. You certainly must make goals and dream, but those goals should be based in reality and have clearly defined benchmarks. Even daily goals help.

Instead of “I’ll hit the NYT Best Seller list in a year,” which was one of my early goals, try daily and weekly goals, first.

“I’ll write 2,000 words a day.”

“I’ll finished one short story a month.”

“I will get 200 new followers on Twitter.”

When you reach a goal. Celebrate. It can be small, but reward yourself for making a goal and reaching it. You deserve it.

If you’re looking for an agent, set your benchmarks first at getting requests for partials, then up the ante to fulls before you call yourself a failure because you didn’t find an agent in a few months. The process can take years.

If you’re self-publishing, set small sales goals at first. When you reach them, celebrate and then increase them a little. Have a marketing plan. Learn how to best utilize social networking.

Some emerging authors look at me and they see a successful author who has sold over 5,000 books, has 4 published titles, and connects with fans often. I get fan mail sometimes from readers telling me they love my book (nothing is better, btw). Ethan and I are making a living almost exclusively by promoting and selling our books and art.

All this, there are days that I feel like a complete failure. I’m not where I had hoped I’d be at this point. Not by a long shot, but then my expectations were set way too high. I didn’t understand the realities of the marketplace and the publishing industry. I’ve learned. The hard way. That’s why I wrote a book on it, so you can have more realistic expectations and goals.

After all, we define what success means to us. So be good to yourself, and help yourself feel successful because this is a very long road. It doesn’t serve you or your reader to get burnt out and depressed after the first year.


How do you define success? Do you see the benefits of benchmarks?

How many books would you have to sell (to readers) to feel like a successful author.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. I’m on the other end of the expectations scale. I’ve never dared dream that I’d be a NYT bestseller. I think that being able to financially support myself would define success for me.

  2. christinerose says:

    Interestingly, a NYT bestseller doesn’t necessarily mean a living wage. I’ve seen some pretty scary royalty statements of a NYT bestseller.

    Definitely, supporting myself through writing alone is a HUGE success; however, it takes years to get there for most.

    There must be little successes along the way to keep one going.

  3. I know what you’re saying and I have seen some of those figures as well. When I think of a NYT Bestseller, like a lot of us, I tend to think of someone who is consistently there and making a great living. That is just the image in my head, the one that I’ve never dared dream that I’d be.

    As an author who is going to self-publish this year, all of the little things are victories to me; getting the first draft done, getting the rewrite done. One of the biggest so far was having another author who I respect tell me that she thinks that I’m a wonderful writer. It was a very validating moment.

    I definitely agree that the small successes are important to keep us going. Some days, for me, it can be as small as getting a sentence just right.

    1. christinerose says:

      Excellent! Keep that up. Small successes are definitely what keep us going. xo

  4. Love this! And it’s not unlike a post I wrote today about Taking the Road Less Traveled. Thank you for posting this, and thank you for including self and trad pub authors in your examples – since I’m doing both! 🙂

    1. christinerose says:

      GOOD! I think the most successful authors will have their feet in both ponds, actually, so very good for you! Thank you for your comment!

  5. Once again, so timely. I just posted some very sage advice on success by a young YA author, Veronica Roth who recently published her first novel, Divergent. Hope it’s okay to share the link to it here: http://www.wbradfordswift.com/divergent

    Defining success is like trying to hold a wet piece of soap with a greasy hand. We all get to define our own success, and like your said so well, having benchmark goals along the way make the journey a whole lot more fun.

    1. christinerose says:

      Absolutely. It’s so important to maintain a sense of success and accomplishment along the way.
      Share as many links as you’d like. Thank you so much for commenting. xo

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