I’ve been thinking a lot about success in my writing career. It’s been much more difficult than I imagined, both the success and defining it:
When I was a stage manager, success meant a performance went off smoothly, with no major problems, as the director intended.
When I was a fundraiser, it meant an event that raised its goal or more, or a grant proposal that was funded.
When I sold children’s books to school librarians, I felt successful when my customers were happy with their orders.
Writing, though, is different. So here are five things that make me feel successful:
- Sales. Duh. I’m nowhere near being a best-selling author on any prominent lists. In fact, my sales are nowhere near where I’d hope. But I enjoy those direct deposits and consignment checks, no matter the size, because they mean someone’s reading my books (and hopefully liking them).
- Trust. The first time I interviewed someone for my books, she cried twice. I was mortified. I’m not sure which one of us apologized more. It was never my intent to make these men and women cry. But they did, more often than not. It took me a while to realize their tears meant they trusted me enough to bare their souls and tell their stories. That’s a pretty big compliment.
- Recognition. I don’t mean awards, though those are nice. I rarely enter contests because that kind of recognition isn’t that important to me. When I started writing the Friend Grief books, I wanted to shine a light on a type of grief often disrespected or ignored. Along the way, I became known as an “expert” on that type of grief, which somehow surprised me: I was focused on the books, not me. I’m content knowing that more people respect the grief for a friend in some small part because of my books.
- Impact. When I started writing, I had no idea if anyone would care about these books. No idea. I often felt like I was writing for an audience of one: me. But then something began to happen, something that was unexpected. I would be talking to a prospective reader at an author fair and there would be a subtle change in their facial expression. They’d give me a little nod and maybe a tiny smile before they told me a story about a friend of theirs who died. That’s when I knew they “got it”: they not only understood why I wrote, but they understood that particular kind of grief.
- Satisfaction. Sometimes it comes when the person I’m interviewing admits they just told me something they’d never told anyone else. Sometimes it comes when I’m asked to give a presentation or write an article. More often than not it comes from someone who says, “I can’t wait to read this.” Now that last comment brings on panic, too, because I don’t ever want to disappoint anyone reading my books. So the satisfaction of a job well done is always a goal.
Everyone has their own definition of success. For some it’s awards, for others it’s sales. For others it’s simply the satisfaction of seeing their name on the cover of something they created.
You may have very specific goals: to sell 1,000 books a month or win a Pulitzer Prize. You may have reached a level of success that you dreamed about, but now feel like there must be a new level to attain. Or maybe you have no idea what it would take to feel successful.
The funny thing about success is that it’s not the same for everyone. My goals are not your goals, nor should they be. Just be prepared to be surprised – as I have been – by the many ways you can achieve success.