Friday, August 9, 2013

What is Success Writing Tip 19/100

Publishing deadlines, a new project, and a couple of days in the mountains without internet have slowed things down a bit. But I still plan on doing 100 tips in 100 days.

Today's tip has less to do with how to write your story than it does with what it means to be a writer. Of all the questions I get asked the most, "How do I get published?" is probably at the top of the list. I have discussed the ins and outs of agents, publishers, query letters, and all that good stuff at other places on my blog. But the thing is, the publishing world is slowly changing.

It used to be that there was a kind of process to things. It went something like this:

  • Write short stories
  • Publish short stories
  • Get an agent
  • Write a novel
  • Sell the novel to a big publisher
  • Sell more novels
  • Win awards
  • Hit bestseller lists
  • Get a movie deal
  • Sell foreign rights

Sound familiar? It was kind of the writer's dream. You could tell how successful you were by where you were on the list. Got my agent? Check. Sold my second book? Check. Foreign rights? Not yet. You knew if you did certain things and hit certain numbers or won certain awards that you were doing well.

Now that has all changed. True, if you hit bestseller lists and get your book made into a movie, most people will consider you a pretty successful writer. But what if you decide to self-publish? An indie author can sell lots of books, make lots of money, hit lots of lists without ever touching an agent or a publisher.

And how much do numbers matter. 50,000 books sold is a pretty great number. But what if you gave them away for free? Is it still as good? What if you sell them for $0.99 each? That's $50,000. Pretty darn good. But is it as good as if you sold 50,000 copies at $14 each? Or what if your story was only read by ten people, but it changed one of their lives? How do you put a dollar value on that?

It's this weird sliding bar. No one really knows what the definition of success is anymore, because it's changing all the time. And hey, here's a crazy thought. What if you write an amazing story and never publish it at all? Isn't there a lot to be said for creating art in the first place?

I guess this is my point. Write the best story you can. Take whatever path you want. Set your own definitions of success, and don't worry what the next guy is doing. There is nothing wrong with wanting to see your book made into a movie. But if that's the only thing that will make you happy, you may never be happy. If you only consider hitting the NYT Bestseller list successful, you might always look at yourself as a failure.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying give up your dreams. Dreams are what make this business so fun. When I was a kid, I loved fishing, because, while I might never catch anything, I might catch a huge fish. One of the most exciting things about writing a book is that it really could become a bestseller some day. Dreams are what make us strive to be better.

But I've seen myself and many of my friends go through the process of selling their first book, getting an agent, going to a book signing--all things that we dreamed of--only to realize our goals had changed. You think you'll be happy if you just get an agent. Then, you'll be happy if you just sell a book. Then, it's a certain number of sales.

Your dreams and goals shift as you reach them. They are what drive you. But happiness comes from something else. Even after publishing a dozen books, I still get a thrill from writing "The End" on a new title. I still love getting a scene from inside my head down onto a piece of paper. That's the key. Dream big. Have goals. But don't let your happiness be something you can only achieve if and when X,Y, and Z happens.

Enjoy every step of the process. Taking a story from your head and capturing it so other people can read it is magic. Enjoy the magic.


David Glenn said...

Very well said. We all have different measures of success. I think it should be considered a success if at least one person enjoys the story.

M.L.Forman said...

Well said. Success is what you make it, and even if only you enjoy the story it can still be a success. Oh, and you are falling behind on the 100 in 100 thing, just so you know. ;-P