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Success

I am using the 20th year remembrance of the death of Clifton Hillegass as inspiration to make a larger point about the direction an author’s life can take.

Clifton (pictured above is his statue in Kearney, NE) was the creator of CliffsNotes and passed away in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the age of 83 on May 5, 2001.

I assume most of you reading this post are aware of CliffsNotes and also of how much some educators and literature purists hated them and how much their students loved them. But you might be interested to know Clifton Hillegass’s original intent for the summary books was to point out the subtleties and nuances of great literature that might have been lost on a high-school or college student. He was a lover of great literature and plays, with no intention of diminishing them in any way.

To make a long story short, instead of CliffsNotes being used to illuminate, they were used instead of reading the actual book. So the apparent “scourge” of CliffsNotes rampaged over the decades, now consisting of 300+ titles with sales exceeding 100 million copies worldwide. In 1999, a similar type of product, SparkNotes started and is currently owned and sold by Barnes & Noble Bookstores.

By the way, there is a CliffsNotes version of the Old Testament, New Testament, and the complete Bible. Think of the time you can save!

So what’s the point today?

It doesn’t matter what your original purpose was for writing. You will be defined and directed by what you are successful doing. Even mild success has this effect.

In one sense, writing is no different than any other profession or pursuit. You might start out desiring something specific for your life and find a measure of success doing something else. Many people start off doing what they are educated and trained to do; but through success, end up doing something else for their lifework.

If you notice, I am not using theological words like predestined or gifted. Things like this are not always that dramatically spiritual. However, your life journey is never a mystery to God!

You had an idea. But God had a little different idea, involving a bit of Proverbs 16:9:

In their hearts, humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps (NIV).

And also a good dose of Romans 8:28:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (NIV).

There are pastors who started out ministering to their congregation, but found themselves with a fertile ministry in a specific area. Then after focusing their efforts there, they are heretofore known primarily by that fruitful ministry. They held tight to God’s providence, but loose to their plans.

Our future on this earth is driven far more by what God allows to be fruit-bearing than by what we want to be successful doing. Doesn’t mean you don’t have a vision behind what you do. Just don’t be surprised if God does something with your writing and life different than you originally planned.

Keep your mission big and eternal. Keep your plans small and flexible.

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How Do You Measure Success?

by Steve Laube

A few years ago while talking to some editors they described an author who was never satisfied (not revealing the name of course). It this author’s latest book had sold 50,000 copies the author wondered why the publisher didn’t sell 60,000. And if it sold 60,000 why didn’t it sell 75,000? The author was constantly pushing for “more” and was incapable of celebrating any measure of success.

Recently there has been much ink spilled on whether Indie authors are better of than authors published by traditional publishers. Pundits have laid claim to their own definition of a successful book using number, charts, and revealed earnings. Following this dialogue can be rather exhausting.

I understand the desire to measure whether or not my efforts are successful. It is a natural instinct. If it is any indication, one of our most popular blog posts has been “What are Average Book Sales?” with thousands of readers.

In one way this is a wise question so that expectations can be realistic.

In another way it is unwise in that the cliff called “Comparison” is a precipitous one. I’ve talked to depressed authors who are wounded by numbers. I’ve talked to angry authors who are incensed by a perceived lack of effort by their publisher. I’ve talked to highly frustrated authors who wonder if it is all worth it.

Ultimately I can’t help but think this is all an exercise in determining a definition of success for the individual author. If you can measure it you can define it. That is as long as we know what “it” is.

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Thank You, Authors!

Steve Laube and I were discussing recent contracts and that conversation further underscored a thought that led me to write this post. Success is not about us, but about our authors. Thank you, Authors! For laboring over your books. Each day, you must sit in front of a blank white …

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Amnesia: The Key to Success

At some point, anyone involved in motivational or inspirational communication will touch on the necessity of leaving the past behind and moving on from a painful experience or time of life in order to grow personally or professionally. Millions of people spend billions of dollars each year on counselors helping …

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It’s Never One Thing

Somewhat of a follow-up to last week’s post on the future being a complex mix of everything rather than one magic solution, today we will focus on authors and what it takes to make a successful writing career. Like everything else in life, it is never one thing. Success is …

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A Definition of a Successful Artist

Recently I witnessed an artist (not a writer) put work out to the public that I believe needed some polish. Some of my close family and I agreed that it shouldn’t have been released without being improved first. However, this artist was being cheered by intimate friends and family. I’m not …

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4 Conference Success Secrets

I have been on the faculty of more than 150 writers conferences over the years. Some might say that is the definition of insanity… !?! But I would not be where I am today if it were not for the fine people I have met over the years at those …

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Publishing Success Can be Fleeting

Tonight is the big college football national championship game. The first one ever decided via a playoff system. Oregon vs. Ohio State. Many could care less. But those who do number in the millions. We have some extended family who are pretty excited. (One used a foam-head Duckbill hat as …

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The Word Every Writer Desires

Success. It is a word that has a “sweet smell” for some and is the “gold ring” of achievement for others. But in order to appreciate success we must first define it. And there is the rub. Each one of us defines success differently…especially writers. Here are some definitions I’ve …

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