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 heard or seen:
- Getting an agent
- My first book contract
- Selling 20,000 copies of my book
- Selling any copies of my book
- Producing my own book as an Indie author
- Getting my second book contract
- Making the bestseller list (which bestseller list?)
- Earning enough money over expenses with writing that I owe income tax!
That list illustrates a bit of the diversity of the definition. I’ve had an author say their book was quite successful when describing one of their previous works. And when I asked for specifics they enthusiastically said, “I sold 800 copies!” I’ve had an author also say “My book didn’t do very well, it only sold 20,000 copies.”
I remember one man calling me asking about our agency’s services who asked, “Do you like making lots of money?” I stammered a non-answer and replied “Why do you ask?” “Because I won’t accept anything less than a $100,000 advance for my book so if you can’t get that amount I don’t want you representing it.” Needless to say I admitted my defeat and we ended the call. His definition of success was unrealistic. (His book was completely unsellable in the commercial market.)
I have been told that success, as I’m describing above, is actually a series of achievements or goals. Granted. That is a good way to view it. But I have to ask, “What happens if you don’t achieve your goals?” or conversely, “What happens if you do achieve your goals?”
Take a moment and think about success and what it means to you. And at the same time remember that your definition is not necessarily pertinent to the next person. This can be a problem when dispensing advice to others because they can use your definition as their own when it doesn’t fit their situation.
1. Make sure you have your values set FIRST. Otherwise wild success could destroy you. (Proverbs 16:18)
2. Also define “contentment.” – or another way to put it is to define “good enough.” (1 Timothy 6:6)
3. “More” is not a goal. This is a red flag for any measurable activity. Think of businesses which care more about profit than people. Or Churches that lose their way in an attempt to “grow numbers.”
4. Be very careful about using money or unit sales as your measure. (see #3 above) I’ve seen many writer’s entire attitude toward this business change when money began to flow their way. And I’ve seen many writer’s lose all contentment when their unit book sales deviate from the norm. (And if you think I’m writing about you – see “Yes, This Post is About You.”) But I have also seen many writers who have handled success with grace and humility. Success does not have to destroy people!
I want you to be successful. All of us at the agency work hard to help you achieve that goal. Today, let’s take a moment to make sure our definition of that success is in line to our calling as a writer and to a set of reasonable expectations. It is there, in that place, where true success lies.
For more thoughts on the topic of success read:
“Success, Are You Ready?” by Tamela Hancock Murray
“How Do You Measure Success?” by Steve Laube
“Two Important Ingredients for Success” by Karen Ball
“Elect to Be Successful” by Dan Balow