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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

What is Success in Publishing?

Sometimes it's easy to define a win. A promotion, a perfect score, winning the spelling bee. All of these things can be measured and quantified. And in many careers, certain benchmarks tell you if your trajectory is up, down or lateral.

But not so in publishing. As I thought of a topic for the blog, I perused the forums and thought about my critique group meeting last week. It struck me that we ask each other for input and endlessly fret about rewrites and editing and because we are all seeking success in our writing careers. But success in a publishing career is really in the eye of the beholder. In one of my favorite movies, Caddyshack, another golfer asks Chevy Chase's character how he measures himself, since he doesn't bother to keep score. Chase responds, "By height."

There is a lesson in the quip. If you keep score based on number of books written, or number of national awards received, or sales, you will almost always feel you've failed. It can make you crazy to compare yourself to another writer. The odds are stacked against any of us being as prolific and lauded as Joyce Carol Oates or selling as many books as Stephen King.  Most of us will never quit our day jobs. Many of us will not be agented. Even those who are agented may not get a publishing contract. If we do, maybe it is with a small press and not a large one. Meanwhile, a semi-illiterate reality star gets a ghostwriter and a book deal and goes on a national book signing tour. Success? Well sure, depending on how you measure it.

Defining a win, I think, requires us to stop looking outward. There is always a golfer with a better score. There will always be a writer who has something we don't. So define for yourself what your "win" is going to be. Start with writing a great story. Then add the other ingredients to your own taste and your own score card.

I'm curious how you're measuring your careers. Is it completing a series, getting an agent, or getting your self published book out into the world? Or something else? Or do you write for the joy of it and not bother with the business side? Let's talk success.

Kim English - is the author of the Coriander Jones series and the award winning picture book 'A Home for Kayla.' Her latest picture book, 'Rolly and Mac' will be released in 2016. Her website is Kim-English.com. She is represented by Gina Panettieri.


mitakeet said...

I admit to a mercenary view toward success. I initially started writing (fiction) two years ago with the intent to supplement my early retirement. Silly me, not doing the research to learn what an incredible long shot that is. And now I find myself obsessed. Sure, I can not-write, that's easy, but I can't not think about my characters, story, plot, etc., etc., etc. Certainly not a good use of my time, given the statistically abysmal chances of achieving the financial goal I set out.

Having said that, I enjoy writing (2.8 books written in a series so far (another in outline) and outlines for two more that I'm itching to make time to work on) and if I never make back what I've spent on beta readers and editors, I still consider the time well spent. But for “success,” I need to get compensated for the money and hours I've put into it (I only track when I’m sitting and typing or editing, not just thinking). I have tried to stop several times (even hoped my editor would tell me I suck; sadly he refused to do so), yet now that I'm hooked, I still see “success” financially. If I never get published (I have no interest in self-publishing), then I will not have achieved success, as I’ve define it, but I enjoy exercising despite not losing weight. While I’m unsuccessful at that aspect, I still enjoy the process. Writing is the same way.

Humans can be so contradictory!

Kim English said...

It's interesting because the question becomes "how much is enough?" A self published book that sells 5000 copies may be a "smash," but a debut with a large press might be considered an abject failure at the same number. When you see your fellow writers (some of whom you may envy)question their own career advancement, I think it hits home that everyone has insecurities about whether they've "made it," and one writer's perceived failure could be another writer's holy grail.