An argument I often see in the writing community is how to define specific terms. Some examples are “When am I considered a writer?”, “How long should my novel be?”, and “Do I have to be traditionally published to consider myself an author?” Ultimately, many of these questions have one key concept: success. Just like how there are many genres out there, there are differing ideas on what constitutes a writer’s success. This can either be a significant motivator or a source of endless depression, so let’s look at how to measure the scope of a writer’s success.

What are your goals?

I decided to take my writing more seriously in 2017. After cutting my teeth on the self-publishing process for a few years, I released the second edition of my debut trilogy and set a goal for myself to publish at least one book each year. Even though this goal brought me some stressful moments (and motivated me to seek therapy for it), I still think it’s an achievable goal for me. I ultimately enjoy the self-publishing process, so when I lost focus of that goal and started comparing myself to other authors’ “success” via sales or reviews, I inevitably strayed from my own scope of success.

Goals can also be challenging to achieve if other people are involved. Personal goals are generally easier to accomplish, as the only individual who influences whether they met the goal is the one who set the goal. Some goals require other people. For example, becoming a bestselling author through traditional publishing requires a writer to have reliable beta readers or critique partners, endure the querying process to have an agent pick them up, then hope that enough readers will want to buy their book once a publishing house releases it. There are plenty of steps in this process that rely on other people for this level of success to happen. That’s not to say that it’s not achievable, it just requires a lot of things to happen that are often outside the author’s control.

If winning an award is the goal, what happens when we fall short?

Defining success as an author by the number of books sold or winning an award is a lofty goal by any means. It is good to push ourselves to achieve something that’s beyond our current skill level. Having short-term and long-term goals is a smart way to break up success into bite-sized achievements. However, pursuing sales as a measure of success can be an expensive endeavor. Sure, traditionally published books will sometimes have marketing budgets from the publisher, but the publisher often reserves these funds for known names that are guaranteed to be a good return on investment. It has been said that you have to “spend money to make money,” and paying for marketing (especially for self-published books) can sometimes be a gamble. Maybe you didn’t use the right keywords. Perhaps you weren’t focusing your funds on the right demographic. It can be one more expense that needs to be accounted for to break even or turn a profit. If you’re looking to make a living on writing, be sure that you have a solid plan for how to do it.

What is the one thing you hope to accomplish with your writing? Others may scoff at you for not measuring up to their idea of success, but as long as you’re focused on what you define as success, then you’re on the right path. Maybe you only want to release one solid book—like Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird. Perhaps you’re trying to get your ideas written and out in the world as fast as possible—like Stephen King. Even if you don’t plan to publish, just finishing a manuscript that nobody else will read is a measure of success if you want it to be. Understanding that some success relies on elements beyond talent (like luck) can either motivate you to push the odds in your favor or reduce the stress of trying to achieve something that might not be in the cards at the moment. In the end, you define your success.


What authors do you consider “successful?”
Who do you need to achieve your success?
What are your short-term goals? Long-term?

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