Defining Success

On Saturday, Rhonda Penders, editor-in-chief at The Wild Rose Press, gave a presentation at this month’s CNYRW meeting that, among other things, provided some perspective on what’s happening in the publishing industry. Her presentation, from which I garnered tons of information and ideas, spawned a discussion among the CNYRW members about what constitutes success as a writer.

I think we can all be in agreement that the publishing industry has undergone huge changes over the past few years, for better and for worse. There are options available today – viable ones, even – that just didn’t exist five to ten years ago. Between the incredible uptick in indie publishing, the turn toward small presses that often seem way more author friendly, and the traditional agent-to-Big-6-publisher route, it can be a little mind-boggling to even decide what avenue to pursue, let alone determine what will define your success as an author.

Therein lies the key, I think, to determining the path an author needs to take. What is success? Is it landing a 6-figure publishing deal with Random House? Is it making enough in sales each year to let you quit your day job? Are you just looking to make some extra money doing what you love? Is it some combination of the two?

We can’t all be Dan Brown or Nora Roberts or J.K. Rowling. The law of odds, and the way traditional publishing seems to work, does seem to make it difficult to break out into New York Times Bestselling Author-tude. But maybe securing a publishing contract with a smaller press is what will equal success in your life. Or maybe perfecting your self-publishing process through professional editing and cover art services and a solid marketing plan, thus gaining a small but solid following, is enough for you.

You have to define what your goals are before you can determine the steps that will bring you success. You do have to do your homework, whether it means researching agents and how to properly query them, putting your manuscript in front of an editor who can help you fine tune (and fix up, if necessary) your work, or identifying how to run what amounts to your business if you decide indie publishing is the way to go.

For me, what is success as an author? I admit it – I would love to land a contract with a major publishing house. That’s always been the brass ring. But given all the options and combinations of possible avenues for publication, it’s also very tempting to pursue a path that would give me quite a bit more control over my writing career. From what I’ve read and been told, authors today are responsible with the vast majority of their marketing and managing their careers, so whether I go indie, work with a small press, or get that Big 6 contract, I’ll have to have a plan.

I don’t see myself leaving teaching anytime soon. But if the world was perfect and the right pieces fell into place, it would be pretty cool to be able to write full time at some point. So for now, my goal is to pursue a publishing career that lets me earn a little extra money doing something I love.

Ultimately, though it’s easy to get caught up in the quagmire of submissions, marketing, building your platform, and so on, you do have to write. Write what you love. Write what you want to read. Edit. Read good books. Write more. Stay passionate and ignore the naysayers who point out all the things that are “hard” about being a writer (as if there was every really a time when being a writer was easy).

Define success, and then work for it.

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One thought on “Defining Success

  1. GrassRootsGuy says:

    I’ve self published and been published. For the novel/memoir I’m writing I hope for commercial validation. That is, I’ll write until I’m happy enough to publish and also want to know that people like it enough to buy it.

    Seems to me a book like this will need to find a publisher and get in bookstores, but I hate, hate, the financial deal offered to downlist authors.

    But that’s reality and I accept it.

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