What is success in writing?
I got to thinking about that when a friend posted an article about new writing awards and said, “This is interesting, if you dig writing awards.” I didn’t read it at first because, well, I don’t dig writing awards. Brief aside, but when someone younger than me uses dig I feel older because I’m now seeing slang come full circle.
If asked about awards I tend to be one of those who thinks the best awards are green engravings of famous people. I’d rather have a few thousand of those than a Hugo or and Edgar award for a given book. I mean, the awards are nice and all but I like to eat and buy games and model trains and tools. I don’t know if I can trade a Hugo for a Player’s Handbook when D&D sixth edition comes out by I suspect something from $40 to $80 will suffice.
Here is the thing, Hugos, Edgars, Pulitzers, and so on often mean more money. However, awards can mean sales to people for whom the books are artwork they put on the shelf or table instead of the wall. Sometimes the table isn’t even at home but at Starbucks or a desk at work. Genre awards, such as the Hugo, may not be as bad on this front as something with mainstream prestige but I suspect it is still there. The sales are not of books read but of books you want others to think you read.
Believe it or not, although such dollars will spend the same as those for read books, I’d rather forgo those sales. I mean, on the margin I won’t complain if somehow I sell 1,000 copies of a book and 10 of then are people who bought it to be seen with it instead of read it. But if I sell 10,000 copies and only 10 are people who want to read it I would consider the book a failure.
I say this despite the fact that I am quite open about my goal in becoming more serious about writing. I want, at fifty-nine and a-half to “retire” to a career as a writer of fiction. That is serious and means, even with the kind of royalties indie gets per sale right now, selling a lot of books. A rough estimate says to replace my current income and benefits means selling 100 books a day. You would think I would chase the sales enhancement of awards even if the books were never read.
But I can’t fathom wanting that. I think I can honestly say I’d rather not achieve the goal of retiring to writing if that was the only way.
So what is writing success to me? I think that is the question and it is personal. There are people who want an award more than anything. I suspect at least some writers are all about the money. I’m to a degree about the money in terms of how much I am willing to prioritize and for how long without some financial award. Certainly, the $2.45 I earned when I put a short on Kindle is a huge deal.
However, it isn’t a huge deal because it was money or at least only not for that reason. I can barely buy a comic with $2.35 and it makes my taxes more complex this year without a lot of reward. Yet I suspect I felt a pride that even a NYT bestselling novel will not exceed in some ways.
Someone thought it worthwhile to buy and read my story. Most I think were co-workers and only one commented on it.
But he read it. And his reading it means more to me than the $0.35 I got.
The subtitle of this blog is Telling Stories Worth Retelling. It actually was the end result of a mission statement exercise I had to do as part of Atlanta Mentors in 2017.
If my mission is to tell stories worth retelling then is money the best measure of success? No. People reading my stories and sharing them, either by passing a version around or suggesting people buy them, is success. Sure, just as awards do such a result will translate to cash but that is not the end all, be all of writing.
You have to know what success looks like to achieve it. As Zig Ziglar loved to say, how can you aim at a target you can’t see. If you want to succeed at writing don’t be afraid to define success and don’t be afraid to define it how you want. If you want money, own it. If you want awards, own that. If you want to be read, then say it loud and proud.
Then take aim and fire your best shot.