The very word conjures up images of big houses, fancy cars, and glitzy awards. If you’re successful then people know your name, they take photos of you doing mundane tasks (you’ll never be able to stand in the garden in your underwear again)- but you will be loaded enough to probably not care. Life is good when you’re successful, life is great.
For writers, it is something a little different, but still something that only a sliver of our breed obtain. We slave away for months, even years, over our precious manuscripts, hoping that an agent will see the genius shining through. The book goes on to become a best-seller, you do signings to adoring fans – you even get a movie deal (of course you’ll make a cameo in it, even if it’s just Generic Bad Guy #3 as he gets popped under the wheels of a space tractor).
This is what I like to think of as commercial success. You make a nice amount of money (although that seems to be dwindling these recent years), become a household name in your genre, and you might even pick up an award or two. In their deepest of desires, I think most writers hope and aim for this, but the road is long and rocky. I console myself with other thoughts.
I think of the following points as personal successes. Yes, I know commercial success will no doubt be a personal success as well, but these ones are truly centered around the writer.
Have you got low sales, with only a handful of people picking your new release up? Think of it differently. Time. Time is a precious and fleeting thing. People complain constantly about there never being enough hours in the day: not having time to do what they love, not having enough time to see the people they care about. When you see the sales your works have achieved, don’t think of it as ‘oh, only a couple of dozen people have bought it’, think about the fact that those couple of dozen people believed your work deserved their time. They have sacrificed their time because they believe your book is worth it.
In their precious relaxation time, they have decided to read your work – they use your words to unwind and escape the world of reality. You’ve given another person a refuge from the outside world, somewhere safe to unwind and drift away. If that’s not something to be proud of, I don’t know what is.
Next up are the reviews. Reviews are the holy grail for writers. We crave feedback, to be told what people liked, and potentially didn’t like, about our work. When someone reaches out to you with a review, relish it. The majority of readers don’t tend to give reviews, simply reading a book and ploughing into the next one. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that, it’s not owed to the author at all, and this makes reviews successes in themselves.
When you receive a review it means you’ve connected with someone else, somewhere on this planet, and made enough of an effect that they need to comment on your work. They could have simply thought ‘Hey, that was good’, and moved on with their lives – but they didn’t.
Sure, not all reviews will be glowing with five stars, but that person still felt the need to speak about your work. You’ve affected someone’s life enough that they have not only read your work, but they felt the need to comment on it too. That’s a big connection for two people who are likely to never meet. Its like you’ve been granted a superpower to dive across the world and enter your thoughts into another mind. Words on a page are powerful things when wielded well.
So, how do you measure success as a creative? In my mind it boils down to either large sales or connecting with readers (with the aim of both, of course). Sure, nice thoughts won’t put food on the table, but it should provide some nourishment to the soul in the least.
If you are feeling a little down about low sales or minimal reviews, think about those individual people you’ve already affected; people that you’ve connected with through your written word. I hope it brings you pride in your work, if you don’t have it already.
In summary – Yes, the big successes are great – but don’t forget that the smaller ones gleam just as bright.
Do you have any thoughts you fall back on? Your own personal successes? Why not share any nuggets of wisdom you have below – your words may strengthen another.