Why Success Shouldn’t Matter to Writers


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It is easy when you are writing book to get focused on the bottom line. How many books am I selling? I’ll admit it – There have been times when I’ve clicked on my own book’s link multiple times in a day to watch the ranking and see if there are any new reviews.

When you hear success stories about someone you know hitting that # 1 spot on Amazon’s bestseller lists, or hitting the New York Times, it is easy to compare yourself to those writers. I’ve done it. I suspect anyone published has done it.

I’ve thrown money at advertising, tried book tours, and offered contests and giveaways in the pursuit of gaining new readers. And while these things are not bad in and of themselves, when you are spending as much on promotion as you are making then you might want to reconsider your focus.

That’s why I recently did a lot of soul searching about my fiction writing. I am lucky. I have a husband with amazing benefits through his job. This allows me to work for myself. I am also lucky in that I make an income from my nonfiction writing, editing, and web design business that I’ve built over the years. I spend about 2/3rds of my time ont hat and 1/3 on my fiction.

Still, fiction always has been and always will be my first love. My dream is to one day just write fiction. But, that dream seems pretty far off and it is easy to get discouraged that I might never reach that goal. I have a dual-sided perspective. I’ve been published with a bigger publisher (Thorndike), I have been with a small press (Amber Quill), and I am now indie publishing my books. I’ve sold foreign rights (Japanese so far). You see, I’ve gotten the advances, earned out on them, gotten smaller checks here and there and still not made enough to write fiction full time. I suspect I am in a big group of published writers. Part of the reason I decided to take control of my own books was because there were sales that never showed up that I know for a fact were made because I bought them myself to “gift” to readers during a book tour and to see if they would show up.

One thing with that complete control, though is that I can also track sales daily. This can really put one’s focus on sales. Sales are not why I started writing. At first, I was writing for myself. I was writing because I loved it. It was so much fun.

During my soul searching, I realized that writing is still fun but that I need to get back to the reason I sent that first book to a publisher so many years ago (it was rejected, by the way). My goal is to write a story, to have fun doing it, and to hopefully touch just one person’s heart or make them look at things in a different way. If I accomplish that, what an amazing thing. How many chances in life do we get to impact another person in that way?

So, if you are writing to get rich or focused on how “successful” you are, it is time for you to do some soul searching as well. There’s nothing wrong with making money off your books, but what is the core reason you are writing? What drew you to writing in the first place? If you can recapture that, you can recapture your passion. Isn’t living a life doing something you are passionate about the true definition of success?

Becoming a Writer – Overcoming Naysayers

writerIf you have a family and friends who love and support your quest to become a writer, that is a rare gift and you should treasure us. However, if you’re like many of us, you probably got some looks and whispered comments about “she’s finally gone off the deep end” or “here she goes again.”

The Twists and Turns of the Path to Writing

Like most writers, I took many twists and turns on the path to become a writer. It never occurred to me that I could make money at my writing. Writing was just something I always did. I kept journals, wrote short stories, shared fantastical tales with my friends, cried when we played make believe because my version of our play acting was always telenovela worthy.

I can still remember being with two of my friends when we were about 11 or so. We were playing house in the little back of the pickup truck trailer we had at the time. Great fun. We had a nice little story line going when I burst into tears and began screaming about how my boyfriend had been murdered and neither of them would ever understand how that felt.

My friends stared at me for a few quiet minutes, blinking with that dazed look so many people have given me over the years. One of them said, “Geez, Lori. You should just be an actress.”

Actually, no, I should just be a writer, because writers and creative people do always have to get into the story and take things to that level.

If there is a broken light over the lamp post on my street, it had to be broken by a serial killer or a vampire who is stalking me, right?

If I haven’t heard from my husband at the appointed hour, there is a horrendous attack on his work place and he is cowering in terror somewhere.

If my keys aren’t where I put them, there is an entity in the house moving them around.

If the normal person could live inside my mind and see where it goes sometimes, they would be truly frightened for my sanity.

I suspect if you are reading this, you have similar experiences in your daily life and you already know you’re a writer. However, you may have family members telling you that you shouldn’t try to be a writer.

It’s too risky, they say. There is no stability. It is hard to make it in the writing world.

They’re Right, But They’re Wrong

It’s too risky. There is no stability. It is hard to make it in the writing world.

The thing is that they are right. It is risky to be a writer. You may never sell a thing you write. You may be broke. There isn’t much stability. Even if you start making a living, your income will be sporadic at best. There will be times of feast and times of famine. It’s hard to make it. There is a lot of competition.

Yet, if you have that little voice that whispers to you that you simply must write anyway, none of that will matter.

If you told them you were going to get a nice sensible business degree and a job at the local hotel chain with good benefits, they would support your choice, so why not this one? Why not the choice that is the air you breathe? The choice that makes you who you are in all your glorious overreactions to everyday events and your slight insanity?

I’m sorry, but while they are right in what they are saying, they are wrong because they should support you.

YOU Must Make the Decision and Change

Unfortunately, arguing with people who are “reasonable” will not change their minds. Your reason is not theirs. Instead, you must respectfully insist on your own choices.

  • Tell them you appreciate their concern, but are moving forward with your plans.
  • Set a specific time to work and refuse to be interrupted. If you are writing for an hour every day after work, tell them and then refuse to answer the door or phone during that time.
  • Change the topic if they continue to try to push their views on you.

Know that while they may truly be concerned and have your best interest at heart, this is your life and you must make the final decision on what you spend your time on.

Find Support Elsewhere

No one understands a writer like a writer or fellow creative type. Join a critique group, a local organization of writers, or an online group and gain your strength from them. As someone who faced this type of “concern” over the years, I have to tell you that you simply have to make up your mind and ignore all the naysayers. They truly do mean well (most of them anyway), but they don’t understand that clawing desire to put your stories down for others to read.