Defining Success as a Writer in the Marketplace

I want to talk about two things that have been cropping up a lot in the past few months in daily conversation as I am nearing the end of my writing degree: being successful and getting published. I want to discuss how they can be defined, and what they mean for me.

What is success?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, success is defined as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”

Stephen King said that “(successful) writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life as well.”

Herbert Bayard Swope told us what success is not by giving us his “formula for failure: try(ing) to please everybody all the time.”

What does it mean to be a successful writer?

We can say, perhaps, that success is defined individually by each of us. By this premise, what does it mean to be a successful writer?

For some, being a successful writer is simply writing something every day. For others, a six-figure publishing deal with one of the Big Five is their indicator that they’ve made it. There is a whole spectrum of ‘success’ floating between these two, and there is nothing wrong with whatever definition you have of it. Success is what you make it.

Going after someone else’s definition will only demotivate and demoralise you. Remember that not everyone has the same means and circumstances to achieve the same thing. That’s why it’s important to set realistic goals for yourself.

If your goal is to be published, don’t let yourself fall into the mentality that being published by a big name in the industry is the only successful form of publishing. There are many cases of writers published by indie presses who’s novels have gone on to be nominated for awards and be highly acclaimed, such as Graeme Macrea Burnet’s His Bloody Project (2015, Contraband), shortlisted for the Man Booker. Self-published authors enjoy their own share of success, one of the most well-known examples being E.L James, who published her novels on a fan fiction website and gained the large following that led to her publishing deal.

As for my definition of being a successful writer, it can be summed up in five words: to write what I enjoy. As a writer, I don’t want to be in the marketplace if it means not practicing what I believe in. Something my dissertation advisor asked in our first meeting is “If you don’t enjoy what you’re working on, how do you expect a someone else to enjoy reading it?” Your first reader, your main audience, is you. You have to be pleased with your writing, and inherently with your definition of success.

Do you agree with what’s been said? How do you define success? I’d love to know your thoughts!

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