Success, Writing, and Other People (And How to Cope)

Upon hearing that you’re a writer, people will, almost invariably, ask if you’re successful. They ask in different ways.

Sometimes it’s, “Do you have anything published?” Or “Did you get a big book deal?”

Sometimes it’s, “How many books have you sold?”

It’s stressful, to say the least, especially since creative types (like us writers) are prone to insecurity and imposter syndrome.

But success is subjective.

One person’s idea of success is different from another’s. Where one person might see becoming a New York Times bestseller with three movies in the works as the only measure of success, another might see publishing a book at all as a measure of success. One person might need millions of followers, whereas another might want a small group of engaged followers.

And those differences are important.

Knowing what success actually means to you is the a pretty big step toward achieving it.

If you want a high follow count, if you want a close network of fellow writers, if you want to release a book before your 60th birthday, if you want to release three books in a year, if you want to sell millions, or if writing a book is what matters to you, then that’s your measure of success.

And that should be your focus.

For someone with extreme anxiety, publishing a book that has your heart and soul carved into the pages, putting yourself out there in written form, is a daunting task and a worthy goal.

Whereas someone without anxiety disorders might not see that as the challenging part.

To someone burdened by ADHD, finishing a book might be the challenge, and thus the point at which to feel successful, whereas a person with an average attention span might not see that as quite so big of a challenge.

So, you need to figure out your measure of your own success.

And when someone inevitably asks if you’re successful, focus on that.

Most people who aren’t writers don’t know it’s such a stressful question, but they also don’t usually know everything that writing entails. (Or even half of it.) So, enlighten them, all while focusing what you say on the goals you have set for yourself.

For example, if your goal, your measure of success, is to land a book deal and you’re deep in the query trenches, tell them you’re looking for an agent, but finding one that’s accepting submissions like your book is challenging.

Or tell them about all the various side materials you have to put together before you can even submit to agents. Query letters, cover letters (because yeah, there are differences), one page synopses, three page synopses, single sentence summaries that include the ending, five year marketing plans, and all the other hoops writers have to jump through to get a book deal.

Talk about the research that has to be done to find agents to submit your book to, finding agents that work with your genre, subgenre, and age group who are actually taking submissions.

Talk about the unbelievably low acceptance rates, especially if you’re submitting directly to publishers (which adds extra layers of research because a lot won’t accept from authors to begin with and those who do accept maybe 1-2% of submissions).

Find your individual measure of success, and then stick to it, even when people ask about it.

If they measure success by becoming the next J.K. Rowling, explain how unlikely that is and tell them why your sights are set where they are.

Writing is a very personalized journey, and so is success.

Embrace it.


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