How Do You Define Success As A Writer?

As writers, we are often posed with questions about the legitimacy of our self-assigned titles such as, “When is it okay to call yourself a writer?” I personally think this line of questioning is nonsense. If you want to call yourself a writer, call yourself a writer. You put words on paper, you’re writing. If anything, I think the more pertinent question is, “How do you define success in your writing career?”
There are varying definitions of what people would call a successful writing career. I know there are those who say getting an agent is the mark of a successful writer. But then who is more successful? The agented writer who sells 30 copies of his book or the unagented self-published scribe who has a rabid following of 30,000 fans? And I’m not trying to bring the self-publishing vs legacy publishing debate into this post. I think that is a topic for another day (one that seems to change every day as both sides evolve). I know there are also those in literary fiction circles who will argue that readership numbers are irrelevant in accessing the success of a writer, reasoning that only schlock gets read by the masses while the true classics go unread, but again, a conversation for another day.
I’m not setting out to challenge any one individual’s personal definition of success. I believe that if you set goals for yourself and accomplish them, then you are a success in your own right. It doesn’t matter how trivial your accomplishments may be, if you met your expectations and extracted a fulfilling and meaningful experience in the process, who is to tell you that you’re not a success?
My personal definition of success would be to sustain myself financially as a full-time writer. It wouldn’t matter to me if it were under a pen name with no personal accolades or notable recognition. However, if I fail to reach the level of success I’ve set for myself, I don’t believe that it will diminish the fact that I loved writing every word, however terrible or ill received they may have been. I would happily write a dozen novels, even if I knew they would end up in bargain bins and only skimmed over by people on my Christmas card.
I hate to attach financial terms to my definition of success. I’m not driven by money. I’m not after wild success, solid gold yachts or in-house chocolate fountains. Rather, financial stability is necessary in this case because it would allow me the freedom to write full-time, go to matinees whenever I want, spend time with those I care about and wear sweatpants at least five days out of the week with minimal judgements issued against me. And that’s what I’m really after.
So, what is your personal definition of success as a writer? Have you met the goals that you’ve set for yourself? If so, has it been everything you hoped for? Do you introduce yourself as an aspiring writer instead of a writer if your work is unpublished? Do you think you would you stop writing today if you knew that you would never reach any sort of financial or critical success? What really keeps you writing?

0 comments on “How Do You Define Success As A Writer?

  1. K.C. Shaw says:

    My personal definition of my own success is going into any random B&N and finding my own paperbacks on the shelf. Yes, MMPB is my goal. I will be disappointed one day if my publisher wants to release my book in hardback. 🙂

  2. Conor says:

    That's a good one, KC. I know you'll be there soon enough. Let's just hope physical bookstores still exist by then. Amazon links are all good and good, but not quite the same.

  3. M Pax says:

    Wow. JK looks so different. If we become successful will we start to look plastic, too?

    I would define success as people reading my stories and enjoying them. Like KC, I never want to be printed in hard cover either. I want cheap edistribution and mass market paperbacks. I want to be accessible. Having someone seek my autograph … I think I'd consider that a milestone. 🙂

  4. jackfoehammer says:

    I agree with M Pax. From a writer's "artistic" viewpoint, success would be achieved if people are reading and enjoying your work. I think most other artists say the same thing about painting, or sculpting. They want people to appreciate their work and that's what gives them a warm fuzzy inside.

    However, evey comment also mentions commercial sales and I think the majority of us will FEEL a lot more successful if we sell regularly.

    As for one calling themselves a writer; if someone is actively writing and submitting, or self-publishing, I think they can feel confident in calling themselves a writer.

  5. Hanny says:

    I'm with you, bud. If I can make a living as writer I will consider myself to have "made it." Wealth and fame couldn't make me happier than spending my time writing instead of working 40 hours a week for somebody else. That's my goal and that's my dream.

  6. shaeeza says:

    "Cogito ergo sum". How apt for this discussion.
    My goal is to have one of my books in every library in Guyana and of course that may mean that I will have to donate it. I determine my success as come the time when one of my books is sold in the scholastic book club for kids, I might be dead by then, but hey. I want my books to be enjoyed really enjoyed by children.
    Conor, you should monitor this post and in 1 or 2, or 3 years ask all of us again where we are in our goals, career, success.

  7. Conor says:

    That's a great idea, Shaeeza. I will time capsule this post and repost the subject in a year to check on everyone's progress with their goals. I look forward to updates in a year.

  8. Brett Irvine says:

    I have to agree, Conor – for me, selling enough to quit my day job and take up writing full time would be the ultimate success. Well…not quite the ultimate, since I wouldn't mind the solid gold yacht…but you know what I mean.

  9. Kayleigh says:

    You know it's funny, while I was at uni, all of the creative writing students, the kids who wanted to be career writers, seemed to consider true success living in a cramped sharehouse unable to afford food and never have anyone read their work. They were all so against authors like JK Rowling, Stephen King etc because they made money from their words and apparently that's selling out. Now they were young and stupid and I bet they'd change their tune if they were ever offered a bit of money for their work but it seemed mad to me. Obviously it's amazing to consider even a dozen people being interested in reading something you've written but isn't the end goal to get your work out to as many people as possible, to impact people the way your favourite authors impacted you? Sorry to rant and rumble, it was just one of those things that really frustrated/confused me!

  10. Conor says:

    Kayleigh, I certainly think the most fulfilling part of writing is seeing your words in print and then actually having them read by others. I certainly wouldn't argue that. However, I think making enough money writing to sustain yourself would contribute toward the goal of seeing more of your work in print more regularly and hearing from more readers/fans as a result. Everyone is different though. I'd just want enough to have a roof over my head, some food and a single electrical outlet for my laptop.

  11. Kayleigh says:

    I think they probably all wanted to be able to support themselves purely on their writing but
    I think the problem was probably that most of my classmates believe that the authors who release books at a high rate (presumably for the cash incentive)are sell-outs but they then lumped in all successful authors who make any money into that category. Students, eh?!

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