Firstly, I am not an expert at success. I am, however, an expert at looking at other writers and going ‘how the hell did you do that and how can I do it?’ Call that attentive, professional jealousy or general nosiness, I have been considering what it means to be successful.
Define Success for yourself
If you had asked me three years ago when I would consider myself successful, I would have told you having a book published by a publisher, having reviews and a readership, and making some money. Which was, and still is, great. However, that’s the point with success. The goalposts move. Now my idea of success (for me) is something else. It’s always a little out of reach, and perhaps that’s the point, to stay hungry.
Consistency is key
The one (annoying) thing is that you have to keep writing. That’s the one main thing you have control over. You can blog, and tweet and have a pretty website, but if you’re not producing new material, there’s nothing for your readers to hook onto and commit to. You can’t build something if you’re not creating something.
With a little bit of luck…
This is the thing no one seems to tell you. You can’t really plot a trajectory for a writing career in the same way you can for any other career. You can’t say, in 3 years, I’ll be manager, in 5 years I’ll be Area Manager. In writing, you get some breaks or you don’t. You can aim to get an agent for years, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. You can aim to get 5o0 reviews on your book, but even 5 years later, you can’t make that happen. At least not without paying for fake reviews. You can make things slightly more possible, you can help the odds, but control is not completely in your hands, especially if you’re traditionally published.
What no one tells you is that a lot of it is to do with luck. You could have the perfect zeitgeist book, well written, well promoted, great cover, lots of fans and…well it just never takes off. Maybe people weren’t in the mood, the genre was saturated at that time of year. Maybe it was too much like something else, or not enough. Maybe that just wasn’t your break.
You can do literally everything that should put you on the path to success, you can copy every action taken by those authors you want to emulate, but publishing is changing, and often what becomes popular has nothing to do with you.
So what can you do with this rather irritating news?
Return to point one: define success for yourself and measure it based on things you can achieve.
So think about the books you want to write, the people you want to read them, the publishers and agents you want to work with. Control that which is in your power, and remember that as long as you’re writing and you love it, you’re already a success.
Happy writing, friends.