Monday, January 20, 2014

Are you successful?

I got into a debate recently about what being successful means, and it is hard to define success as a self employed person, especially as an artist and a writer. Sometimes people are doing this not for the money but for the fame, or the attention. I know authors who are writing to get reviews or feedback. Others are writing purely out of fancy and to entertain themselves. Some people have spent twenty years of writing and are sitting on all of it on their hard drive. They feel successful because they finished the book. They don't need to go any further to feel happy.

I know screenwriters who won't see themselves as successful until they see at least one of their films on a movie screen. It doesn't matter that their screenplays have sold or been optioned until they have been produced.

Some people don't think they can be successful until they have a certain level of degree as if to prove they are smarter than anyone else.

Some writers won't think they made it until they see their books in print. Some people need to make it to the New York Times bestseller list. Some people have to have an agent to separate themselves from the rest of the writers who don't have one.

Our views of success are all very different, but we do need to be honest with ourselves about what these levels of success are and what they mean to us.

I've developed some very broad ideas and try to respect everyone else's dreams. I have an education, and while I respect those people with highly titled educations I don't look at them as smarter than me or better than me or anyone else in any way. Do you want to know know why? Weird as it seems, I have known people who couldn't read, people who didn't finish a 6th grade education and they not only managed to get by in life but sometimes thrive. Sometimes it is a barrier, and sometimes it shows up in their work ethic or abilities, but this is not always the case. I don't judge a person by their education or lack of it. It's really what's inside that matters. 

My great grandmother lived to be 103 and she dropped out of school during the great depression when she was twelve to begin working to support her family. She never did finish any more schooling, but she always read, and sought to learn more. This woman who didn't have any real degrees, went on to become a nurse by trade and vocation through the military and learned on the job how to deal with the injured men in a war. She was one of the smartest, kindest, most respectful loving women I have ever known but she didn't let the lack of an education stop her from living out her dreams or make her feel like any less of a woman. 

Establishing goals and benchmarks isn't a bad thing. It does make us feel a moderate level of success and like we have finished something. We've reached a goal, but the problem of being a writer, self employed and writing 10-20 full length books over the period of ten odd years with much larger goals, and hoping one day to make it to New York, is another thing altogether. If you didn't sell at the end of that period, does that make you feel like a failure? Does it make you feel like you didn't succeed? New York has a very narrow sense of what they want. Instead of accepting good books, a lot of the publishers want very specific books to match a book line or brand. If your book doesn't match their formula exactly it may get hit with a rejection letter automatically. That makes it a lot harder to really make it.

That also doesn't go to say that this author didn't work as hard as everyone else, or the erotic romance author who may have put out 100 books which were shorter (some maybe as short as 5000 words) in the same time frame.

Am I here to judge you or say you aren't successful because you chose one path over the other?

No. Not me. It's your choice. What defines success in your mind is completely different than my version of success. We're all the same. We're all on the road to success, trying to make in this tough world, and the directions may be different for every one of us to reach our destinations, and your mileage may vary.

At this point in my career, money is an important part of feeling successful for me. It is possible to work your ass off putting in regular writing days and not reach a level of success other people see. There are always going to be a certain number of authors which are more amenable, likeable, and put out more books than anyone else, like it's not impossible to put out a book a month. For the one author who can say they make $100k a year there are thousands who get royalties of $5 a month. People buy their books because they announce their sales stats and show their numbers. They are curious to see why they are successful.

I think writing is hard work, you can't write a 200k word book and expect to see the return on your time like if you were to put out several titles at 40,000 words  a piece. One book gets lost in the sales ranks and I know a lot of people say I wrote a book, now I want to self publish it. I can make a ton of money even though it was rejected a 100 times. They are equally disappointed when that book slips into the million sales ranks and doesn't ever get any traction. Is it a failure because it didn't sell 5000 copies in a week? Is it a failure because you couldn't give it away? Is it a failure when you are comparing it to a huge name in the self publishing industry. Don't do that to yourself. Publishing really is a marathon, not a sprint. Don't expect to be an overnight success. That happens to about 1:1,000,000 of us. It's kind of like winning the lotto. You increase your chances by the more books you write.

We do things looking for success, hoping to be different, but we copy what we see other people doing and hoping it will work for us. It doesn't always work well just because it did for someone else.

My version of success, includes my family, but I am kind of happy where I am at, a crossbreed between Small Publishers, Indie publishing, and self publishing. This allows me to to learn things, and see things from all the aspects of life. I can see sales numbers as they happen at places like Siren Publishing and that is awesome, because I can see what works and what doesn't--what sells and what readers want to read.

I am self-employed.

This means I am responsible for myself. This is both freeing and scary as anything I see in creature feature horror flick. I have to clock in and begin work and act as if this is a 9-5 job even though I could sit at home in my pajamas and eat bon bons from the couch while watching the latest season of Dr. Who all day. I still have other jobs I am responsible for, and have to be a mom, and wife. I have household chores and lots of appointments to keep. I have to write when I am sick. I have to write when I am grieving and someone in my family may have recently died but I could be on a contract and a deadline.I have to write when my wrists and eyes hurt from staring at a computer for so long. I have to know when and how to stop working at home to keep my home life and relationships from falling apart. It's tough work and I won't get paid unless I put in the hours and keep my butt in the chair and actually write sellable, marketable stories.

I wouldn't call myself wildly successful, but that's also because I am equating success with sales and numbers at this point in my career. What does that really mean? I need to keep working on my craft and write better and more books and I am going to my best to have respect for the author who has been at it as long as I have but doesn't have the name recognition because they have been writing for New York or they only see success at making a certain level. We are all part of the same world and all working towards our very different goals.

The first step in feeling successful is to write a list. What is success to you in your industry? What level do you want to reach? What kind of goals to you want to see happen over the next year? Over the next 5 years? Over the next ten years? You should list personal goals, career goals, and spiritual goals. They all interconnect with who we are and who we seek to become.

Then the more difficult step is breaking it down into things you can control. What steps do you need to take to reach that level of success? If you need to pitch a book by a certain deadline, how long does it give you to write it? You can break the larger goal into smaller doable steps that you can control. You may not be able to control a lot of things in this business, the sales, the editor saying yes or no, the reading public rejecting or accepting the book, but you can control some details. You can control how many words you put out a day, or what type of writing you do. You can control your work environment most the time. You may not be able to get a degree this year, but if you start by going back to school and taking one class, that's one less class you need for the degree later. If you don't start now, it will never get done. I would focus on the things you can change first and move towards the things you can't, second. Learn how to pitch, how to sell yourself, and your ideas and even if you get a no the first time, it will get easier and you will get better and people will remember you. Usually, it all ends up working out if you just keep at it.

Write this list down, make it a visual thing you look at every day and try to do something to work towards it every day. Eventually you should make some headway and this will help your dreams come true. Over time, you will become successful. These are techniques successful people in the business world use to achieve a level of success and actually achieve more goals.

"All glory comes from daring to begin." ~ Eugene F. Ware

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