Defining Success as a Writer


I came back from the cruise and broke my right foot in Florida.  I was coming down a steep wheelchair ramp in the Everglades.  It had this small speed bump at the end.  I stepped on it, my ankle over-rotated, and I fell.  The outside of my foot slammed into the speed bump.

It’s a clean break, but I have to be careful not to tear any of the tendons or that means surgery.  So I’m on crutches, no weight-bearing … oh yeah, lots of fun /sarcasm.  So my productivity is on the slow side.  Especially since I didn’t realize how much I need to get up and move around.

Meanwhile, I ran across a writer asking how to define success.  The writer asking the question was defining it as “best seller” or “number of sales.”

I tried not to wince.  It’s a goal that we, as writers, have absolutely no control over.  We can write good books, but it’s up to the readers to buy them.  And it can be also influenced by outside events.  I still remember some writers getting suck in the Twilight Zone because their books had the misfortune of being released the week of September 11.

I think a lot of people see a best-selling book as an escape from the day job they hate … sort of like the same people who want to win the lottery.  Those are usually the ones who haven’t thought much beyond ‘quit the day job.’  Success to them is making enough money to quit the day job, not finding something they like to do.

The problem is that it takes a lot of time learning skills to be a better writer, especially getting out of the beginning stage where people start to notice what you are writing.  How many books or short stories is that?  How many years of writing?  That’s usually where people who think in terms of quitting the day job give up writing.  It’s just not we see on TV where the character writes one bad novel and it becomes a best seller and he goes to parties with hot girls.

I write because I enjoy doing it.  When I started writing, it was all about the cool adventures I could have on paper (in real life, they aren’t that cool).  I could solve a mystery like Nancy Drew or chase bad guys.  I’m writing a story set on a spaceship.  A spaceship!  How cool is that?  It’s like being on Star Trek, only better because it’s my story, my characters.

On the other side, which I’m keeping separate, I want to make enough money that I can one day, hopefully soon, write full time and do even more adventures and have more fun.  It doesn’t matter to me that this book sells a million copies or why that book isn’t selling.  It only matters that the accumulated sales of all the books is enough for me to do what I want.

How do you define success?

What Makes a Best Selling Writer?


I’ve been studying Michael Connelly’s The Reversal the last week.  I have a paper version of the book, and I’m typing it to see how he is a page turner.  The typing of just the first chapter yield other things, so I will have to look back through to figure out what exactly he did.

One thing I picked up: If a character is interrupted, I don’t need to say, “George interrupted,” because it’s obvious from context.  Always a lot of things to learn.

The Washington Post has a big article on best selling writers today.  It does mention productivity being important (and without putting it down!), but the discussion on the writing side missed the mark a little.  It reminded me on when I was on message boards and writers were periodically trying to figure out why a book became a best seller.  The writers would often come up with a really superficial reason.  Here, they talk about the characters and the story, but skims along that superficial reason.   These writers are masters of their craft–not just story and characters, but grabbing the reader and keeping them in the story.

Why does this book attract readers and another doesn’t?  It’s not just the story and the characters.  It’s how the writer does it.