Monday, May 23, 2011

How do you Measure Success?

If you ask someone to define the word success, he’ll inevitably say it means having money, power, fame, high social status or any combination of these.  So how does that translate to the literary world?  When can an author say she’s achieved success? Your typical person will say it’s when the author ranks high on the best seller list and/or has her books made into a movie or television series.  I submit to you it’s not that simple.

For many years now, I’ve been what I jokingly call a professional aspiring writer.  I’ve got four novels and a handful of magazine articles credited to my name.  One of my novels was the 2009 award winner in the romance category of the Reader View’s Literary Awards. A reviewer called my novel, Extraordinary Will (the award winner), “a must have on every shelf”.  Another reviewer called my latest offering, After All These Years, “an engaging story with characters that are real and their story heart felt”.  As many of you know from prior posts, I’m also fond of entering writing contests and have managed to snag a few awards from those as well, dating all the way back to 2005.  I’ve been written about in the Blinded Veterans’ Association’s quarterly newsletter, have appeared on television and radio, participated in community awareness events and was even contacted by a congressional hopeful to discuss the ongoing fund raiser associated with my first novel, Letters from Linc.

Does all of that make me a success?  In the simplest of terms, the answer is no.  I’ve never been on the best seller list and don’t earn enough money to live off the royalties of my four novels.  These things aside, I’ve always felt like a success.  Corny as it sounds, just being able to write and produce something I’m proud of feels like a success.  Add to that the tiny but loyal fan base I have, and I’d call that a success. At least I would on good days. The days when my day job gets me down, or I get another royalty statement from the publisher showing no sales for the prior month are the days I start to question my definition of success.

Recently, I’ve had an opportunity to broaden my definition of success, and it’s come by way of one of my favorite web sites. On this web site, authors are free to post their work for all to read.  In turn, they earn fans and votes.  The votes combined with the number of reads determine the author’s popularity.  Having been unable to get my young adult fiction into the mainstream market, I opted to give this a try not long ago.  Let me tell you what, the results have been mind blowing and even a bit ego stroking.

To say my story’s been well received is an understatement.  In the last three months since I began posting it one chapter at a time, I’ve managed to net nearly 400 fans and amass more than 105,000 reads and over 1,100 votes. The fans that comment on my story are quick to praise my talent and tell me how much they love my story and how they’re anxious to read more. Not to mention, it’s not only made the third and final round of a contest sponsored by the site, but it’s consistently ranked in the top 200 of most read stories.

Does all of that make me a success?  On this site, I’d say the answer is yes, but it’s not the only way I define success. It’s not even what made me modify my definition of success, though the site itself does play a role. It’s the fan response that made me revaluate my own personal definition of literary success. 

The modification started when a young member of the site recognized my name as the author of Letters from Linc. She took the time to send me a nice message about how much my book touched her during a difficult time in her life. She praised my talent and instantly supported my latest endeavor as did many others.  One young fan wrote a song inspired by the main characters in my story. Another called me one of the best writers on the site. Several fans have been kind enough to say my story should be published and have assured me of a purchase if it ever is. They’ve called me amazing and talented and clamor for my updates. Talk about a confidence boost!  I think perhaps the nicest compliment of all came from a young fan who told me she loved one of my characters so much she was writing a fan fiction story about him. I thought it was cute when she went on to assure me she’d never publish it and infringe on my copyright. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I’m definitely flattered.

Am I rich and famous? No. Am I powerful? Maybe in my own mind! Do I have a high social status? Another no. Have any of my books been best sellers? Not yet. Have my books been made into a movie or TV series? Not at the present, but I’m still hopeful. Am I successful as a writer? You bet. Just ask any of my Wattpad fans.   

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Old Cliche is True. Who Knew?

For those of you who are writers, you know that what I'm about to say next is one hundred percent true.  As soon as people find out you're a writer, aspiring writers come out of the woodwork in droves seeking your advice. The advice is solicited both by and on behalf of the fledgling author.  Everyone's either a writer or knows someone who is, and they all want a piece of you.

Having spent many years in this business, and having learned a number of lessons the hard way, I'm more than happy to share my insight with people. I'm asked everything from how to write a query letter to how to find a good publisher to how to get noticed.  The question I'm most often asked though is whether or not I'm willing to look at someone's work and see what I think.  The answer is always yes, but I have to offer this caution now and forever.  Be careful what you wish for.  If I don't like your work, or I think it needs polish, I'm not going to tell you I think you've got the next Harry Potter on your hands.

The level of my critique depends on the age of the author.  If someone wants me to look at a story his or her nine year old wrote, I'm not going to rip a new one for the kid.  There are two categories I will offer a no holds barred review for.  The first is anyone aged thirteen and up. Young adults need to learn how to take constructive criticism as do some adults for that matter.  The second are those who post their work on story sharing web sites.  If you're going to share your work with the world wide web, it better be your best.  If not, I'll let you know.

Before you start thinking of me as some dream crushing ogre, you should know this. When I critique any story, I always look for the positive as well as the negative. I will be sure to point out the redeeming qualities that make the story ripe with potential before I make suggestions for improvement.  I can assure you that any suggestion I make is one I've likely received (and taken and applied) from a professional.  A person who is a serious aspiring writer will take that suggestion for what it's meant to be-advice to help and not hurt. In case you're wondering, I'm willing to, and have taken, what I dish out.

Last week, a young writer posted a story on one of my favorite story sharing web sites and asked for opinions. I offered my opinion. I read all of her six or seven chapters and offered diligent comments on each of them. I pointed out errors in mechanics as well as some weaknesses in the story. I also offered some encouragement along with that.  What happened next amused me.  The young author read one page of my rather lengthy story, also posted on the site, and offered a harsh critique of how she didn't connect to my protagonist and she hoped there was more to offer in the following pages than the first page. Of course, she didn't use the word protagonist. She gave a rather juvenile assessment which I've paraphrased here.  I found this amusing given that the story is getting rave reviews from other readers on the site and has made the finals of a contest being sponsored by the site. Even more amusing was the finding that she'd removed my comments from her story so that others couldn't see what I offered as suggestions to improve. The only comments she left up for her story were the few that offered good reviews of her work.

I fully understand the fear of putting your work out there for others to see.  My latest story has been giving me more worry than any other before.  I liken sharing your writing to letting someone see you naked.  You're showing people a side of yourself you don't normally share and you're not sure you're really comfortable with.  I commend anyone who has the courage to do it, but I won't over praise someone despite the developing trend to do so in modern society.

So, the old cliches are true.  Be careful what you wish for.  You might get it, and the truth can hurt.

Monday, May 9, 2011

So Much for that Idea!

For those of you following this blog with fervor, you know I’ve been anxiously awaiting the results of a certain writing contest.  To recap, I entered a young adult novel contest being sponsored by one of the most popular e-book web sites on the internet.  It’s a three round contest, and I’ve been waiting to learn if I'm moving on to round three. The submission period for round two closed on April 30, 2011 so I hoped to hear shortly after that date. Having heard nothing at the time of my last post, I centered my topic on that. 

As a result of some news I received in the interim, I had my latest topic all figured out. Not only did I have it figured out, I’d begun to compose it in my head and was quite pleased with my witty repartee. From the time I began this mental composition until the time of the actual post, I’ve received some entirely different news that forced me to revise my strategy so to speak.

When last you left your heroine (that’s me), I was still waiting to find out if my novel was good enough to advance to the third round. I knew not when I’d learn of my fate. I knew only that if I were to make the third round, I’d have to submit my completed novel no later than May 30, 2011.  Considering the entire novel is already finished, that part didn’t bother me at all. The concerning part was how to post it onto the submission site given the news I received last week. It seems I wasn’t the only author trying to determine when the results would be announced. Given the overwhelming requests for this information, the administrators took pity on the entrants and informed us we’d be notified by May 15, 2011.  That gave competitors only fifteen days from the date of announcement to the date of close to complete and submit their novel. This sent some of my competitors into frenzy since they’re still in the drafting process. Having completed my novel, I wasn’t worried about this. In my true forward thinking nature, I opted to pursue an aggressive course of action.  I took the approach that perhaps I might make round three and needed to begin submitting my novel now so that fans had the chance to read before the round closed.

Seeing as how today is only May 9, 2011 I planned to write about the contest and deadlines and what not but in a different light.  Once again, I’ve been thrown a curve, but this is a happy curve.  The round three finalists were announced today instead of a week from today.  I’m pleased, humbled, excited and elated to report I’ve made the third and final round.

So that idea I had about deadlines and preparation and submissions? So much for that idea! Who knows? Maybe I can save it for another time.

Monday, May 2, 2011

You Would Think

This isn't the topic I wanted to write about today, the reason being to reveal itself shortly. While making my bed this morning, I was thinking about this blog, and there was a very different topic in mind.

Since I'm supposed to be a professional writer, you would think it would be easy to come up with something to write about each week. To a degree, that's true. If I wanted, I could write endlessly about any number of things. However, from the beginning of this blog, I made the decision to write about writing. This blog is my opportunity to share my experiences. The goal is not only to teach others just starting out but to commiserate with those long established.

That being said, narrowing the field of possibilities makes it much more difficult to find topics to write about. Sometimes, when the stars and planets align perfectly, a brilliant idea will strike me well before Monday. That usually doesn't happen until Monday afternoon before I sit down to bang this out. Today, I had a gem of a post in mind, but fate had other plans.

As I'm sure you've heard me say before, I've recently entered a young adult novel contest. This is a three round contest.  I manged to make round two which closed on April 30th.  I was hoping and even anticipating that I'd find out today whether or not I made the third and final round. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. The judges are likely working hard to sift through the submissions, which I'm sure takes time. In the meantime, I'm stuck sweating it out a little longer. You would think I'd be used to playing the waiting game since a large chunk of a writer's career is devoted to this.

You would think that, but you'd be wrong. The waiting still puts me on the edge of my seat. Edge of my seat or not, it doesn't matter. I have to wait. Perhaps next week I'll have a better update and I can post that brilliant blog. You would think so anyway! Guess we'll have to see.