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.   

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