Friday, April 4, 2014

Definitions of Success

I've been reading through Katherine Rusch's book on freelancing and hit the section on success, and that's gotten me thinking.

So, what do I call success? That is, what am I defining as writing success right now? Or how did I define it in the past for my writing.

Here are a number of successes that I've had in the past:
  • Completed a novel.
  • Complete novel worth reading twice
  • Created paper version of novel.
  • Created epub version of novel.
  • Sold one copy of a novel.
  • Received royalty payment. ($12)
  • Getting Amazon selling rank below #100,000
Here are some successes that I am aiming for now:
  • Write sellable short story.
  • Sell sellable short story.
  • Break even.
  • Receive a review on Amazon.
  • Receive stars on Amazon.
  • Create audiobook of novels.
  • Sell more than 10 copies of a work.
  • Sell 50 copies of a single work. This is the average number of sales for a paper based self-published publication.
  • Sell a novel.
  • Increase my writer blog viewership by any amount.
  • Increase my writer blog viewership by a steady amount.
  • Invited as guest to a con.
Here is my dream:
  • Write a timeless classic.
You'll note that I tend to have goals close to the future, and most of my goals are in my own control, but not all. You have to wonder, don't I want more than that? Sure, I do, and I call those things dreams because they are pie-in-the-sky stuff. That doesn't mean that these dreams aren't achievable, but it does mean that I don't currently know the path to them. For the items on my short list, I either know the path to them or I am actively involved in learning that path.

"Write a timeless classic" is the dream that directly drives every iteration of my writing. Everything that I write makes a tilt at that windmill. That is an ambition that I work towards every word and every chapter. What makes a timeless classic is skill and luck. I can't provide luck but I can certainly increase me skill.

My 20 year success story has me retiring from my current work, then writing to supplement my income. My practical goal is to build my business into something that can provide for me after the end of my first profession. Five years into this 20 year plan, and I have no effective income.

What's holding me back right now? Ignorance. I don't understand the business well enough. I don't understand short stories well enough. I don't understand contracts well enough. In almost every direction, I see my own ignorance, which means that I've been learning.

Ignorance of the market holds me back. If I write a short story, who do I send it do? How do I decide this? If I want an agent, how do I actually find one? Even this "first steps" leave me feeling a bit panicked.

Fear holds me back as well. I can get over fear and I will. I do fear rejection, but another fear is of losing control of a good work. It's fear of success, because success leads me into a newer and even more unknown world that leaves me feeling a little panicky. Its fear of opportunity cost.

All these things are surmountable. Given time, I will surmount them all, and they will be replaced with more goals to surmount. Writers with 30 years of experience have things to learn and goal to surmount, so having these challenges before me is no issue.

I would lie if I didn't tell you, I want it all right now without any more work. Just give it to me. I think that everyone is like that. We all want the maximum reward for what we feel is our maximum hard work.

What I don't control is the market itself. I can write a fantabulous book that folks don't want to read. I adore All The King's Men, but how many readers of fantasy would share that love with me? Some, I'm sure, but very few. That doesn't make Robert Penn Warren's book bad. In fact, it's so good that it won awards, but not fantasy awards.

What I don't control is timing. Would On The Road be a success if published today, or was it just the right product at the right time? Fashions change.

In many ways, we writers are part of a natural ecosystem where writers are going in every direction at once, each trying to find our niche and the most energy. That ecosystem isn't static, just as the weather is not static. Some areas of the ecosystem find great success while other areas languish. The writers have not change, but fashion, culture, and history have. I am part of that ecosystem, and fashion might turn my way, or it may turn away. I may follow the market, following the lucre, or I may write what I love, because I don't like the lucrative markets.

That is to say that there are factors beyond my control, but how I respond to those factors is in my control. For now I am staying in the "write what I want" category because I just don't see finishing anything that I don't like. I also have my creative style, and like it or not, it doesn't play genre well. I've tried. I have to trust that it leads me somewhere good, but I'll be damned if it doesn't vex me as much as reward me most days.