Thursday, February 28, 2019

Fail Better, Fail Faster by Dean Gloster

            We learn more from failure than from success. With failure, there’s the sense of having earned the knowledge, paid the tuition, and then underlined the resulting hard-won best-practices as important: We don’t want to experience that again.

            It’s not stuffy book learning, it’s muscle memory, and you won’t have to think about how to shy away from making those particular mistakes again; when the situation arises, you’ll flinch.

            Cultivating growth and any creative leap risks exactly that kind of earned failure.

            Which is complicated in a culture that shames failure and worships success—or, worse, worships the unrealistic fantasy of success without setbacks, detours, and regroupings for lessons learned.  

            I’ve thought about that a lot lately, because this month I set aside a novel manuscript after two years work and way more than two hundred heavily-revised pages.

I stayed with it way too long, locked in the bargaining phase of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grieving: What if I add subplots that will anchor it in the teen-centric world? What if I add subsidiary main character goals? What if I pay more attention to structure?


What if I turned instead to the other novels that want to be written and aren’t structurally flawed from the outset?

I’d made the mistake of taking a decent young adult novella (for which there is no real commercial market) that I wrote in graduate school and trying to stretch it into a novel, which it could not become. It lacked most of the critical tent-poles that would hold up a story for that length: A main character who drives the story with his strong desire and key choices, leading to scene after scene that follow causally from each other. Pretty basic problems, but the nature of unfixable problems is that they result from deep and basic flaws.

I’m good at revision, much better at rewriting than I am at writing, and I have even more than the standard share of immense self-confidence handed out to random mediocre white guys, so it took me a long, L-O-N-G time to figure out it wasn’t going to work.

In the process, I almost lost myself as a writer, because it was so hard. Writing novels that are working is hard enough. It’s almost unbearable, writing scenes when you know you’re just marching further into the middle of a dark swamp, away from land.

So I finally set that manuscript aside and turned to the novel that wants to be written instead, with the two funny brothers who argue with each other and who have to work together with their smart friend Claire to save their world. It's going great, the chapters are coming quickly, and it's fun again.

            It’s got all the usual Dean Gloster novel ingredients: Death, humor, the question of whether it’s possible to save someone, a love interest to root for, dysfunctional parenting, and a slightly off-kilter sensibility. Also a mergers and acquisitions lawyer dad who is missing 74 percent of his soul.

            Which happens. Trust me. I used to negotiate with those guys. And I just watched a televised hearing full of babbling Republican Congressmen. Honestly, why the rest of you aren’t currently writing novels about people missing most of their souls is beyond me.

Even Rep. Clay Higgins' vest is trying to distance itself from his idiocy

            Success? For me, right now, it means putting in the work. Making progress. Learning to be a better writer, even if that learning is the hard kind—through temporary failure, so it sticks.

If I had a hope for the future, though, it would be to succeed next time or at least to fail better, and fail faster, on the way.

            Wish me luck.

            Heck, if you saw any of that hearing, wish us all luck.

Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out now from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”
Dean is on Twitter: @deangloster

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Success and failure and uncertainty (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

About five years ago, I had reached most of my lifelong writing goals (publish a novel, publish again, tell the story that I’d been struggling to tell for years and that finally became my second book). My books had been in major stores and reviewed in major publications, and one of them even got starred reviews. I’d done a lot of fun book events and in many ways, had lived the dream.

But I failed to reach the next set of goals, most of which involved outward success around sales numbers and events and awards, and especially publishing a fourth YA novel within two years of my third. I’d been burning out even during the editing of my third book, which had been emotionally and technically difficult to write. The industry was changing, expectations were changing, and I was changing. I took a break from fiction and published a nonfiction book, but when I returned to YA fiction, it wasn’t clicking. A Venn diagram of what I was writing and what editors were asking for would show two circles not even touching.

At first this seemed devastating to me—the slide most debut authors begin to dread about five minutes after they finish celebrating their first book deal. I tried everything I knew to combat it. I tried writing different things. Rewriting. Not writing at all.

Giving up writing, I discovered, was the one thing that didn’t work. I couldn’t go a full day without some story or poem or essay starting to unroll in my head, unbidden. So learned I was, irrevocably, a writer.

But was I still an author?

Interestingly, during this time which I thought of as barren, I was still publishing. I had returned to shorter pieces, which I used to write and publish before I got book deals. Most importantly, I really began to enjoy writing again.

My most recent publications have been essays and flash nonfiction. I love short stories and essays for their brevity, their intensity—and they don’t take a year to write. And yet I haven’t sworn off long-form fiction, because if the phases of my career and the careers I see around me have taught me anything, it’s that creative careers are fluid and unpredictable. When I consider terms like “success” and “failure,” I’m no longer even sure how to define them. They are intermixed, qualified, bittersweet. They take turns; sometimes they arrive simultaneously.

Monday, February 25, 2019

You Can't Spell Success Without 'UCCE' (Brian Katcher)

When I was a young man, I feared one thing. Well, two, really, until Roy Clark died. You see, most of my friends were smarter, more driven, and more talented that me. And I feared banality. I feared growing into a middle-aged man who had never achieved anything interesting or notable. I feared they would film one of my friend's life stories and I'd be cut from the script or be a composite character, based on several less-important people. I feared being forgotten. Being average. Being normal.

I think that's why writing helped me avoid a major midlife crisis. As an author, I get to meet other writers. And I'm no longer a fan. I'm a colleague.

I don't want to name drop here (I totally want to name drop, but I won't). But I do want to mention something that happened the other day.

I've always been a faithful member of my church. In 1998, I was in New York state for the end of the world celebrations (damn, I should have budgeted money for the trip back home). It was a gathering of a few hundred of the faithful of the One True Church.

Eternal Salvation or Triple Your Money Back!

During the chaos that was the original X Day, I got to meet Rev. Ivan Stang, the founder of the Holy Church. I snapped this photo.

Years later, when my first books came out, I send him copies. As I always mention the One True Faith in my books, I thought that was good for some free shirts. He sent me the shirts and some nice words about the books, but our correspondence fell off shortly after.

The other day, out of the blue, he sent me an e-mail saying how he'd been busy with his family, but he finally got around to reading the books I sent and had really enjoyed them. He wrote me this wonderful blurb.

“I’m tempted to say I’ve been caught up in Brian Katcher’s novels, but that’s got to be an old line. But it’s true enough. He’s a natural storyteller with what must be a keen memory of his own youth, because he has expertly captured the world of insecure young men trying to act smart and be cool in several stories now. I dread when he starts exposing what it’s really like to be an insecure OLD man trying to act smart and cool. His male characters are so familiar that they embarrass me, and I’ve developed crushes on his females characters even though they’re way too young for me. If I’d been reading these instead of Kurt Vonnegut when I was younger, I would probably have had a much more realistic attitude…”

That may mean nothing to you heathens, but  to me, that's like getting the personal blessing of the Roman Pope. 

Seriously. Yes, I've been a husband, father, and teacher. Yes, I've traveled the world. I've won awards. 

But getting a blurb from the chief author of The Book of the Subgenius...yeah, that's also kind of awesome.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Evolution of “Success” (Brenda Hiatt)

“Success is simple. Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time.” ~Arnold H. Glasow

Over the course of my writing career, my definition of success has evolved considerably. When I first began writing, I didn’t know any other writers. None lived near me, the internet barely even existed, and I wasn’t yet aware of any writing organizations. Given that, it’s not surprising that my early expectations about what success as a writer would mean were, um, less than realistic. Back then, I honestly believed that if I could just finish a book, then sell it to a publisher, fame and fortune would inevitably follow. (I can hear you all laughing now.)

Luckily, by the time I did finally sell a book (the second one I wrote), I’d discovered an online community of writers and had learned enough that I was thrilled, rather than disappointed, to receive an advance in the low four figures. (Yeah, not quite enough to buy that sweet villa on the Riviera I’d once dreamed of.) It was lovely having peers I could share my good news with and I positively basked in my success when I first saw a book I’d written myself on a bookstore shelf. All too soon, though, I fell into the deadly trap of comparing my own success with that of other authors. 

“That some achieve great success, is proof to all that others can achieve it as well.” ~Abraham Lincoln

This quote sums up how I looked at other authors before I sold a book. If they could, I could. But after publishing a few books, I twisted an inspirational idea into something toxic: that one author’s great success was proof of my lack of success, because I hadn’t achieved the same recognition she had. With the hindsight of many years, I implore newer authors not to fall into that trap! 

For a while, I considered giving up writing entirely because my so-called success looked so lame compared to that of other authors. At one point I did the math and realized that I’d make more money per hour waiting tables (a job I had in high school and college…and hated) than writing. After some serious soul-searching, though, I decided:

“I’d rather be a failure at something I love than a success at something I hate.” ~George Burns

So I continued to write, since I enjoyed that more than anything else I could do for a living. But then my imprint folded and my subgenre more or less ceased to exist. I again considered giving up, but reminded myself that:

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” ~Winston Churchill

On the advice of other authors, I shifted from traditional Regencies to single title historical romance and found a new home at a new publisher, though I never became one of the “stars.” Unfortunately, after several more books written to increasingly tight deadlines and increasing rigid editorial standards, I gradually realized that I no longer loved writing. Between that and the contracting market, I stopped selling—and writing—altogether for a while. At that point, success—at least as a writer—seemed even more out of reach than before I’d sold my first book. However:

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” ~Confucius 

Sure enough, after taking a year-long break I felt ready to try again, this time in a totally different genre (young adult sci-fi romance). And lo and behold, writing was fun again! By the time I finished my first YA, indie pubbing was becoming a thing and I’d already started selling some of my older historical romances that I’d gotten back the rights to. That’s the path I decided to take with my new books and I haven’t regretted it a bit. I may never be one of those seven-figure authors you hear about, but I like what I do and that’s good enough for me.
Therefore, my current definition of success is the one I hope will last me for the rest of my life:

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” ~Maya Angelou

Easier said than done, of course, but I’m making progress!

Saturday, February 23, 2019

The Ever Changing Definition of Success By Christine Gunderson

Our topic this month is success and how we define it. I think the definition changes over time, as our careers, circumstances and goals evolve.
            Many years ago, I was a television anchor and reporter. I loved that job. Success was pretty straightforward. It was the adrenaline rush of a perfect live shot, anchoring a show without flubbing the words on the teleprompter or having the story no one else had.
            Then I became a press secretary on Capitol Hill.  The definition of success there was simple: get re-elected. Failure was trudging through the November sleet in high heels looking for a new job because the voters gave your candidate an F for failure and you were now unemployed. Politics is brutal because it’s a zero-sum game. One candidate can only succeed if the other candidate fails. 
            I left journalism and politics behind to stay home with my children. Those days are still a blur. All day long my toddler sons tried to fling themselves from slides, ingest detergent and swallow sand. All day long I dashed from one to the other, saving them from mortal peril. I was like a lifeguard at a pool that never, ever closed. Success was ending the day with two live children and no trips to the emergency room.
Those boys grew, and a sister joined them, and eventually, they all become old enough to go to school. The heavens opened and a choir of angels sang. Because now, at last, (cue that Etta James song) I had more time to write.
            Once again, my definition of success changed. First it was just to get published. Then, after some research, I decided that because I write for young adults, and they like physical books, my goal was a print contract with a traditional publisher. So, I turned down two e-book contracts for my first and second novels. It was a hard decision. Sometimes I still wonder if it was the right one, because I know that in the current market, shooting for a print contract with a traditional publisher is like waiting for a unicorn to publish my books. But right now, this is my definition of success. 
However, this is just my definition. There are as many different definitions of success as there are writers. I have friends who make a fantastic living self-publishing. I have friends who write in genres where readers prefer e-books. They have legions of loyal fans who can’t wait to read what they write next. My definition of success isn’t the right definition for them. And theirs isn’t right for me. That’s okay. 
It’s always tempting to see someone else’s definition of success and think, “Look at that bright, shiny writer/parent/neighbor/friend over there who has it all together. Maybe I should be doing what she’s doing.” It takes a lot courage and some Frankly I Don’t Give a Damn to define success for yourself. But there’s a lot of freedom on the other side of that decision. Freedom to decide who you are and what you want. That’s one definition of success that never changes.
Christine Gunderson is a former television anchor and former House and Senate aide who lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband, children and Star, the Wonder Dog.  When not writing, she’s sailing, playing Star Wars trivia, re-reading Persuasion or unloading the dishwasher. 

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Shape of Success by Patty Blount

Here's a head-scratcher for you.... the shape of success is circular.

Wait, what? Circular? I know it's a reach, but follow my logic:

When I was a kid with a dream of publishing a book -- success was exactly that: the published book. I wanted to tell a story that people would think about, maybe change their minds about something. Not to brag, but I did that. In fact, I've done it more than once now. For a little while, PUBLISH THE BOOK was my definition of success until suddenly, it was no longer enough.

That's the thing about success... the definition is an ever-shifting image, a moving target. Achieve it and you have to redefine. Re-aim. And here's the seedy underbelly of it that no one tells you about: it can get you down if you let it. You published a book! That's great. It was your life-long dream and all those hours of work finally paid off. Now what?

"Oh," I thought. "Wouldn't it be great to win some awards, speak at some conferences?" I did the work and sent in applications and workshop proposals and to my astonishiment, won a few awards, filled a few seats.

Soon, that wasn't enough either.

You see where I'm going with this, right?

Success is a bar that keeps getting raised. 

And that can be a good thing. You want to keep chasing it, keep improving, keep learning. That bar can be the fuel that keeps us moving ever forward.

But with this Sisyphean task comes a certain amount of "But wait... what if I nevers" that can derail your progress. What if I never hit a list? What if a movie based on my book is never made? What if the things happening for THAT author never happen for me?

You know the saying, "Comparison is the thief of joy?"  It is especially true when we try to define SUCCESS by someone else's terms. You may look at your favorite young adult author and learn she hit the list with her debut novel, or landed a six-figure advance after auction. Another author sold TV serial rights. Still another is the keynote speaker at every conference. And another has a million Twitter followers.

And then you look at yourself and say, "I don't have any of those things. I am a failure."

For a long time, I feared this was true. I wrote this one story, got it published. Wrote two more, got them published. The third won finaled in the Rita, won some other awards. I've got nine published so far but every book since that third? Not as successful, in my eyes.

Now I'm comparing myself to... MYSELF.

Writers have to change their mindsets, their thought processes. Defining SUCCESS by someone else's yardstick, as I was doing, is a dangerous path to travel, my friends. The thorns are prickly and if you're not careful, the dream of being an author becomes drudgery and you'll look for any excuse to avoid it.

If you find yourself heading in this direction, what worked for me was returning to my original intention. Why did I want to become an author in the first place? For some, maybe it was for the royalty checks and movie deals. But for others, maybe it was for something far less flashy. Maybe it was because your heart held a story inside that needed to be told. Maybe you wanted a little piece of you to live on forever. Maybe you wanted to change just one mind or speak to just one heart. Maybe it was because you were a reader long before you were a writer and you just want to tell stories readers like you will love.

Whatever your original reason was, use that as your mantra. Go back to the beginning and don't lose sight of that driving force. Don't compare it to anyone else's, just do your thing.

I AM a success and here's why. It's not the awards I've won or the money I've made, though I adore those things. As a reader, I adored stories that touched me, made me feel -- deeply -- for a particular character's emotional journey. When I became a writer, I wanted to be able to do that same thing in my readers. I wanted to change minds, change hearts. I wanted readers to feel for my characters. I wanted to tell stories that matter!

And I'm doing it:

I'm not sure if you remember me...We met when you were at a guest speaker at my high school. At the time I was a senior getting ready to graduate but I was carrying a burden with me. I was sexually assaulted by a friend in the summer of 2016. For two years, I kept that a secret from everyone but I felt comfortable sharing my experience with you. First, I'd like to thank you. You have helped me heal in ways I could not imagine. It is because of you that I was able to leave horrible memories behind, move away and go to college. I still have the copy of Some Boys that you gave me. I love this book more than you'll ever know. I've wanted to email you for so long but I couldn't until I knew I was in the right headspace. I didn't want to tell you I was thriving in life when I was crashing. And I was crashing for a while. Right now, I am the happiest and healthiest I have ever been. Since we last spoke I have moved to [redacted] and I am currently studying Political Science. I've decided to go into politics because I think it's the best way for me to make a change in the world. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to thank you enough. 

Hello Patty! I don't know if you remember me or not. Since graduating high school and finishing my first semester at college, I've revisited Some Boys. At the time when I first read it, sexual assault was just an idea to me. It was not until I experienced it first hand that I was really able to understand Grace's feelings and how she overcame her rape throughout the novel. I would love to share my story with you more and how you've inspired me. 

I just finished reading your book Some Boys. I loved it. I was raped by my mom's boyfriend in [redacted]. he has since been arrested and is now in prison. Your book spoke to me, it made me feel like someone knew how it feels for someone that has been raped. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I have dozens of messages like these, which were redacted and edited to protect the identities of senders. I may never become famous...or rich....or get a cameo in a movie made from my novels, but for these readers, I told them stories that resonated. It took coming full circle for me to remember that.

If you're a book lover, tell me how you define an author's success?

Thursday, February 21, 2019


I've been in the revision cave since Christmas. And when you're looking at the same project day in and day out, it is SO EASY to hit a point where you want to dust your hands off and just declare, "Done!"

But if you don't--if you stick with it, if you read through the project once it CRITICALLY and really think about it, I guarantee you'll find a plot hole (or ten). Holes that you can fix before publication.

Trust me. Your readers will find the holes even if you don't. They're smart, those readers.

It's tough. It is. I'm right there. I know. It is tough to put your rear in the seat and read that book for the 7.5 millionth time. You can get so sick of your own thoughts.

But you have GOT to stick with a project until it's finished.

And I mean really finished.

Finished all the way to completion.

Not just finished at the point at which you get fed up with it.

Take a day off if you need to. Push yourself away, but make sure that's only temporary.

Come back fresh. Read that book. Read it as hard as you possibly can. Read scenes out of order. Find your holes. Mend them.

Don't just write the book. Polish it until it shines.

And then you'll take a deep breath and you'll smell it:

The sweet smell of success.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Squee Heard Round the Target

by Laurie Boyle Crompton

We all have special moments in life when we get that ‘this is it’ feeling inside. That ‘wow this could be kind of a big deal.’ I’ve had my share, getting engaged, married, selling my first YA novel and five more books after, and twice I’ve been blessed to experience the ‘this is it’ moment of giving birth. For me, personally, becoming a mother kind of blows the others away.

So I will always have a crystal-clear memory of going into labor with my first child right in the middle of a shopping trip at our local Target. Living on Long Island means having a limitless selection of stores to shop in, but I’ve always gotten lucky at Target, finding just what I need. It was quite fitting that my unborn daughter turned out to be a big fan as well.

I was at the very end of my pregnancy when my mother and I had the urge to add to the nursery’s already considerable baby clothes collection. My husband and I lived in Long Beach, NY at the time, the land of tiny bungalow houses, and so the baby’s room was small. But ‘just one more onsie’ had become my mom’s mantra, so off to Target we went. 

I’d done plenty of walking along the beach each day, but strolling through that Target must have triggered something in my little girl. I got that deep sense of ‘this is it’ in the form of sudden labor pains! My daughter took her sweet time in coming and so we got to the hospital without drama, but I will never forget rubbing my huge belly as I told the checkout clerk I needed to use her phone to call my doctor. “I’m in labor,” I told her wide-eyed look of surprise. She very quickly ushered me right to the front of the line at customer service. 

Eighteen years later, we still tease my daughter about her deep love of Target. Every time we go she finds something great. So when I got the exciting news that my latest YA novel, PRETTY IN PUNXSUTAWNEY, is being stocked at Target it wasn’t hard to convince my daughter to come along and check it out. Below is the video she recorded of my ‘this is it’ moment of seeing my book in the exact same store where our journey together began. As you can see, it makes me a *little* happy.

My favorite part of the whole joy-filled video? When we got to the aisle, my daughter spotted my book right away. If you listen, you can hear her give a little gasp when she sees it. Each time watch this clip it makes me think: That’s right, baby girl, just another magical moment together in the aisle of our local Target.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Not So Overnight Success (Alissa Grosso)

I used to live in a community in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania where our mail was delivered to one of those cluster box units roughly a couple of blocks from my house. This meant that getting the mail was usually combined with walking the dog. Since one of my cats was convinced he was a dog and also needed to go for walks, he usually joined us. I remember that afternoon well as I flipped through the usual pile of bills and junk as our strange little parade made its way home and an envelope caught my eye.

A few months ago I had submitted a short story to something called the Centra PA Writing Contest. Though it was technically open to all Pennsylvania residents, I figured the fact that I lived up in the northeastern corner of the state would work against me, but I was proud of the little story I wrote, and thought it might be worthy enough for at least an honorable mention.

At that point I had been writing for decades, and had spent at least the past five years seriously trying to get somewhere with my writing. I had amassed a very large collection of rejection letters, and here and there had a few small successes. To qualify, by small I mean that no piece of fiction I had written up to that point had earned me more than fifty dollars.

As I juggled the dog leash and the stack of mail, I opened the Central PA Writing Contest envelope. There was a single letter inside that didn't have the look of the standard form rejection letter--I'd become something of an expert when it came to recognizing rejection letters.

I read through the letter quickly as we walked, and then with my heart nearly ready to burst out of my chest, I read it through again to be sure, but I hadn't imagined it. The letter stated that my short story had been chosen as the first place winner, which came with a prize of $500, and I was invited to a special reception.

I know what you're thinking, $500 is hardly a life-changing amount of money, but it was 10 times more than I had ever earned from a piece of fiction. They had picked my little story as the first place winner. I was ecstatic.

Winning that writing contest might seem like a small thing, but it was huge for me. It gave me the confidence to keep pursuing my writing dreams. That small success was one of the things that led to me completing and later selling my first novel.

A lot has changed for me since reading that letter while walking my animals home. I now have seven published books and have earned way more than $500 from my fiction, but I can recall that day like it was yesterday and still feel a thrill when I think about reading the news in that happy letter because I know how important that success was to me and how much it contributed to all my subsequent successes.

What success is waiting out there for you? And where will it lead?

Alissa Grosso writes young adult novels and adult thrillers and chronicles the ups and downs of being an author on her Awkward Author vlog and podcast. Find out more about her and her books at

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Defining Success...One Hug At A Time (Jodi Moore)

I keep a calendar/planner book. I know it’s not “techy”. In fact, it may be downright old-fashioned, but there’s a great sense of accomplishment when I pen my “to do” list (with my favorite colorful Sharpies), and then check off each item as it’s finished.


If you ask 100 people to define the word, you’ll most likely get 100 different answers. That being said, if you ask me to define the word 100 times in that many days, you’ll probably also get 100 different answers.

You see, my perception of success is fairly fluid. It has to be…or I’m not sure I could survive. Writing is…well, hard. The publishing world is subjective. It’s filled with rejection, from industry professionals to booksellers to readers. As with most things in life, there are many variables we can’t control.

So in my humble opinion, sometimes success means simply controlling what we can…and celebrating our little accomplishments along the way. We may wonder if we're making any progress, but as my husband says, falling on your face is still a step forward.

Some days, success can be measured by the act of completing a manuscript. Other days, it’s finding one perfect word. Admittedly, many days it’s being able to forgive myself for accomplishing neither.

Sometimes, it’s sending that completed manuscript out to an agent or editor. Other times, if I receive a rejection (or the dreaded, “no response means no”), it’s managing to eat only one bowl of ice cream instead of wolfing down the entire half gallon.

Some may measure success in literary awards – which are pretty sweet indeed! – but it’s just as important, if not more so, to recognize the family, friends and writer buddies who are there to celebrate with you when you’re up…and support you when you’re down. (For instance, share some ice cream.) Here I am pictured with my bestie, the uber-talented Kimberly Sabatini upon the birth of her fantastic book, TOUCHING THE SURFACE. (I'm like a proud auntie!)

And while I wish I was independently wealthy and could write just because I love it and want to make the world a better place, there comes a time when one must consider finances. After all, writing is a business. So…on the days that I’m out of ice cream, need to pay for a conference or realize how much we still owe on our home and college loans, success means earning royalties and/or securing author visits.

(Full disclosure? We don’t really have control over earnings or even booking events…try as we may.)

But oh, those visits! This is where I get to meet, interact and connect with my readers. They fill my heart to overflowing with their smiles, energy, inspiration and hugs.

What is it they say? A picture is worth a thousand words:

How can this not be the very definition of success?

Oh, look! “Upload YAOTL blog” is on my list. * grabs purple Sharpie* Check!

Ah. Success.

Monday, February 11, 2019

What Success Looks Like (Maryanne Fantalis)

At the end of December, I finished Loving Beatrice, my second book in the Shakespeare's Women Speak series, and sent it off to my publisher.

That's success.

For some reason -- for many reasons -- I struggled to write this second book. Writers often talk about the sophomore slump: how writing the next novel, after you've gotten one published, is really, really hard. I thought the notion was ridiculous... until it happened to me.

I had always assumed that once I was published, the sheer joy of that notion would infuse my writing life with passion. Instead, the idea that people were waiting on this book -- real people, publishing people, readers -- nearly paralyzed me. For a long time, I could not write. I tinkered, I researched, I fidgeted, I pretended, but I didn't produce anything of substance. I, who had long prided myself on never getting "blocked" -- I could not write.

And so, finishing this book is what success looks like to me right now.

Overcoming the almost stultifying fear that I could not write another novel at a level I think is good enough for publication: that's success.

Reminding myself that, in fact, I did have processes in place to accomplish this task: that's success.

Rediscovering my main character's voice: that's success.

Remembering that, no, I do not have to write linearly and that when I sat for nearly SIX MONTHS in one scene, that was a really stupid thing to do and wasted a lot of time that could have been better spent writing other scenes and THAT'S a mistake I'll never make again: SUCCESS!

Figuring out that setting unrealistic deadlines and then beating yourself up when you don't reach them and then wallowing in guilt is a bad idea: that's success

Deciding to cheer yourself on when you make progress, even if it's only a hundred words or a bit of planning: also success

Jumping with glee right into the next novel within a couple of weeks after sending off the last one, feeling energized and ready to go, with a mountain of emotional baggage lifted from your shoulders...

Well, yeah. All of that is how I define success right about now. 

Friday, February 8, 2019

Success is Always Just a Word Away By: Kimberly Sabatini

Success is...
showing up to write and learn every day--
no matter how long it takes to sell another book.
But believing you will.

Success is...
finding joy in writing--
unaware of where the story will take you.
And always being surprised at the twists and turns.

Success is...
 hearing from readers who find something on your pages and between your words--
and it's changed them.
Which changes you.

Success is...
giving back to your writing community--
because you'll never forget what it felt like to put yourself out there the first time.
And being supported.

Success is...
buying more books than you could ever read--
because every book you rescue from the shelf, gives another author wings.
And teaches you many things.

Success is...
being part of the Kidlit community--
because they rise to the occasion with every natural or human-made disaster.
On multiple levels, books save lives.

Success is...
having Indie Bookstores in your community--
and hanging out within their walls.
Books are meant to be touched.

Success is...
that quiet, stolen chunk of time--
when all the words come tumbling out--inspired.
The spark of Big Magic.

Success is...
the days when you feel anything but successful--
yet you show up to write and learn anyway.
And eat chocolate.
Success is always just a word away.

What makes you feel like a success?

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Success: I’ll Know It When I See It (Mary Strand)

This month, the blog topic is supposed to be what “success” looks like to me now.

I’m tempted to keep this short and say “Nooooo idea.”

Still, I hate to waste a perfectly good law degree — from Georgetown, no less, which had the best basketball team in the country at the time, no matter what you may say. (HOYA SAXA.)

So, in a pathetic attempt to take a wild stab at defining success, I’ll start by comparing any definition of success with Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio, in which the Supremes were asked to define hard-core pornography: “I shall not today attempt further to define [blah blah blah hard-core pornography]... But I know it when I see it.”

Yeah. Pretty much how I feel about success: I won’t attempt to define it, but I know it when I see it.

A corollary, WAY less famous because I’m the one who says it, usually to my kids: “There are pluses and minuses to everything.”

In other words, success in one thing may result in failure (or at least negatives) in other things, so, really, how can you possibly say what success is?

If I write a gazillion books and they do well, it means fame and glory and money (with any luck), but I won’t have as much time to do other things I may love as much or more: playing guitar, playing sports, listening to live music, or sneaking out with my college-age kid to share Punch Pizza’s AMAZING chocolate hazelnut panini. (Hypothetically speaking. heh heh.)
Chocolate hazelnut panini IS success. Um, I'm pretty sure.

And if, encouraged by success, I start spending all my time writing and promoting my books, will I be happy? Highly doubtful. (In my case. Your mileage may vary.)

Seriously, I have no idea how to deal with this blog topic! Make it go away!

<looks furtively in every direction for savior from this topic> <damn> <foiled again>

Since no blog-topic rescuer is in sight, so I’m indeed forced to answer this burning question, I’ll say this: to me, success isn’t one huge thing, let alone a major culmination of events or the greatest destination in the history of destinations. It’s simply a series of tiny good things that, at particular moments in my life, I think are great. Nice. Sweet.

That’s all. And it’s good enough for me.

 As a queen of lists, I’ll even list a few examples:
  • I sell a book!
  • A friend (or stranger) gives me an out-of-the-ordinary compliment
  • I conquer a guitar solo
  • I win a contest (ANY contest, with any prize)
  • I score fantastic seats to a concert or gig I really, really want to attend
  • My daughter tells me, on a day she’s pissed at me, that I’m a great writer
  • My son texts that he loves me and uses several exclamation points
  • I pop out of the water on my first waterski run of the year
  • I drive the lane on a basketball court and do a loop-de-loop up the middle
  • I write a song
  • I’m there for a friend when he or she really needs me (or vice versa)
Or maybe, late one night when I should either be sleeping or practicing guitar, success is as simple as managing to write a blog post about a topic I’m convinced I can’t possibly write about. Like, for instance, what success looks like to me now.
Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

A Writer's Moving Target: Success

by Fae Rowen

The Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus gives these synonyms for success: triumph, victory, smash hit, winner, best seller, sensation, phenomenon.

I'll take any one of those to describe my writing career. Who wouldn't?

Like most things in life, my idea of success as a writer has changed over the years. At first I just wanted to win a writing contest. Then I wanted to get an editor of a large New York publishing house to make an offer for one of my books before I signed with an agent. After that, I would sign with that golden agent everyone dreams of, you know, the one who orchestrates a huge seven-figure auction for the rights to your book. That first book would be a best seller and my agent would have to fight off Hollywood directors who wanted to make it into a movie. Yes, another auction, but I'd keep lots of rights—to be on the set, to veto any changes in the book that I didn't like in the screenplay, to help choose the actors.

Yes, I'm laughing right now. Really. I was naive, and that's being very kind.

I watched my critique partner and friend sign with an agent, then sign multi-book contracts with not one, but two, big New York houses. I was thrilled for her. I knew my time would come soon. Science fiction romance was a harder sell then. Young Adult wasn't even a category yet.

My friend treated her writing and interactions with her agent and editors as a real butt-in-seat job. She
maintained a writing schedule with a daily word count, grew her social media footprint, and wrote great books. She wasn't particularly happy with her covers, or her changing editors, who edited some stories so much they hardly resembled the original. I saw her frustration, even though she never complained and was a "good soldier"—meeting her deadlines and making the requested revisions. She wrote proposals for her agent to pitch and started teaching writing to local writing chapters and at conferences far enough away to need a plane ticket.

During those years, I found someone that I filed away as my dream editor—if I ever had a choice to work with her. I found a cover designer who understood what I wanted and delivered even more. I had a website designed and built a social media platform. I spoke at a couple of conferences. When I made the decision to self-publish, I knew it was the right one for me because I needed control over the publishing pieces that my friend doesn't have.

Yes, I gave up distribution and what marketing New York gives to a debut author (not much these days), but I got to make my own production schedule and I got to work with the team of professionals I'd found. Right now, that's more important to me than large advances and royalty checks. I didn't start writing to make a fortune. I started writing for myself. That others enjoy what I have to say is profoundly gratifying.

It may take me a little longer to make a name for myself, but I still intend to attend the premiere of the movie made from one of my books. Would I sign a contract with a New York house? Maybe. If I found the right agent. But I don't need those contracts now to feel triumph and victory, or to be a smash hit or best seller.

Talking to my readers about my first book, listening to them discuss the characters, how they are waiting for the second book in the series, and hearing their conjectures on what might happen to the people they feel are real, that makes me a winner. Sharing a bit of myself and my vision of what our society might become is my victory.

My feelings about the victory define my success.

And I keep writing. To reach a bigger audience, make a bolder statement, explore more of my ideas.  Will my idea of writing success change? Probably. But that's part of growing up—or into—my new career.

I'd like to wish everyone success today, on the Lunar New Year. This is the Year of the Earth Boar (or Pig), whose motto is "I am eager." This is a year that traditionally holds success, so enjoy all it has to offer you! I wish you a year of great prosperity and happiness. Gung hay fat choy!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

How To Succeed in Writing By Really, Really Trying - Janet Raye Stevens

Hello YA-Outside-the-Liners and welcome to February! 

We’re one month closer to spring and maybe even closer than that if we take Punxsutawney Phil’s word for it (in case you were huddling in a groundhog hole for warmth yesterday and missed it, Phil didn’t see his shadow, so that means an early end to winter!).

This month’s theme is what success looks like now. I was thinking of writing about what success in my everyday life looks like but recounting my skill at successfully matching up every pair of socks I pull out of the dryer or my uncanny ability to snag the last bunch of ripe bananas at the supermarket, while riveting, seems off-topic.

So, I’ll talk about success in writing. And instead of focusing on the now, I’ll start by taking us back to yesteryear and what I thought writing, or rather publishing, success looked like then—back in the days when traditional publishing was king, queen, and emperor all rolled into one. When the big New York publishers actually promoted mid-list authors and “self-publishing” was a dirty (hyphenated) word.

Back then, success to me looked like this:
  • Big book deal with a big-time publisher
  • In-house PR department & promotion
  • Conference appearances
  • Keynote speaker opportunity
  • Book tour 
  • Book signings
  • Multiple print runs
  • Swag & free author copies to pass around
  • Books released in print (both mass-market and trade paperback size)
  • ...and of course, money

Unrealistic, I know, even back then. But when I first started writing for publication, I wanted all of that. Correction, I thought I wanted all of that. 

Since then, the industry has changed, and I’ve changed with it. We’ve both matured. We’ve both been battered by the vagaries of the market and the times that are a-changing. While Amazon and the indie-pub revolution has been chipping away at traditional publishing’s success, I’ve been traveling a convoluted route as I've striven to find my own publishing success. 

I’ve taken classes and workshops and seminars, learning my craft. I’ve sent out hundreds of queries and received an equal number of rejections in return. I had a literary agent offer to rep me and 2 days later change their mind. I’ve entered numerous contests, finalled in and even won some of them, got another agent, and yet another. I’ve been writing and writing and managed to get eight short stories published. All while hoping to eventually ink that big book deal, get that keynote speaking engagement, the multiple print runs, all the swag, and of course, the money. 

Then, one day at a conference, as I sat listening to a multi-best-selling author talk about her long and equally convoluted and Sisyphus-ian journey to success, I realized I didn’t want any of that anymore. Didn’t care about being a keynote speaker or the swag or any of the woo-woo stuff. 

I just wanted to write. And write well.

Success to me now is writing. Cooking up fun and fabulous new plots and bringing those plots to life. Diving into research of other times and places. Continuing to learn the craft and delighting in discovering new facets of my abilities. Success is meeting other authors and becoming friends. Cheering their successes and commiserating with them on their rejections or bad reviews or myriad other un-successes. And success is, of course, the money, in the form of a royalty check I just received for one of my short stories totaling an impressive $2.25.

But most of all, success is having someone tell me they loved reading something I wrote.

Janet Raye Stevens is the successful author of YA, mystery, paranormal, and contemporary romance novels and such short stories with long titles as Mrs. Featherpatch and the Case of the Skewered Ham.