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!


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