I spent half an hour yesterday consoling? advising? a new indie writer about ‘success’. They have one book out, another on its way. They’re worried about sales, about marketing, about making a name for themselves. Here’s what I, the ‘seasoned indie author’ told them.
We live in a world where the popular measure of success is celebrity; fifteen minutes of fame and making the big bucks. But the chances that you can make a living from writing novels, and only writing novels, is miniscule. Look around you, I said. In this very bookish town in which we live, we had three nominees for the Governor General’s Award (Canada’s major literary fiction award) this year. All but one have other careers, and the one who doesn’t is a retired professor. In the ‘before days’, when there was an open writing space freely available to all on Monday mornings, I’ve shared table space with yet another Governor General’s Award short-listed author (who also has another career) and an Edgar-nominated mystery author (who also has another career) and a Stephen Leacock award short-listed writer (who also, etc….). I’ve read at literary festivals with some pretty big names, too – and almost all these writers do something else other than write novels: teach, practice law or work in warehouses, are system analysts or build houses. And these examples, I will note, are all (except two) traditionally published authors.
This doesn’t mean your writing is a hobby. It doesn’t mean it isn’t viable. It doesn’t mean there aren’t a few people who can make a living at it. And maybe you’re one of them.
And maybe you’re not. But if you’re not, you’re in very good company in the literary world. You shouldn’t think less of yourself, or that you’re a failure. I consider myself a successful writer, but the actual profit from my books isn’t a major part of my yearly income.
- ‘your books got me back into reading’
- ‘your books are my go-to when I need to escape this world for a while’
- ‘I dread the day when you stop writing this series’
- ‘I’m waiting for your new release more than any other book in 2022’
and many other similar expressions of what some people find in my books is my measure of success. If your stories resonate with a few readers; if they bring smiles to their faces or make them ask themselves hard questions; if they read until 3 a.m. because they can’t put them down, or leave the light on to sleep because you terrified them – isn’t that success?
Did the new author take this in? I don’t know. But I hope so. Because they are talented, and have stories to offer to the world that some readers will fall deeply into. I’d hate them to waste their time and energy and talent worrying about only one definition of a successful writer.