Success & Failure as a Writer

Every so often, usually on Twitter, someone asks the question, “As an author, what do you consider success?”  The answers range from thousands of sales to those who just want to sell a book to someone who isn’t family or a friend.

Pondering the question as I was walking this morning, I realized what success is for me: I no longer feel like a fraud. Writing is my third career. I spent a decade in research; for a short while I was doing cutting-edge research into plant enzymes. I was good at it. I felt like a fraud.

Then I moved to education, and into special education specifically, and for almost twenty-five years that’s what I did. I liked teaching, and I liked (most) of what I did as a special education consultant. I was good at it. I felt like a fraud.

Looking back, I know why. My heart was never in any of it, not truly. I wanted to write. I always wanted to write. I did write, but fear of failure and fear of what – condescension? pity? – kept me from submitting anything. Until somewhere in my late 30’s, when I was mature enough to say, ‘I’m doing this.’

My first small successes came as a poet, with acceptances to little journals. Then the first novel, accepted by a small publisher. My fifth title comes out at the end of May. The books have a niche audience and moderate sales. That doesn’t matter: that’s not how I measure success. Failure was ignoring what my heart told me I should be doing.

And I haven’t felt like a fraud since Empire’s Daughter went out to the world in 2015.