Monday, February 8, 2016

What Makes a Writer Successful

What makes a writer successful? According to some recent articles, success is based on sales, specifically 1,000,000 sales in the past 5 years (link). Is that what makes a writer successful? Absolutely not, not by any means. But, if specific sales numbers don't measure success for a writer, then what does? The answer to that is simple: there's isn't one single answer.

Most sales-centered writers would most likely count success not as 200,000 sales per year, rather as however much they need to sell to live off their writing. Based on their lifestyle and book prices, that could be as low as 10,000 books per year, or as high as 100,000+. Even still, that's a far cry from 200,000 per year. My personal definition of monetary success? 15,000 sales per year. Am I there? No way, but seeing it that way makes success much more realistic of a goal than 1,000,000 over five years.

But success is much more than sales. Even though I don't live off my writing, nor can I really see myself living off it anytime soon, I consider myself a successful writer. But how's that possible, Mitch? Don't high sales make you feel good and low ones make you feel bad? Well, yeah, that's how business works. But success shouldn't be focused on numbers or monetary gain in any artistic business endeavor. If you found out your books took off and paid your bills simply because the public love laughing at your awful writing and ridiculing how bad you were at it, would you still consider yourself successful because your numbers were high? I'd venture a guess and say no, you wouldn't. Success is five star reviews from people you've never met, success is fan art, success is fans reaching out to you to make sure you know just how your writing changed their lives. Success is all in the audience.

Even though I don't sell the way I want to, my career could end with me being happy about it, because I've gotten those reviews, and gotten those bits of fan mails praising what I do and how my writing changed a reader's life. I never thought that would happen, but it did. That's the moment I became successful, sales numbers and money had nothing to do it.

In short, you can't measure a writer's success. It varies between each writer. Some only focus on sales as a measure of success, and within that group is a whole new level of difference. Successful sales for some are a few hundred, if that, while others measure success as millions sold and chart topper books. Those writers usually don't last long. For others, success is in the fan response no matter how many they sell. If they can please a single soul with their work, they're a success. Others still consider themselves successful if they even get their work out there. Success for a writer can't be measured by stats or sales rank, it can only be measured by the writer's own mind. Here's to hoping we all achieve success, whatever success means to you.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Positive Side of Rejection

I've been writing for a long, and publishing for a good few years now as well. In that time I forgot a pivotal part of the writer psyche, something most every writer deals with: fear. More specifically, writers fear rejections, either from agents/publishers or from readers. I have been ahead of my own fears for a long time, but in that time ahead of it I've learned some valuable things. With the downsides of rejection come positive points. I know, it's hard to think of rejection as positive, but that's all in how you spin it. And when you're a writer you can't let your mind spin it the wrong way.

So how do you spin rejection right? Well, there are many ways to do it. Through my first three manuscripts I dealt with over 200 rejections from agents and publishers and, to this day, I've faced rejection after rejection from them about 50 more times as I work along the independent publishing route. But 250 rejections have taught me one important thing through what they haven't done: they haven't stopped me. And that is where the positive side of rejections comes out. A rejection letter can do a lot of things, but it can't stop you. Only you can. A one-star review can't stop you either. Bad reviews and rejection can't find you and break your hands or take that creative corner of your brain out, all that damage must be self-inflicted.

Rejection hurts no matter how many times you've experienced it or where it comes from. It's like being punched. You think boxers and MMA fighters don't feel the pain from the punches they get after a while? Of course not, they always do, but they fight through that pain until they're the ones beating rejection down. Rejection can throw a million punches into you, but not a single one will knock you out. All you can do is either fight back or throw your match. What would you do?

In the grand scheme of things rejection means nothing. A form letter response to months of work is rough, but it could be much worse for a writer. Some fascist government could come and revoke your ability to write, they could set all your paper and pens on fire, toss your computer into the sea, destroy everything you've ever done. An extreme example, but trials some writers of the past have gone through working in the warlord regimes of the time. Each rejection won't take time off your life, and it doesn't even mean your work is wasted time anymore either. You don't need the industry, the industry needs you whether they're willing to admit it or not. You could go another route with it and still get it read, or you can avoid those bad reviewers and find your niche, the market who can't get enough of you.

With every rejection comes a learning experience and a chance to hold that letter in the air and say "I'm not done yet". With every one star review your book gets comes one person who won't read anything more by you, but with every positive review comes a person who'll stick with you, possibly forever. That's the relationship of success and failure. Each individual failure comes, breaks things down, but leaves quick, which success sticks around even after the fixing is done, to help deadbolt your doors so failure can't get in anymore. 

Embrace your rejections, all of them. I'm proud of my number, 250. 250 form letters I can smile at, because I'm still going. 250 punches I've fought through. All my bad reviews fall in my wake because I'm moving forward and they stay still, and as long as you keep moving that's where they'll stay. Rejection can birth positive thoughts if you let it, or it can beat you to nothing. You have power over rejection, over what it does to you, over whether or not you let it win. And that makes it powerless.