It’s difficult, if not impossible, to achieve the proper perspective on a writing career. The problem is that you can’t judge success or failure from any given moment, because of the roller coaster nature of the experience. It’s so easy to get frustrated when things aren’t going well—when you’re not producing, when you’re not selling, when you’re not getting the acclaim you’d hoped for or deserved. It’s equally easy to get disproportionately elated when things do go well.
But I’m not a success on Monday just because an agent found my blog and asked for my full, nor a failure on Thursday because a different agent rejected my partial.
I think a lot about the speech that Sherrilyn Kenyon gave at the 2011 RWA National conference. She was down to her last postage stamp when the big break came in her career. She’d been told that her writing was so bad, she shouldn’t even bother. Now she is a New York Times best-selling author, tens of times over. At any point during the dark times, she could have concluded that the whole venture was pointless, that she was a failure.
And she could feel that way again. Maybe it will get harder to sell after a while, or maybe she will just get mired in self-doubt, worry that popularity doesn’t equal success. She probably won’t, because she doesn’t seem like that kind of person, but she could.
That’s what happened to my mother. My mother sold two novels then wrote a breakout. ABC made that breakout novel into a Sunday Night Movie that was initially viewed by more than one million people (it re-ran, several times, too—who knows how many people have seen it by now?).
By just about any measure, having an audience of a million is a success. She felt terrific. But then her breakout novel was orphaned when her editor left the publishing house, and the publisher ultimately declined to publish the third book in her three-book contract. And since then? My mother hasn’t published anything in decades. She feels awful. She feels like a failure. She feels like giving up.
Last week I interviewed Theresa Weir for the Wonkomance blog. In the interview, Theresa says she was a failure as a romance writer, so much so that she stopped writing romance and wrote thrillers instead. Only now, she’s re-releasing her books digitally, and they’re selling, and people are getting interested in them again.
She’s not the only one with a story like this. I heard two stories at my last local chapter meeting about people who are suddenly making comfortable salaries selling their books digitally. Things turn around fast. The industry changes.
Or, reader expectations change. Theresa says in her interview that people were outraged that she used male point of view in her romances. She was one of the first writers to do that. When you do something new, or unusual, something cutting edge, or a little wonky, you sometimes have to wait for the world to catch up. Maybe it will, and maybe it won’t. You don’t know. I’ll say it again: You don’t know.
Maybe Sherrilyn Kenyon’s success is transient. Maybe my mom will become a digital publishing success story. Maybe I am more like my Monday self, and maybe I’m more like my Thursday self. We don’t know. And the crazy thing is? We’ll never know. The story is not over, not on Monday, not on Thursday, not when you make it big, not when your big success fades away, not when you rise from the ashes. Not even when you die, because we all know about posthumously.
So all we can do is take the joy we’re given on Thursday and the chance we’re given on Monday—to rally and drag ourselves out of the morass. That’s what we’ve got. That’s what we know. So it’s gotta be enough.