Monday, March 24, 2008

what is success?

I've been wondering what constitutes success as a writer.

Is it publishing a short story? Two short stories in a year? Ten? Or must it be a collection?

If you call yourself a fiction writer and you sell an article you hated writing, is that a success?

Does it have to do with where your stories are published? Which is a bigger success: publishing a story for fifty bucks in a rant-journal only locals read, or publishing a story for free in a beautiful national print journal where you get two author's copies?

Is it all about the money? If you publish your novel with Random House and they refuse to buy your second book because of mediocre sales on the first, is that worse than self-publishing and selling 500 copies and keeping all the profits?

Or prizes? Is winning a prize more of a success than actually seeing the story in print?

My head is spinning.

Perhaps it's just art: success lies in how you feel about it. In that case, the author who gets hives over the horrible cover art chosen for her second novel is in worse shape than the guy who is over the moon that the New York Times actually printed a letter he sent them.

Honestly. What is success?

I have no answers. Only questions. Do comment.


JenKnox said...

I love these sort of questions.

My take:

Success is a fleeting phenomenon that comes directly after the completion of a goal. The goal has to be self-defined for it to be rewarding. Whether this goal is to run a 5K in under 17 minutes, to get a book finished (or published), or to take a pint of Gentlemen Jack to the head at a party and remain standing, a person must decide upon said goal with purpose. Success cannot be measured externally.
For this reason, I believe that a writer's success depends on her goal. If the goal is to write a powerful story, this is achieved when the writer can read their own work with pride (and without red pen); if the goal is to communicate ideals and empathy-evoking, insightful fiction, then publication may be necessary for success to be yours. Quantity should only be the goal for those who have a shit load of insight; money should be the goal for those who struggle to eat.

justin nicholes said...

you're a successful writer if you write every day

A. E. Santi said...

I'm honestly still trying to figure it out and I think you always redefine your goals in your life.

Do you want a book to sell for a ton of money and have them make a script out of it for a blockbuster movie?
Win a PEN, O'Henry and be praised by all of your peers?

Do you want a job teaching at Iowa or Brown in a MFA program?
Do you want to be a rockstar writer who travels the globe and gets gigs in odd locales and does interviews with magazines around the world?

Whether I'm reading in front of the president of the us in 50 years, or I'm reading in front of my kids and wife in 50 years at a coffee shop I'll be happy.

Writing every day and trying to give something back to the rest of the world. It is my sole hope regardless that what I contribute is positive, helps people grow and makes a difference, any sort of difference.

Great post M.M.