At which point do you consider yourself to be successful?

(This is primarily meant for authors, but could possibly work for any creatives.)

At what time during the life of your book will you declare yourself to have been successful? Not successful according to others, but according to you – yourself. When will that moment come that you declare yourself to be a success as a writer?

– When your book has sold thousands of copies and is listed everywhere as a big bestseller?

– When you’ve made enough money on sales to have covered any out-of-pocket expenses for publication and compensate for the inordinate time you spent writing the book?

– When your book receives the 50 reviews or 100 reviews required by online sales sites to push it into the next level and generate more sales?

– When many bloggers and online reviewers want to promote you and your book on their sites?

– When you hear privately from friends and family, or even complete strangers, that they have purchased and enjoyed reading your book?

– When you receive reviews and promotional blurbs from advance readers who have enjoyed your book and praise it?

– When you type “Final File Ready For Formatting” and send that off to be professionally formatted, published and made available for public consumption?

– When you push back from the computer after finishing up those final edits of your book and know that you have done everything you could to make this the best book possible … you’ve written the story the way only you can tell it, you’ve had the book professionally edited, the cover has been professionally designed, and your editor and any beta readers who have helped you are in agreement that this is a great book. Is this the moment you consider yourself to be successful?


Now flip my list over and read in reverse order.

If, like me, you can say – honestly – that “when you push back from the computer” is the moment you consider yourself to be successful then you’ll be able to look at the rest of these achievements with great satisfaction, if and when you achieve them. Because while they will show to others that you have reached some level of success, none will ever match that initial success you feel in actually writing and finishing the book! There are so many, many people in the world who, every day, say, “I’m going to write a book. How hard can it be?” You know, after having completed writing a book, exactly how hard it is! But … you were successful in having finished writing and that, to me, is something to celebrate – even if you only celebrate with yourself and in your own mind. No one can ever take away that sense of accomplishment and, once you have completed your great book, there is a terrific amount of satisfaction in having done the very best work that you are capable of doing.

All the rest of the “goals” on this list are icing on the cake, or coloured streamers on the bicycle handles, as JP McLean declares! If you are self-satisfied that you’ve written the best book you can then you will find readers for that book. And the other levels of “success” will follow on. Eventually.

In the meantime, give yourself a satisfied pat on the back!


30 responses

  1. Author Rebecca Heishman

    For me, this is one of your finest, most thought-provoking posts.

    I was a frustrated writer all of my life. I spent my entire life working at a ‘real job’, running on that grinding treadmill of steady employment for the sake of making a living. I ditched my love for creative writing in exchange for a steady paycheck. I didn’t take my writing seriously until I was forced out of the workplace by illness. Only then did I explore that part of myself that had been buried deep within me for so many decades. It was as if a bright and glorious creative sun had come up in my soul. I couldn’t write fast enough or dig deep enough into my imagination.

    I will never be a great writer and I will not sell a lot of books. I’ve come to terms with that. Time is against me now. But, finally being able to allow my imagination to run free is the best part of life for me now. I think of myself as an entertainer. I have received a smattering of lovely unsolicited reviews from readers who gleaned enjoyment from what I do. Making people smile makes me smile. Those reviews and the supportive comments I get from readers feels like receiving lovely little thank you cards, and that makes me happy.

    Also, I did not publish until I was sixty-two years old. I use that fact to encourage other senior citizens to take down those old dreams that have been languishing on a shelf somewhere, dust them off, and make those dreams come true. I’m living proof that you are never too old to reinvent yourself.

    1. Thank you, Becky, for reading, for your kind words, for telling us of your own experience … but mainly, for writing!

  2. This is something I think about often, actually. At what point have I succeeded? My opinion keeps changing, or so I think, but I suspect that’s because in reality, deep down, I believe it’s the first one you listed. Rather than feeling more successful as milestones are reached and more books are published (I have 9 novels, some short story collections, and am working on the 10th novel now) I feel less and less successful, and have to constantly remind myself that at one time I was excited to discover I had sold ten books, I was delirious to realize I had 12 fans, that one review used to be enough to make me joyous for weeks… Sadly it’s hard to remember that sometimes.

    1. Sometimes I think its important for everyone to be less hard on themselves and remember to celebrate their true accomplishments, not whether they measure up to standards of success someone else has set, but when they can truly look at something they themselves have created and say, “I really did something there!” We need to keep remembering those times. Surely that’s what keeps us creating.

  3. I loved this line: “There are so many, many people in the world who, every day, say, “I’m going to write a book. How hard can it be?” This reminds me of a line delivered by one of my favorite authors, the renowned Southern writer, Anne Rivers Siddons, who was once at a cocktail party in 1970’s Atlanta. A successful brain surgeon, upon learning Ms Siddons is a writer, said, “When I retire, I’m going to write a book,” to which Anne Rivers Siddons said, without skipping a beat, “And when I retire, I’m going to be a brain surgeon.”

    1. Exactly! Thank you, Claire, for reading and adding that comment!

  4. Reblogged this on Creative State of Mind and commented:
    Just what I needed to read today. Wonderful post by Susan Toy!

  5. Great post. Very thought provoking. My view of what I would view as success is changing all the time, and I hope it will continue to do so. When I began writing, just producing a short flash fiction piece was great, that evolved to writing short stories and trying to get them published. Now i’m about to publish my second book – I’d like to see people read it and leave a comment. At the moment, that’s what gives me that buzz!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Steve! As you suggest, we should always be evolving and growing as writers. That’s one of the best aspects of being a creator – pushing the boundaries, seeing what more, and how much better, we can create.

  6. Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog and commented:
    Here is a thought-provoking post from Susan Toy’s Island Editions blog on how success is measured.

  7. That’s a very thought provoking post! I must admit, when I first saw my crime novel, The Shame of Innocence, in print, I thought “All I want is for somebody to read it – two people, ten, twenty.” Then of course we have that pressure from other writers who have got reader numbers in 4 figures, and you start wishing you’d got so wide a readership! But then a friend said, “My husband read your book on holiday, and he asked me what you looked like, and I showed him your picture and he said you didn’t look like the sort of person who’d write like that… ” And that gave me a terrific buzz, that I have this secret power to write what people don’t expect when they see this white haired, middle aged former librarian…! That’s success!!!

    1. Lovely story! Thanks for reading and sharing!

  8. That’s a refreshing reminder. Thanks.

  9. A wonderful reminder that it’s not always about the next great accomplishment–it’s important to go back to the beginning and remember how it feels to push the chair back after the book is as good as it can be. Thank you!

  10. Shared this with my writer’s group.

  11. I agree in terms of writing a piece of work that the big moment is completion.

    In other terms of creativity, I feel successful when people read my blog posts and say they have been helpful, they have learned something, they’ve changed their point of view. I like when people give me feedback on my reviews, regardless of stars. I like being organised about my work and receiving similarly organised responses. I obviously like repeat clients and having a good relationship with them. Of course money is useful/essential, but sense of self-worth is the main factor. And when others endorse it (thanks Susan) that’s particularly nice.


    1. Thanks, roughseas! That’s a good way of looking at success. Definitely a sense of accomplishment in having done a good job.

  12. An interesting post, Susan. I think for me, it was holding a copy of my book for the first time. MY book, which I wrote, was now going out into the world. I kept stroking it and carried it all round the house with me – and I didn’t feel at all silly doing it!

    1. I haven’t met an author yet who hasn’t done the very same thing, Mary!

    2. Count me among those numbers!

  13. I agree. I feel I have been successful when I have actually completed a novel. The more novels I completed, the more successful I feel. If I gauge success by the amount of money I make from my writing, I would not feel successful.

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