Monday, October 24, 2005

At What Point Success?

I've been thinking about Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs, and the way human beings treat success, both their own and the success of others.

Are there criteria? Are those criteria universal?

When does an author become 'successful?'

  • Selling a book?
  • Earning a living?
  • Selling movie rights?
  • Hitting the bestseller list?
  • Having 1000 books in print? 10,000? 100,000? 1,000,000? 10,000,000?
  • Getting on television?
  • Winning awards?
  • Getting ten emails a week from fans? 100? 1000?
  • Having 100 website hits a day? 100,000?
  • Being ranked in the Top 50 on Amazon?
  • Getting paid for speaking?
  • Receiving fan mail?
  • Being known within your genre?
  • Being known by the general public?
  • Earning out your advance?
  • Getting a six figure deal? A seven figure deal?
  • Having your backlist still in print?
  • Being sold in Walmart?
  • Getting on Oprah?
  • Teaching and helping others?
  • Trying your best?
  • Being happy?

I know bestselling authors and self-published authors and many in between. I know writers with a lot of talent who haven't gotten published, and those who have gotten published without a lot of talent. I know that hard work plays a part, but so does luck, and luck favors the prepared.

But most of all, I know that if I ever want to be successful, my definition of success has to change.

The day I no longer need any kind of validation is the day I'll truly be successful.

Does anyone want to validate me on that?


Jeff said...

Nice site :)
I don't believe success negates the need for validation, whether in writing or some other type of work. Humans are social animals, and therefore generally always seek the respect, approval, and admiration of others.
I've met a few fairly successful people who claimed they didn't need anyone to validate any part of their life or work. Sadly, they had such inflated ego's they were'nt much fun to be around.
Most people, even those who are confident and self-assured about their work, like at least a pat on the back once and a while. :)

Anonymous said...

Joe, you're stealing one of my themes here. What is writing success? I remember a TV interview with Elmore Leonard where the interviewer asked him when did he feel successful? Was it his first book? His fifth? His first bestseller? Now, Leonard can be an odd interview subject, but he kind of looked bemused (or annoyed) and said, "I've always been a success."

I think this question of "success" is a particularly big deal for writers because it's such a constantly receding horizon, which might be a definition of hell if there ever is one. Once we get our book (or whatever) published we pat ourselves on the back and say, "Ah ha! I'm published! What a success!) Then we want more money. Or multi-book deals. Or to make a living at it.

First time I got published in a magazine for payment, it took (as usual, there's great truth to "The check's in the mail") a while to get paid for it and a friend of mine said, "It doesn't count if you haven't gotten paid." I snapped at her, "It counted the minute I wrote it."

Here's a saying I have printed out and placed prominently on my wall above my desk.


Mark Terry

Stacey Cochran said...

I think success is best met when defined by each individual person for him or herself.

Where you get into trouble is when you rely too much on measuring your success relative to others.

If you know you're doing what you're supposed to be doing right this moment, I would call that a success.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

We're writers. We'll ALWAYS need validation.

For that matter, we're HUMANS. We'll always need validation.

Jim said...

If you're a writer, that implies you want to be read. The question is, by whom? by how many? How many readers did Emily Dickinson have in her life time? Very few outside her immediate family. Maybe she had as many as she wanted, maybe not. I think she had as many as she needed. The proof of that is in her ability to go on, to keep producing the work. Was she a success as a person? Was she happy? I don't know enough about her life to judge. But I'm pretty sure she was a success as a poet. I'm pretty sure of that.