Mark Terry

Monday, September 18, 2006

Are You A Successful Writer?

September 18, 2006
Ron Estrada mentioned Terry Whalin's blog, so I popped on over and checked it out. Whalin has a lot to say about bestsellers. He interviews Dee Power, author of: "The Making of a Bestseller," and here's a bit from what she says:

"Do you consider authors who are not bestselling to be unsuccessful?

Absolutely not, just having a book published is a major accomplishment. It’s a huge challenge for a new writer to become published, never mind get their book on a bestseller list. It has been estimated that 25 million people in the United States consider themselves writers and only 5% have been published anywhere. Agents have told us that they receive an average of 5000 unsolicited query letters or proposals each year and accept only 11 new clients. Editors have said they reject 99% of submissions. Having a book published by a commercial publisher is a major success in a writer’s life. "

Well, absolutely true. I wonder if aspiring writers reading those numbers are struck by the reality of them or they figure, "Yeah, but I'm as good as they are so I'll be one of them."

I can attest to the fact that persistence and learning your craft (and persistence) can break you through to that 5%. I actually find the numbers about agents' clients to be interesting, because I just read something by an agent suggesting they only take on 1 or 2 new clients a year. And for anybody who's spent time trying to hook up with an agent, you're aware that an awful lot of agents aren't taking on new clients. (So they say. I'm sure if the right manuscript came across their desk they'd take on a new client). I'm sure many successful agents do have limits on clients, especially so-called boutique agencies (only one or two agents). It's one thing to pitch to an agency that has 50 or 60 agents and one that is a sole proprietor. 20 or 30 clients or so for a sole proprietor, especially if most or all are getting published, may be all they want to take on.

I think it's good that writers don't say, "I'm not successful unless I hit the bestseller lists." I've long thought that bestseller lists are the equivalent of getting struck by lightning. The writer doesn't have any or much control over it, the agent doesn't, even the publishers don't (because if they did, all their books would be bestsellers, right?).

Aiming for bestseller lists is a crapshoot, and a novelist who judges their success on that is going to go insane. It's like a journalist thinking they're not successful if they don't win a Pulitzer or an actor not being successful if they haven't won an Oscar (Harrison Ford, anyone?).

Above my desk I have a sign that says: Success is a journey not a destination.

I think that's true. I also think "success" is pretty much up to the individual. You'll probably be judged by the public as successful on the basis of how much money you make, the size of your house, the cost of your car, the expense of your latest vacation, but those are merely subjective yardsticks. If you judge your own success on other people's yardsticks, you're going to be unhappy.

Maybe Charles Schultz had it right: happiness is a warm puppy.

Success might be, too.

Best,
Mark Terry

8 Comments:

Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

I guess our perceptions of whether we are successful change relative to the level we're playing at. Certainly a baseball player who makes it to the major leagues is fantastically successful compared to everybody who ever picked up a baseball, but if he gets to bat 3 times and strikes out every time, then, as a major leaguer, he's a failure.

Being with an excellent small press I am very successful compared to the whole population of apsiring writers. I am even rather successful compared to most writers who are published by small presses which may not be quite as high powered, for the most part, as Poisoned Pen press. However, as a published author, not being published by a big publisher, I'm not very successful.

It is nice to try to keep perspective and realize that it is difficult to get published legitimately at all. But I think we all tend to be looking at the game we're playing at the moment, and gauge our success from that. So once you're published, then your definition of success changes.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Absolutely, Eric. And I can speak for myself in that there were all these steps along the way... getting an agent, getting published by a small press (that didn't go out of business), getting published regularly, multi-book contract, publisher that pays an advance (although a small one), a foreign rights sale...

And you know, you have to take a deep breath and think, "Ah, success," before you go back to, "oh damn, I want a bigger advance, a hardcover/mass market sale, audiobook sales, a movie option..."

Like my sign on my wall indicates, there's no destination where you say, "Hey, I'm a success." It's a process. Because certainly 10 years ago I would think that where I am now was a goal (of sorts), but now I'm there, I'm looking down the road for the next level of success.

In my own way I'm very ambitious.

Or nuts.

12:47 PM  
Anonymous Ron Estrada said...

Amen. Like I say to my son, who comes from a long line of little league right fielders, just swing the freakin' bat! You gotta hit something eventually.

Maybe it's not quite that easy for us. There's a lot of hard work involved. If I'm never published, I don't think I'd look in the mirror and see a failure. I'd see a guy who gave it his best shot and went after his dream. Most people never even get that far.

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