Mark Terry

Monday, November 03, 2008

Feeling Successful

November 3, 2008
I remember watching an interview with Elmore Leonard a number of years ago and the interviewer asked him at which book did he feel like he was a success? His fifth? His sixth? When his 18th or 19th finally broke through?

Leonard said, "I've always felt like a success."

It was a nice answer and Leonard, I've often felt, never allows himself to be manipulated by interviewers. I don't know if he actually felt that way or not and it doesn't matter, really, because it's a good thing to remind yourself.

I have a sign up in my office that says:


Sometimes I even remember to believe it.

As you know, I'm currently "between contracts" in my fiction life. We do have some things out in the marketplace and hopefully something positive will happen with them.

Then I was thinking of the top shelf in my book case. The one that has all the copies of my books--the hardcover of SHOW BUSINESS IS MURDER, an anthology that has my short story, "Murder at the Heartbreak Hotel" in it. The two Derek Stillwater novels plus the French, German and Slovak translation versions. The copies of CATFISH GURU, the novella collection I published through iUniverse via a Mystery Writers of America introductory program (so it cost me nothing), and DIRTY DEEDS, my first novel. Also, a spiral bound galley of BLOOD SECRETS, the one that got away, the novel that was supposed to be published by Write Way Publishing only they went bankrupt 6 months prior to publication.

And I thought: If I never published another novel in my entire life, this would still be significant. You could easily look back at your life and say, "Hey, I published three novels and a collection of novellas and has a short story appear in a major anthology, that don't suck."

I realize also that I make a good living as a freelance writer and plan to continue doing so for the next, oh, 30 or 35 years or so (I'm 44). I'm sure there will be some ups and downs. I'm sure I'll publish some big things, market reports, probably ghostwrite some nonfiction books or write nonfiction books, and if I keep at it, I should get some more novels published (assuming that in that time the publishing paradigm doesn't shift so dramatically that everyone just publishes their own books electronically and people read them on their Kindles).

Still, what's success?

The publishing business can make otherwise successful people feel like the most miserable failures.

So I'm here to suggest that only you can define success. Maybe that is: I wrote today.

Maybe it's: I wrote a novel and completed it.

Maybe it's: I wrote a story and got it published. Or I wrote it and someone read it and said they liked it. Or maybe it's getting published. Foreign sales. A movie deal. Making a living as a writer.

Maybe it's: I wrote today and enjoyed it.

Maybe it's: I'm a happy person with a good marriage and great kids and everything else is merely window dressing or the cherry on top or ice cream with your cake.

I don't know. I do know that it's easy to start thinking you're a failure if your book doesn't get published, if it doesn't get a big advance, if you don't get a paperback sale, or a movie sale, or foreign sales, or a multi-book contract, or good reviews, or...

But those are all defined by someone else.

You have to decide what's successful for you.

Me? I started writing fiction regularly without getting all angst-y about it. I picked up a new client today.

So tell me: what success have you had lately?

Mark Terry


Blogger Erica Orloff said...

Great post. Rather optimistic, too, there Mr. Terry. :-)

Let's see . . . I started a food pantry this fall.

I learned to trust the universe a bit more.

I published some novels while being home with my kids full-time.

I am a person at peace with who she is.


9:53 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Don't worry, Erica, it was merely a blip on my statistical mood radar. I'm sure it'll pass soon.

That last one's important, isn't it?

10:04 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

The last one is what gets me through the ups and downs.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Kath Calarco said...

My latest success is realizing that not everyone gets where I'm coming from, and that said, I've inadvertently avoided a Prozac habit.

Great blog, Mark. I hope you don't mind it if I steal the quote you have taped to your wall. It's a keeper.

11:27 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Steal away. I stole it from a poster I saw in the hospital when I was visiting my father 6 years ago.

12:25 PM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

Oooh, I'm really bad about the Kindle. I now only read books that come on the Kindle. It's just there's so many books I'm dying to read, sometimes it comes down to what's in my purse and on my Kindle.

The royalties for the Kindle suck, though. Even if you self-publish, you only get 35%. Doesn't that suck? Go with Random House and you're making 25% of 35%.

Some days it feels like publishers/distributors don't think authors deserve to make any money at all. Geeze.

2:49 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I think you're being optimistic about Random House.

5:53 PM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

I have a bad memory, but I think Pubrants just shared a letter from RH where they said they were lowering their eroyalties to 25%. Horrid.

4:59 AM  
Blogger Zoe Winters said...

Hey Mark, awesome post! Everybody really does have to define their goals and success for themselves. It's so easy to get "sucked in" to either the doom and gloom or the rah rah mentality, and IMO neither is super helpful to individual writers.

My most recent success? Well I registered my business and got my Federal tax ID number, and I've got KEPT almost ready to go out, and I'm coming up with some pretty nifty cover design, even if I did it. :P (Cause it's for a free ebook. I would have to have a lot more skill to design a book I was printing and selling.)

5:48 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Ah, Spy. Electronic royalties, yes. Probably at least 25%. Hardcover and paperback, not even close.

5:53 AM  
Blogger Deborah Leiter said...

Great post--I've been watching and enjoying this space (and my blog links to it). I totally agree--in fact, I've been working on this one lately.

A few of my successes lately:

I'm starting to break down the walls of my writing self, seeing academic and creative writing as equally valid forms of inquiry.

I'm learning to write faster, revise faster, and submit faster and less fearfully in a variety of genres.

I'm feeling more energized about my (mandatory) academic work, which it seems for me is key to clearing space in my head for the (fully voluntary) creative work to also grow and thrive.

The upshot of this is, I am a person who's learning to trust in God a bit more and his love for/design of me. In the process, I get the opportunity to love him and others more.

9:55 AM  
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I've been writing short stories and enjoying the Completion Factor. And frankly, I think they're my best work yet.

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