I’m kicking off this year’s blog schedule with a guest post from the cake-loving Claire Buss. She’s going to talk about the meaning of success, a topic that most writers will have pondered at some time (me included; I talked about this very thing here). Over to Claire.
The Big Debate – The Enigma of Success
This is how the conversation goes:
“So, what do you do, Claire?”
“Oh, I’m a writer.”
“Really? Anything I’d have seen?”
“Well… all my books are on Amazon so…”
“Who’s your publisher?”
“Actually, I’m self-published.”
“Oh, right. So when are you going back to work?”
Because, of course, having a publishing deal with a well-known publisher like Penguin Random House or Harper Collins is the definition of success for a writer – isn’t it?
What if it’s not? What if I am successful for typing ‘The End’ at the close of a 60,000-word manuscript? Google tells me that 97% of writers fail to finish their book; therefore if I fall into that top 3% of finishers, surely I am now a success.
The traditional publishing route dictates that first you must secure yourself an agent as many publishing houses will not touch unsolicited manuscripts. And so, us happy individuals in the elite 3% must begin touting our stories to agents who receive thousands of submissions a year and are only really interested in current market trends. If you are a BAME author writing about diversity, disability or LGBTQ issues, then congratulations, you’re a hot bet. You are the lucky 1 in 1000 who will land an agent.
However, these things are never quite that straightforward. I know of two superb Pen to Print authors who have successfully landed an agent, congratulations again, but have yet to receive a publishing deal. So maybe snagging a literary agent is not full measure of writer success. In an article about the odds of getting a publishing deal that I read recently on Jericho Writers, an editor at one of the big-5 publishing houses in the UK buys less than 1% of the work offered to him. 1%. That’s not great odds.
As an independent or indie author, I have now published 14 titles, 2 audiobooks and had short stories published in 4 anthologies. Am I successful simply because of the number of books I published in the last three years? Am I successful because my work was deemed worthy of inclusion in other people’s anthologies? Perhaps that is not enough. I am also multi-award winning and can list accolades on my website of which I am very proud, but are they a stamp of success? I didn’t win the Booker Prize. Yet.
I have not so far managed to earn a significant wage as an author in order to contribute significantly financially to my family, yet am I successful simply because I do earn money from my writing – no matter the amount? According to research carried out by CREATe, the average author take-home wage in 2018 was in the region of £10,000 per annum so even if I were financially successful, we are not talking multi-million-pound deals.
The Oxford English Dictionary states that success is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.
For a writer who views their authorship as a business and is committed to achieving goals and self-imposed deadlines with the help of quarterly plans and a vast array of spreadsheets, it seems that I have met my success. For me, it is always about what’s next. I am constantly aiming to grow and develop as a writer, improve my craft and continue to write and release books that readers want to read.
I firmly believe that if I can just get my novels in front of as many people as possible, I will start to see growth in sales and readers. How can I achieve that goal? Well, that is indeed the magic question and once I figure it out, I’ll be sure to let you know.
It’s not enough to be successful as a writer, you also need to be successful as a human being. And a parent. And a representative of your ethnic tick box. Perhaps if we just focus on our best in all that we do, success will decode itself. For that in itself is another measure of success. Passing on what you’ve learnt along your journey and sharing your pitfalls with others, so they don’t make the same mistakes. Join online writing groups and share your experiences, ask questions so you can learn from others and pass on the tips you have picked up. If something works for you, tell your writing community and make sure others know they can come to you for help and support. It’s a lonely job being a writer, but it’s a wonderful community being an author.
(first published in Write On! Magazine, Dec 2019)
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Claire Buss is an award-winning multi-genre author and poet based in the UK. She wanted to be Lois Lane when she grew up but work experience at her local paper was eye-opening. Instead, Claire went on to work in a variety of admin roles for over a decade but never felt quite at home. An avid reader, baker and Pinterest addict, Claire won second place in the Barking and Dagenham Pen to Print writing competition in 2015 with her debut novel, The Gaia Effect, setting her writing career in motion. She continues to write passionately and is hopelessly addicted to cake.
To find out more about Claire and her work: