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The Enigma of Success

by Claire Buss

As we come to the end of another year now is the time to look back and reflect on how much we have managed to achieve,  a time to measure our success. But that rather begs the question of what exactly is success to a writer?


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 in ‘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 – and much more likely to be 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 15 titles, 2 audiobooks and had short stories published in 6 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 for which I am very proud but are they a stamp of success? I haven’t won the Booker Prize. Yet.

Although I am not yet earning enough as an author to make a significant financial contribution to my family, does the fact that I do earn money from my writing mean I’m successful anyway – 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. Being a writer is a lonely job but being an author makes us part of a wonderful community.

What do you think? We’d love to hear about the milestones on your writing journey.

If you’d like to submit a piece of creative work or a writing article, please send it to

This article was first published in Issue 3 of Write On! magazine. Claire Buss is a Pen to Print alumni, find out more about her at her website –

Being a writer is a lonely job but being an author makes us part of a wonderful community.