by Claire Buss
Originally published in Write On! magazine, Issue Three
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 per cent of writers fail to finish their book; therefore, if I fall into that top three per cent of finishers, surely I’m now a success?
The traditional publishing route dictates that first you must secure yourself an agent, as many publishing houses won’t touch unsolicited manuscripts. And so, us happy individuals in the elite three per cent 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 one 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 the full measure of writer success. In an article about the odds of getting a publishing deal I read recently on Jericho Writers, an editor at one of the ‘big five’ publishing houses in the UK buys less than one per cent of the work offered to him. One per cent. That’s not great odds.
As an independent or indie author, I have now published 15 titles, one audiobook and had short stories published in six 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’s not enough. I’m also multi-award winning and can list accolades on my website for which I’m very proud, but are they a stamp of success? I haven’t won the Booker Prize. Yet.
Although I’m 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’re 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 I’ve met my success. For me, it’s 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. As is 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.
(c) Claire Buss, 2019
You can hear great new ideas, creative work and writing tips on Write On! Audio. Find us on all major podcast platforms, including Apple and Google Podcasts and Spotify. Type Pen to Print into your browser and look for our logo, or find us on Podcasters.Spotify.com.
If you or someone you know has been affected by issues covered in our pages, please see the relevant link below for information, advice and support: https://pentoprint.org/about/advice-support/
Perhaps if we just focus on our best in all that we do, success will decode itself.