Tag Archives: success

How do you choose books to buy?

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”  — Winston Churchill

Sam Shepard

In another word, perseverance.  Success and what it means has been in the back of my mind this week.  Sam Shepard died as the week began, and reading about his life as a playwright, writer, and actor proved provocative to my mind. Shepard told an interviewer once that he felt most comfortable in the theater, writing for the theater. That made me ask myself where do I feel most comfortable in my creative life? How does that feeling relate to production and success? I know I am happiest when I am writing fiction.

This morning, I ran across a short essay by Hope Clark, a mystery writer who has a well-known newsletter called Funds for Writers. In this essay, Clark wrote about what the most important thing is about being a writer.  Is it getting credit for writing and publishing? Or is it giving the world a great story experience?

My next thought was that maybe success could be measured in just how great the story experience was that you’ve created. But how does anyone know that? And could one person’s great story experience be another’s failed story experience? Today, for example, I finished reading a novel that has won rave reviews and that I’d heard friends and acquaintances rave about for a long time.  I didn’t think it was that great at all.

I don’t rely solely on what my friends and acquaintances recommend when I’m looking for a great story. I read reviews, I subscribe to the NY Times Book Review newsletter, as well as reading the review sections of other papers and magazines. I have to admit that I don’t pay much attention to marketing blurbs or any kind of promotional pitches. What I pay attention to are the descriptions of the novel’s story, and then a little to genre. I love books, though, that blend genres or bend them. So I guess it’s important to know your own taste and interests before going off to Amazon or a bricks and mortar store to buy books. I do miss bricks and mortar bookstores where I could wander around and actually see, touch, and smell the books!

In her essay, Clark describes the kind of promotional copy that will turn her off a book, and the kind of promotional copy that will spark her interest. Her ultimate point in the essay, though, is that authors need to remember their responsibility to readers, i.e. to provide them with a great story they’ll be glad they paid good money for and spent their time reading. That whatever they say in their pitches and promotions, they focus on the story.

So, Mr. Churchill, I think I’d define success for a writer in this way: Committed to writing the best you can, knowing what makes your stories great,  giving your readers one great story after another, and attaining the recognition of being a writer who produces great stories, i.e. the kind of stories that people want to buy and read.

What draws you to a book? How do you choose the books you buy? What was the last great story you read? Please respond in the comments section!


“What do you do?”

the-writer-february-2017This past week, I read in the February 2017 issue of The Writer an article about how to deal with that often terribly uncomfortable question. Writers who also have day jobs don’t always feel discomfort at that question because they can simply cite their day job as what they “do.” But what about the freelance writer who works fulltime at it? Or the creative writer who’s able to write fulltime because of decent book sales or a large inheritance? How do you answer this question?

The freelancer who wrote the article began with his answer and how he’d crafted it to show how successful he was at writing on a freelance basis. In other words, if you’re financially successful as a writer, flaunt it. If you’re not, talk about something else. We all know writers get no respect, not like doctors, lawyers, dentists, and just about anyone else who works for someone else. Of course, if you are employed by a magazine, newspaper, television or radio station and your job is writing, you’ve somehow managed to make it into respectability.

When someone asks me what I do, I usually say I’m a writer. The next question usually is, “What do you write?” Now, I could reply a lot of different ways here, because I write a lot of different things. But I usually take the intention behind the question is to find out if I’m a published and known writer vs. unpublished and unknown. When someone asks a doctor what he does, they usually don’t ask what do you doctor?  They don’t ask a lawyer how she does her job, although they might be interested in the type of cases she takes on. But with artists, there is this question of legitimacy, and what confers legitimacy? You got it!  Money, usually via publication.


A couple years before my father died, I made my annual Christmas visit to my parents’ house. I had quit my fulltime job with the intention of changing careers, and I’d already realized that I wanted to write. When my father asked what I planned to do, I told him. “You can’t write,” he responded. I almost laughed. As if he truly knew what I could or could not do or had some sort of control over what I did. A few days later, my older brother enlightened me. “In the family, we view writing as a form of prostitution.” Ah, so that’s it. And this from a family of book lovers and readers.

I went on to earn money as a freelance advertising copywriter while I also wrote fiction. But my family never accepted my writing or that I was actually doing it well and gaining valuable experience. What they said to me, though, prepared me for what other people would say — my family showed me the worst right away. So, when someone asks me what I do, I’m happy to tell them I’m a writer, that I’m published, that I write a lot of different things, and yes, they can read my work online. After that, I mention my other job in an office, working for someone else.

My "Office"

My “Office”

What Does Publication Mean?

The other day during lunch with friends, the conversation turned to books and writing, editing and publication.  J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series came up, specifically how the quality of her writing changed after she requested that the publisher stop editing her books.  The change, as one friend described it, was not a positive one, but that Rowling had become too verbose for her own good.  I found that interesting.  Not that her writing became bloated but that she could tell her publisher that she no longer wanted to be edited.  The conversation moved on to other topics, but my mind still batted that story around like a cat playing with a half-dead mouse.

First of all, I suspect Rowling’s writing is not so awful that it would miss editing, but I’d have thought she’d want the writing to be the best it could be.  I wondered why she no longer wanted to be edited.  Then I wondered, what did publication mean to her?  Was it to share the stories?  Was it to make money so she could get off the dole?  Was it for self-gratification?  Was it to say she was a successful writer?  I doubt there’s anyone in the world today who’d say she wasn’t successful as a writer.  She’s published.  She’s made billions.  She really wouldn’t have to write another word or do anything else for that matter.  Will she continue to write and stretch her abilities as a writer?  Is success only about publication and making money for a writer?

For me, publication is a measure of success, but isn’t the only one.  There’s what comes before, and what comes after to consider.  For the reading public, publication is the first step of success, becoming a blockbuster and making lots and lots of money seals it.  As a writer, though, success is cumulative.  When I’m working on a first draft, each 1000 words I finish writing in a day is a success, each finished chapter a success, each finished draft a success.  When I’m ready to begin marketing, then each query sent out is a success, each agent requesting the manuscript a success, and landing representation a success.  The same “steps of success” apply to the search for a publisher.  So publication is one step in the long stairway to writing heaven.  Writers dance up and down that stairway all the time.

Does publication make me a writer?  To the general reading public who aren’t writers, yes.  That is the general perception, I think.  And after the first publication, a writer is a writer forever.  Especially if the books do well! (smile)  But if they don’t, then a writer becomes a “used to be” a writer, like I used to be a musician.  I still listen to music, but I no longer play any instrument or participate in a performing group.  Back to writing, what about all that time the writer actually spends writing, even long before publication?  Doesn’t that make him or her a writer?  Even more so than publication.  The person is writing.  All the work that goes into writing — reading, research, coming up with ideas, characters, settings, a narrative structure, and an ending, and putting the right words down on paper, then revising, revising, revising — this is writing and makes a writer.  The commitment to the work, the dedication, the practice of writing, the creation.

What does publication mean?  At times, it means writing stops in favor of all the work of promotion.  But it shouldn’t mean the end of writing, the end of good ideas, of imagination.  For me, publication is a beginning: the beginning of the public life of the novel.  It is sharing stories among us.  And it doesn’t end there.  For real writers, it is the end of one era, the era of that particular story, and time to sit and stare.  Flannery O’Connor wrote in one of her essays: “There is a certain grain of stupidity the writer can hardly do without, and that is the quality of having to stare.”  When writers stare out a window or across the room, they are open and receptive to what their imaginations will give them, and they wait for it.  Staring….