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Thinking about Success for 2012

Over the past couple of days, I've been looking at my definition of success...and I've decided that I don't have a good handle on what the word means for me.

Winning second place in the favorite author poll at Wave's felt like a measure of success (or at least popularity), and yet I look at how low my books rank on Amazon and the good number of three-star-and-lower ratings on Goodreads, or the no-ratings-at-all things on Amazon that I had hoped would knock people's socks off because I enjoyed writing them so much and felt they were really vibrant and different from everything else out there...and I think maybe my definition is wonky.

If I had to choose exclusively between writing something I personally loved and writing something I was "meh" about, that the public raved over and made all kinds of top-this-or-that lists...I would pick the first option, to be pleased with a work myself. It would be bittersweet to love something I'd created and feel like I was the only one who did. But it would feel worse to think I'd written something that I half-assed and everyone just loved whatever they'd projected onto it.

So given that I do believe my own opinion of my work is the one that matters most, and given that I've at least achieved the level of independence I needed to create the work I want to create (in exactly the way I want to without bending to someone else's agenda), it follows that stumbling across a lousy review or wondering why no one is rating my books on Amazon should cease to matter.

I think that external validation will continue to play a role, given that sales or non-sales of course affect whether or not I can continue to make my livelihood as a working author. But I do think it's possible for the emotional "OMG I'LL DIE WITHOUT APPROVAL" popularity aspect have less emotional hooks in me.

All that said...finally I come to the actual meat of this post, which is the following question:
How do you define a successful story?

Have at it! I'm eager to hear what makes fiction successful or not to all of you so I can sort through and see which parts resonate with me and build my own definition from there. I think that without a solid definition of success I'm having trouble defining goals, and without goals, I have no gauge, and I'm just floundering around feeling dissatisfied with myself.



( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 30th, 2011 03:57 pm (UTC)
Just my opinion, but I define a successful story when the writing is strong. By 'strong' I mean that it's free of grammatical and mechanical errors, the storyline and plot don't throw me out of the story due to inaccuracies, the characters are believable and something about them resonates with me enough to keep me coming back for more.

All too often I see authors who find something that makes their book popular. They go after it and repeat it into every subsequent book thereafter -- making it boring after a few books because you know by then that it's lather, rinse, repeat and hope it sells.

The successful books, to me, are ones that the author feels passion for the subject matter. They're willing to take a chance on something that might not be popular because they believe in it so much -- hoping their readers will catch the same passion and enjoy it as much as the author does. The books that truly stick with me are the ones that stay in my head long after the last page is read, that make me think, connect with the characters... and, for a time, make me forget the real world and take me for a ride inside my own imagination that's driven by skillfully crafted words that I no longer see with my physical eyes.
Dec. 31st, 2011 10:53 am (UTC)
I totally agree about taking chances being important. I see the lack of that especially in mainstream fic where authors ride a popular series to death.
Dec. 30th, 2011 04:39 pm (UTC)
Measuring Success
To me, success is when you, as you've said, write a book YOU are proud of first and foremost. I don't see how readers could like something you didn't feel was your best work. Well, at least, how can they "rave" about something like that? I can see "liking" it, but raving means it's getting a higher rating, so to speak.

Success is YOU wanting to reread your work over and over and over again. Some of my work, I just love to reread right before bed. No matter how dark it might be, or who dies, it's kind of comforting if I really like it, for some reason.

And I'd say it's having readers love it so much that they read it over and over and over again.

Above all, I'd say being happy with your life is a great measure of success too.

How's that?

I was just talking with a coworker about this, and for me, right now it comes down to finally having a job so I can be independent after college, someday earning my black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and of course, publishing a book that I can be proud of, that my readers enjoy just as much as I do. If I can accomplish all that, I think I'd be very happy with my life.

But that's me. Measuring success is a very personal thing, I think. Unless you check out the dictionary's definition.
Dec. 31st, 2011 10:54 am (UTC)
Re: Measuring Success
I love the idea of re-reading your own work being a gauge. I edit to the point where I can't stand the sight of a thing, but sometimes a couple of years later I find the revisiting more satisfying.
Dec. 30th, 2011 05:49 pm (UTC)
Measuring success is different than feeling successful. I have little benchmarks for myself that I want to hit - be published here, write this sort of thing, conquer a fairly complex project - and they help. I never actually FEEL successful even though I'm doing well and supporting the family with what I'm doing. It never seems real.

But is a work successful? That you must judge as if you were a reviewer, as if this strange child wandered unasked into your yard and you have to decide whether or not to give it a home. That's my standard: do I like something objectively? Do I like it years later? I've got a lot of stuff out there, and some is regrettable and cringe-worthy while other pieces have stood the test of time.

Not sure if that helps.
Dec. 31st, 2011 10:55 am (UTC)
Measuring success is different than feeling successful.
I think that's the crux of the thing. My hope is that measuring success might be a step toward feeling it.
Dec. 30th, 2011 06:26 pm (UTC)
You have good instincts. Keep writing what feels right for you and don't "sell out". As for success? You have success every time a reader picks up one of your books and finds him/herself unable to put it down. And there are a lot of us no matter what the number of stars or reviews or lists tell you.

Maybe we (the FANS!) haven't been doing a good job. Maybe we should make our opinions clearer in the form of chatting and posting and reviewing instead of sitting back and thinking; Damn that was good!

I guess success could be measured in the amount of sales you do in a month or a year (bread and butter and all that) but for me your success lies in the way you have touched me. In the way you make me crave more. In the way you have enriched my life.

Dec. 31st, 2011 10:57 am (UTC)
Wow, thank you. Those are intangible things that I would have no way of knowing, so it's very touching to hear them.
Dec. 30th, 2011 06:34 pm (UTC)
I've found that the words I am most pleased with are the ones that get a 'meh' reaction (or no reaction at all). The ones that I'm 'meh' about usually do better.

I try not to submit anything I'm not happy with, but sometimes I give in and send a manuscript that needs a kick, or a shot of something, hoping that it will improve with professional editing from fresh eyes.

Measure of success? I think that is a very flexible concept that needs to be redefined every time you try an measure it.

I think you should take the independant living as a big measure of success!
Dec. 31st, 2011 10:58 am (UTC)
I've found that the words I am most pleased with are the ones that get a 'meh' reaction (or no reaction at all). The ones that I'm 'meh' about usually do better.

Yes! This is so weird! It's particularly bizarre when someone cites a line I nearly cut as their favorite passage in a book. Usually I want to cut something that sticks out too much, maybe that's it, the line "stuck out" to them.
Dec. 30th, 2011 06:37 pm (UTC)
As a reader, to me a successful book is a few things.

A) It makes me want to get to the end to see how it all works out. That can be the solving of a mystery, or how the two guys actually get together. And I'll be honest, sometimes I'm known to skip the last 30 pages of "conflict" to see them ride off into the sunset on one horse. If you can make me want to read that last bit because the how they got there is as interesting as the final destination, you've done good.

B) It drags me in and lets me escape. I forget the time, I am forced to stay up far to late to see how it ends, I can ignore cars that won't start or bosses that are trying to make my life a living hell, ahem, for a short while.

C) The characters are actually people I'd like to know in real life. Doesn't mean perfect people, I'd be rather intimidated by some people in books who are too perfect, but thinking "I wish I knew someone like X". That's a good sign. Means I've connected with them as "people".

As a new author, I define success as "Oh my god, no one's given me 1 star yet, woohoo." I'm easy to please at this point. But as long as the people whose opinion I care about liked it and found it a pleasant way to pass the time, I'm good with that. I don't need to win any accolades from strangers (although of course, I wouldn't toss back the Pulitizer ;-D), but I'm at the point of mostly writing to amuse my friends and for something fun to do. As long as I achieve those two, I'm good.
Dec. 31st, 2011 11:01 am (UTC)
as long as the people whose opinion I care about liked it
I think that's also a key thing, worrying more about what a certain few people think (if I must worry at all) rather than fretting about someone with an apparent bone to pick with me going through and smearing my work somewhere.
Dec. 31st, 2011 07:23 am (UTC)
The stories I most enjoy reading are ones that have strong plot and characterisation and induce some kind of emotional response. I'm reading your Psy Cop series at the moment and really enjoying them - I'm partway into Secrets atm.
Based on how much I'm enjoying them I have downloaded books 5 & 6 and also some of the Chasing Morpheus series as well - I enjoy your writing style so happy to try a new series.

Success seems very fluid to me - other people's opinions aren't always helpful even when they're positive - I paint, draw, bead etc as a hobby - if I'm feeling particularly negative then it doesn't matter how much other people say something is good I still can't believe it. Being happy with your own work often seems harder than making other people happy.
Dec. 31st, 2011 11:03 am (UTC)
You're so right, success really is fluid. That's probably a large part of the problem of getting in synch with the feeling of it.
Dec. 31st, 2011 05:07 pm (UTC)
If you are surviving on your writing alone, you are successful. If you have readers who've been moved by your work and crave more, you're successful. If you've created stories and characters you're particularly fond of yourself and look forward to engaging them further, you're successful. If you have a fan base that would be lost without you, you are definitely successful! Enjoy your success, and here's to 2012!
Dec. 31st, 2011 08:23 pm (UTC)
I do like the level of personal engagement as a measure of success. That really resonates.
Josephine Myles
Jan. 1st, 2012 05:56 pm (UTC)
It's a huge question... For me as a reader, a successful book is one that draws me into its world and then keeps its hooks in me. A book that I can't wait to get back to and don't want to put down. A vivid voice and a way with words are important, but most of all I need to love the characters. They have to feel real and be flawed, but I need to love them despite or perhaps because of all their flaws.

The stories of yours that resonate with me the most are those where I've formed that bond with the characters - Victor Bayne, Crash, and Wild Bill in particular all live in my imagination now and I feel like I know them. I want to stick them all in a room together and see what happens - Goddamn it, woman, you make me want to write Vic/Crash/Wild Bill fanfic!

Anyway, strange confessions aside, how I define success for my own writing is more problematic. Like you, I want to read glowing reviews and see lots of them on Amazon. I want to know that readers found my characters realistic and fascinating. I want to know they were rooting for them to work through their problems to a happy ending.

As you already know, I was dispirited with some of the reader reactions to Barging In over on Goodreads so I just stopped reading them in the end. There were a few comments that had me worried I'd written a really crap novel with characters no one could ever love. However, recently I had to read through the print galley and I discovered that I'd written exactly the novel I meant to write. I still love those characters and am happy with the way I've written their story, so that will have to do as my measure of success. Anything else is a bonus :)
Jan. 1st, 2012 07:01 pm (UTC)
The part about seeing reviews, questioning yourself, rereading your piece, and having the inner knowledge that you'd written exactly what you intended resonates with me SO MUCH, Jo. I think that's what's got me soul-searching for internal barometers I can remind myself of.

Reader reaction at Goodreads is just too dispiriting for me, also. I did recently cave in to see how Fire Thief was being received, but I think it's definitely courting disappointment to do that. If I seek a good response to something I'm personally pleased with, and what I get instead is an "I don't like it," I've just set myself up to become disappointed in something I was previously happy about. I don't see how that can help me in any way.

I think I go looking for reaction because the thought of making my character live in someone else's head is so exciting that I'm sometimes willing to risk having the wind taken out of my sails.
Jan. 1st, 2012 10:41 pm (UTC)
Looking at Goodreads reviews & ratings is like taking a stroll through a minefield. The glow from a handful of great reviews with 4 and 5 stars from people who "got" your book can instantly be wiped away by one review that simply says "I hated it" with no helpful explanation as to why. Or a review that lists as weaknesses the very points you know are the book's strengths can have you questioning your ability to see your writing objectively.

When that happened to me, at first it killed my desire to dive into the next book in the series. But the characters just kept writing their story inside my head, ignoring my emotional reaction to these mean-spirited reviewers. I eventually got my funk turned around by staying off Goodreads, at least while I'm trying to be creative, and trusting the assessment of those people who loved what I'd written. My next book is for them.
Jan. 2nd, 2012 09:23 am (UTC)
It really is a minefield, and it's up to us to not go traipsing through it.

I think the most devastating review was a very nastily worded three-star from someone I considered a colleague and friend that claimed I didn't care enough about my story to write it well. It had me in tears and put me off writing for about a week. That's also when I realized it was up to me to not go there looking for things to knock me on my ass!
Jan. 2nd, 2012 10:39 am (UTC)
I know nothing about writing that goes beyond a college essay, but I am an avid reader...over 1500 novels, novellas, and short stories on my Kindle in the last 3 years.

From a reader's pov, a successful story is easy for me to define. I just want characters that feel so real I can almost touch them. The characters in JCP's books ALWAYS deliver. The dialogue is sharp; the humor is dry and often dark. I leave the story (no matter what length...I even appreciate the 2 sentence snippets from characters I've already met) feeling like I knew the characters and wanting to read more.

Please don't change a thing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Kristi P

Jan. 2nd, 2012 11:03 am (UTC)
That's so kind of you to say! The only thing I'm looking to change is my subjective experience of lack of buzz or ratings, so I think that can't be a bad thing.
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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