Thursday, 30 August 2012

How do you Measure Success as a Writer?

This question hadn’t really occurred to me until I was catching up with an old friend last week and telling her about my debut novel coming out. I can’t actually remember what was said, which admittedly takes some of the power away from this anecdote, but I was left wondering at exactly what point I would consider my writing career successful. I do remember that I felt a little stressed and uneasy when I was babbling about the book and didn’t really know why, but whatever she said really helped (although I really can’t remember what it was).

I think that much of my squirminess came from a fear of being judged. I have worked with hundreds of authors to get their books ship-shape and shiny, and advised them about the process, but now that my book’s coming out I regret not offering them counselling and alcohol as part of my service. It’s terrifying. My book goes out into the world and there’s absolutely nothing I can do to control it once it’s left my grasp. People will judge it, love it or hate it, and I just have to sit back and take it and hope that I’ve grown enough layers of skin for the task. However, even worse than being judged is not being judged. What if the only people who ever read it are my friends and family and some guy from Exeter who accidently clicked the ‘buy it’ button when he was trying to turn the TV over? Far worse than being hated is being ignored. I’ve got a solid marketing machine, but what if it’s just not that interesting? What if it’s crap? What if I’ve devoted my life to something I’m no good at and it’s the biggest pile of crap ever written? Damn my friend for stirring up these emotions with her forgettable counsel.

I’m sure that anyone doing anything similar (like taking all their clothes off and running through town) would probably feel similar; it’s only natural to feel terror before exposing yourself, inside or out. But taking stock and thinking about what I actually want to achieve is helping. If I don’t set some kind of marker of success then I would only be happy if I got Fifty Shades of Grey success. Anything else would be a failure. It’s good to have lofty ambitions, but does anyone really want to spend their whole life chasing a lottery win? I could rely on reviews to see what people think, but I get the feeling that people only write reviews if they really love or really hate something. That’s half of the problem; you don’t get a list of every reader’s phone number so you can call for feedback. So how does a writer ever feel successful? Well, book sales are the obvious marker. But am I aiming for tens? Hundreds? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands? How will I ever know these things?

After giving all of this some thought I have come to a small handful of conclusions. Firstly, all of the things I’m worrying about are attempts to validate me as a writer. Do I actually need anyone to like my work? Am I not successful because I write exactly what I want to write and I do it well? Secondly, this whole writing hoo-haa is a lifetime process. I’ve written lots and plan to write more. I love the project I’m currently working on and I finished the one that’s coming out some time ago. Why should I care about it? I learnt a lot from it, but I’ve moved on. The only way to succeed is to be forward thinking. Also, should we ever really attach ourselves to an outcome when being creative? I want to sell books now, but I couldn’t give two shits about it when I was ten years old and writing little books that made me smile. In fact, I think I need to remember that little girl more often. She would blather on the page for hours and hours and make everyone read it, believing that it was the best slice of fiction ever to grace a leaf of A4. Little Hayley rocked!

But I have to be realistic. I don’t think I’m quite cool enough to completely switch off from what people think of my books. In fact, I’m excited to find out what people think, but I genuinely think I’m halfway to success because I’m proud of what I do. At this early stage of my publishing career, the other half of success would really just be for a steady stream of people to read and enjoy the book.  

Diazepam for Sale, the debut novel by Hayley Sherman is now available on Amazon
Time travel as a cure for depression, the Mods and Rockers on the West Pier, a vengeful Sat Nav lady, a seagull-stalked Frank Sinatra and Diazepam for sale... 
A fairytale for a prozac nation...
Fiction for a world that doesn't behave the way it should....  

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