“There are two ways to get enough: one is to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.”
– G.K. Chesterton
Success is perhaps the most basic of things that all writers ponder. From the minute you start hammering out that first draft of your novel, you picture sitting at a table in a little bookshop signing copy after copy for eager readers.
Well at least, that’s my fantasy. Those imagined by other people might include being a NYT bestseller, rolling in rich royalties, and having an internet fan base so large that the Twitter servers poop their pants.
The point is, no matter the specifics of your grand visions, one thing is common: every writer wants to “make it” as an author.
But what does this really mean?
To some people, it’s the moment they finally land an agent. Once I started getting full requests from agents, a lot of my friends and family were all, “Maybe you’ll get an agent! Then you’ll have finally made it!”
I disagree. Let’s go on a hypothetical journey and say you get a literary agent. For sure, that’s a rare and noteworthy accomplishment. Pop open the champagne! (Or in my case, sparkling grape juice). But have you made it yet? Is this where you’re ready to call it quits? I’d sure hope not.
Most people, I imagine, wouldn’t settle being happy with having an agent. They would want to try for a publishing deal. And surely, when that happens, then they’ll have made it!
So let’s say that person does get a publishing deal. And it even comes with a nice advance. Well now, you’ve truly made it, yes? You’ve jumped the final hurdle?
Except, out of every ten books published, only one of them turns a profit. So, I would imagine, the next challenge is to be that one that actually succeeds.
But let’s be optimistic! Let’s say you are that ONE, and not only is it successful, it’s wildly successful. People everywhere are reading your book and telling you how good you are. You get a plethora of requests to speak to students or do signings. And you might even have a shot at being on the New York Times bestseller list!
Have you made it yet? Or do you want to get on that list?
Well, of course you do.
And it happens! You get on the NYT bestseller list. You even crush the long-running reigns of the likes of Rick Riordan and John Green. Everyone knows your name. You make enough money to quit your day job. NOW, now you’ve made it, right?
But then there’s talk of movie deals.
You wouldn’t be interested in those, now would you?
I hope I’m not beating a dead horse here. What I’m trying to express in this drawn-out example is the fact that—sorry as I am to say it—there is no definitive point in the world of writing where you can dust your hands off, lean back and say, “I’ve done everything I wanted to.”
Why is this? Well, it’s because when one door opens, you want to move forward and open the next. That’s the natural, human desire for progress. As a first-time writer, your only goal may be to get a literary agent. But if this happens, your aspirations grow.
Many people imagine that once they get published, BAM! They’ve made it. They think their desires won’t expand.
Perhaps all those people are right. I wouldn’t know myself; I’m not a published author. But I have thought about it plenty, and I’ve asked myself that magical question: if I get a call saying my book is going to be published, will I be satisfied with my career as a writer?
Of course I won’t. I’m much too selfish for that. I want to be the best. I want to be remembered. I want to change the world.
Sure, these are good goals, and if I do accomplish them, great. But I need to stay grounded, too. And I need to accept the fact that, much as I’d like to say “I made it,” I probably won’t ever be satisfied with where I am.
I hope no one mistakes this for ungratefulness. Just because I’m unsatisfied with where I am does NOT mean I am unhappy. I accept that even getting to the “agent” stage is difficult, and I’m grateful to have made it that far. I’m thankful for all of the helpful feedback and all the time people have taken to assist me on my journey. But my desire for progress is driven by my desire to show all those people they didn’t waste their time. I want their faith in me to be rewarded.
If I go the rest of my life without making it ANY further in the publishing game, fine. What’s meant to happen will happen, and I don’t need a publishing deal to be happy in life. But that desire for progress will always be there, no matter how far I go.
All that being said, if I ever do get a publishing deal, I’m totally going to say, “hey everyone, look, I made it.”
Why, you ask?
I’m not sure myself. I think it has something to do with the fact that a publishing deal would mean I could hold my writing in my own hands, as a tangible stack of paper with a professional cover. Printed books have something beautiful about them, and perhaps if I ever have my own, then that’ll be enough for me.
Right now, I just hope I get the chance to find out.
What about you? When will you have “made it,” if ever?