Sunday, January 13, 2013

How Do You Define a “Successful” Writer?

The explosion of independent publishing has created a niche market of books all claiming to help you become a better writer. Some of them focus on the craft of writing. Others focus on the business aspects. All of them purport to transform you into being a successful.

But what exactly does that mean?

Is it defined by sales? I doubt that. A poorly written book could have great sales and a well written book could have poor sales for any number of factors that have nothing to do with the writing. There have been many great writers who died penniless. Does that make them failures?

Does it come from critical acclaim? Perhaps, but good reviews could come from friends, connections, reciprocal good reviews or sock puppets. At the same time, a great book might not have any reviews at all. There is very little direct correlation between good reviews and success.

Must a successful writer possess enduring value? Are you successful only if your work is used by English professors decades after your dead? Does your name have to rise to the pantheon of authors like Poe, Hemingway and Shakespeare? This feat surely marks you as a successful writer. The only problem with this benchmark is that you probably have to be dead before it kicks in. Who wants to wait for all that?

What if your book brings you a large amount of notoriety? That doesn’t make you a successful writer. You may simply be writing about a timely, controversial topic. You might have a magnetic, extroverted charm that the media is drawn to. Fame doesn’t make you a successful writer any more than it makes Honey Boo Boo a good actress.

So it’s not sales, reviews or notoriety. It’s not awards, volume of output or likes on Facebook. It’s not the ability to make a living as a writer, especially if you’re miserable. It’s not even the technical polish of a professional manuscript. So what makes a successful writer? Ultimately, every writer has to define this for themselves based on their goals and expectations, but I’ve come up with a definition that I plan to use going forward;

A successful writer has the ability to consistently increase one or more of their resources through the creation and distribution of their craft.

By “resources”, I mean your intellectual, financial, social or physical capital. So if writing broadens your mental horizons, increases your financial status, widens your social circles or improves the quality of your life over time, then you are a successful writer. I will admit that it is not the most measurable criteria in the world, but it’s better than waiting until English professors start forcing kids to read my books.

So how do you define a successful writer?

Have fun.


  1. For me, if a reader reads something I've written, they like it and are looking for more from me I feel I'm a success. Just one reader at a time is what I'm looking for. You get a lot of those and you will be financially successful also.

  2. Good post! I guess in my case it is to explore the themes/ideas each book starts investigating and to bring it to a conclusion that is satisfying. If I can then carry along some readers on nthe same journey of that book, that is a plus. The ultimate would be to contribute some ideas/ a lasting work or two to the great pool of human knowledge, which as you say, long surpasses my span on thsi earth

    marc nash