I measure success in two equally important ways: the faith a publisher has in me, and the readers’ response.
Before you can have the second you need to have the first. If a publisher believes that the stories I tell deserve to be known, that is what makes it possible for me to bring my books to the attention of readers. To put it facetiously, my first measure of success is the fact that my books didn’t go into the slush pile.
Without a good publisher who understands your needs and desires as a writer, all you have is manuscripts that may never see the light of day, worthy as they may be. It’s a wonderful thing to know that a publisher has enough faith in you to devote time, care and money to the stories you tell, and few things feel better than a beautifully produced book you can hold in your hands, keep on a shelf and show off with pride.
The other measure of success are the readers’ reviews. I have garnered a respectable constellation of little gold stars, and I won’t deny that counting them is very rewarding.
First of all, I don’t take myself too seriously. Fiction writers are not a breed apart touched by a spark of divine madness that common mortals could never comprehend. They are only daydreamers who find it easier than most to turn their daydreams into words. It’s called a “gift,” i.e. you didn’t earn it. All you can do with a gift is work hard to honor it. Many are born with the gift of writing and work hard to honor it, yet are never published. Becoming a published author has an element of sheer luck, and so is becoming a “successful” published author. But success is not mandatory; to quote Hemingway, “Writers write to save themselves.” Anything beyond that is a bonus.
Second, I don’t submit to the slavery of a deadline. I think only beginners should be forced to write with a clock ticking over their heads. It took me almost eight years to write two novels, in between doing housework, taking care of a husband, raising a child, working and attending college. From what I hear, my novels are good writing; the pieces I scrambled to finish in Creative Writing classes are exercises.
Last, I always leave for myself a private corner that I don’t share with my readers. Some daydreams are sacred.