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POINT OF VIEW: (Re)Defining Success

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I’m in the middle of Pitch Wars, an annual contest to find a mentor who will then help you prep your manuscript for an agent submission showcase next spring.

This is my second year participating in this amazing and terrifying event. Last year, I went into it blind, fully expecting to snag a mentor, and having no idea how many thousands of writers were doing the same thing at the same time.

My four mentors received our pitches, and I waited, hopeful that I would receive a response, or maybe even more than one.

A day passed, then two and three. I watched the #pwteasers hashtag on Twitter like a hawk, sifting through it for clues that my chosen mentors had liked the sample, and would ask for a full manuscript.

Surely I’d get at least one request, right? The great lowering of expectations game had begun.

I didn’t get a request last year. Instead I got a black hole – an absence of light and information that seemed to confirm my own worst fears about my writing abilities, and which delighted my inner critic.

My fellow writers know the drill – surely rejection, even silent rejection, means my work sucks. And what the hell am I doing trying to be a writer, anyhow?

The whole episode plunged me into several months of writer despair. I got the confirmation of my failure to get a mentor in early November, and I didn’t write again until the next spring.

Now here I am again, doing what I swore I wouldn’t – participating in Pitch Wars once again. This time I’m going in with my eyes wide open. There are, apparently, 4200 other authors duking it out for one of 157 spots – one in 25 odds. I have entered this year with the full expectation that I will not even get one full manuscript request.

Despite my best preparations, that’s still gonna sting, but I will survive it, and I won’t let it derail me again. When this is over, if I’m not chosen, I’ll start the agent submission process all over again with this new manuscript.

My personal definition of writing success has always revolved around becoming a well-known sci fi/fantasy author,usually involving me making it into one of the big publishers.

And it makes me feel small, every time I fail.

So maybe it’s time to redefine success.

I was talking with a close writing friend this last week, and they showed me their list of their accomplishments to date as a writer. It’s something they look at whenever they feel like a failure, and it reminds them of all the mountains they have already climbed just to get to where they are now.

At NebulaCon, Kellan Szpara (my mentor at WorldCon) made a similar point – if most of us looked back a year (or two or three), we’d be amazed at how far we’ve come, and we can’t judge your own writing journey against anyone else’s.

They’re both right. I’ve done some amazing things as a writer over the last six years, and I don’t give myself enough credit for them.

So here it goes – my list of writerly accomplishments in approximate date order:

  • Sold my first short story
  • Started an author website
  • Set up author pages on Facebook and Twitter
  • Joined Goodreads
  • Sold my first novella
  • Sold my first novel
  • Wrote my first trilogy
  • Published my first audio book
  • Won four Rainbow Awards, including new author
  • Wrote my first blog serial
  • Started my own publishing company
  • Self-published my first book
  • Wrote my second trilogy
  • Sold 1000+ of a single book
  • Published my first anthology
  • Sold my first short story to a professional spec fic magazine
  • Won four more Rainbow Awards
  • Joined SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s of America) as an associate
  • Got my first BookBub
  • Participated in Pitch Wars
  • Sold 3000+ of a single book
  • Upgraded to Full SFWA Membership
  • Published my first book in a foreign language (Italian)
  • Submitted a book fo 130+ agents

Wow. Looking back, I’ve done a lot since I started taking this whole writing thing seriously. I may not have achieved my primary goal yet, but if I died tomorrow, I would be happy with my success.

So I’ll stop on this plateau, take a deep breath, and look at the view. And be happy about everything I’ve accomplished.

Then I’ll forge ahead and tilt my lance at the next windmill. Because there’s a lot more I still want to do, and it’s not going to do itself.

Wish me luck!

To my writer friends – how do you define writing success? And do you remember and celebrate the wins you’ve already had?

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