The Measure of Success

In writing, as oft in life, we set out chasing a specific goal. Mine? To be traditionally published. Penguin, Hachette, Macmillan—any of the “big five” publishers will do. It’s a lofty goal, to be sure, even a bit antiquated in today’s world of self-publishing. And it’s not without a touch of vanity. Who wouldn’t want to see their book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble?

AspensWay_CoverBut there’s so much more to success, in life and in writing. Sometimes, with our eyes fixed on that distant and often illusory prize, we miss what’s right in front of us.

After two years of writing and revising, I recently completed my second novel. Relief, pride, achievement—I felt a touch of these emotions. But I also felt embittered, hardened, and weary. The attainment of my goal was yet so far away, the path to publication steeper than I’d imagined setting out. Ultra-competitive, crowded, saturated—these were the words I kept hearing agents use when talking about the market. Was there even room for my novel among the gluttony of other stories?

Then my husband surprised me with a book. My book. Bound and printed at the Writer’s Block Book Shop in Downtown Las Vegas using their print-on-demand Espresso Book Machine.

I’d never received a better gift. It looked and felt just like a “real” book, heavy in my hand as I picked it up. The black type-face was set upon thick cream-colored paper. The pages hummed against my thumb as I flipped from cover to cover. Two years of work compressed into 334 pages bound between a matte cover with my (pen) name scrolled across the top.

The best part lay just inside the cover: three pages of reviews from my friends and family. My best friend called the book “a work of art.” My sister, “engrossing, sophisticated, and simply beautiful.” My husband said it was “a masterwork that has both touched and broken my heart.”Reviews_AspensWay

Those in the industry are quick to trivialize such praise. “Don’t tell me your mother loved it,” they say. “You could throw shit onto a wall and she’d love it.”

But this book and these reviews aren’t for them; they’re for me. Whether or not this book or the next gets “traditionally” published, my true goal, my greater goal has been met. I wrote a book. Start to finish. And it touched people.

What greater success could an artist want or achieve?

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