The first was The Strategic Writer, given by Grub Street founder Eve Bridburg. Advertised as help positioning oneself as a writer in the professional world of publishing and publicity, this session posed the first hard questions of the day. In order to plan a successful business (of writing), the first task is to define what success means. Eve gave us a framework from which to consider the question that encouraged us to avoid answering automatically: to be a New York Times bestselling author. Of course every writer hopes for that! But what real changes would such a status cause in our writing lives? And, importantly, are there other aspects to that kind of success that might be more obtainable right now — baby steps toward the ultimate goals?
Start at the beginning: why do I write at all?
I write because I have to. By that, I mean that those times in my life when I haven’t regularly done creative writing were the worst, the most despairing and purposeless.
I also want to tell stories readers enjoy, because otherwise, writing is lonely and too theoretical to have any impact in the world. Here, there’s been a little conflict: Sometimes, I share my stories with someone or a group of people and they don’t seem to enjoy it in the way I intended. My first reaction is to stand up for my inspiration — how could something so indefinable do wrong? My definition of success involves finding the right readers, the readers I can entertain by making good editing choices instead of by compromising my unique vision. It will be a lot easier to find those readers when I’m finally able to define what exactly about my writing is unique…
To further define success, we considered the following two questions from both the emotional and the monetary points of view: How do I want to spend my time? How will I know when I’m successful?
Signs of emotional success for me include:
When readers like what they’ve read so much that they ask for more.
When 500 people “get it,” when they show signs the book has really connected with them.
When my book appears as a Jeopardy! question.
When my book is used as a text or is deconstructed in an academic paper.
When my book wins a prestigious award.
Signs of monetary success:
When my book wins a lucrative award (which may be the same as the prestigious one!).
When I’ve sold so many copies I no longer have to worry about bills or debt.
When I get an HBO series.
When I get other book deals, job opportunities, fellowships and/or grants.
The main idea of the day was that once each writer has a solid understanding of her goals, she has to weigh the investment with the rewards of any publicity campaign. I came to fully understand that some techniques will not work for me because of the type of books I write or because of my personality. While I greatly admire the campaign my Loose Leaves author ScottE. Blumenthal has been able to put together, there is no way I could accomplish the same results, even if I copied everything he and his publicist have done.
The thought that I’m not obliged to try every possibility simply because it exists is liberating. I can breathe much easier knowing that I should do exactly what makes sense for me as a writer and as a human being and what aligns with my clearly defined goals, no more and no less. That’s when the ideas began to germinate!