What is success? The dictionary defines it as the accomplishment of an aim or purpose, which could be anything from taking your first teetering steps as a toddler through to becoming a master at an artistic skill or achieving a medical breakthrough. As an author, success tends to be measured by monetary values ie. how many books you have sold; or by recognition, ie. awards, good reviews, how many people are talking about you. But are these things real successes or do they just put you further forward on the path of chasing even more success and dissatisfaction with your lot?
I’ve just had the honour of taking part in a blog tour, with the opportunity to have my novel Lydia’s Song and the issues addressed talked about by fellow writers and bloggers. It’s been an encouraging time to hear my book discussed in positive terms, to hear the issues of child sex-trafficking raised again and to build up contacts with other writers, which I hope will go beyond the space of the fortnight. However, if I looked at the tour in terms of upfront sales, it’s been a failure, with sales of no more than one or two over the course of the fortnight (at least as far as Amazon is concerned).
Yet, there may be things happening behind the scenes that I’m not aware of – a blog reader intrigued or touched by the reviews or interviews, who notes the book down to buy at another time, or a reader inspired to campaign for trafficking issues and so on. As a Christian, I believe that real success is not about how others see me or how many books I’ve sold, but it’s about being faithful in my gifting. It’s about pressing on and writing the next book or, in my current case, completing the next draft of my first screenplay, and continuing to do the best I can at marketing Lydia’s Song, without getting bound up by fear of failure. Winston Churchill defined success as “going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm”, which is a wonderful recognition that failures are often the building blocks of success and a reminder of how important resilience is.
One lesson I’ve learnt over the course of the three years since Lydia’s Song was published is that often it’s the unlooked-for opportunities that turn out to be the most fruitful. For example, as I mentioned in my interview with K. A. Hitchins, last summer I had the opportunity to speak at a Christian festival and after speaking I got approached by a man wanting to invite me to an anti-trafficking gig in Preston run by a Hope for Justice group. (Hope for Justice is the anti-trafficking organization that I am supporting through sales of my book.) As a result of this connection I have managed to sell around 25 or so books, many of which have been sold with me having nothing to do with it! By contrast, where I have targeted particular well-known connections hoping that they will love the book and promote it for me this has usually proven to be fruitless.
There’s a story in the New Testament about two sisters: Mary and Martha. The story is that Jesus was visiting Martha and Mary in their home and doing what he normally did, which was teaching and telling stories to the guests. Martha got frustrated as she was doing all the work getting the food prepared while Mary was resting at Jesus’ feet. Martha expressed her frustration to Jesus in a public way but, instead of chivvying Mary for not helping Martha in her work, he told Martha that she was worried about many things and that Mary had chosen the better part. As a natural doer, it’s easy for me to empathise with Martha’s frustration, but the point of the story is that resting is better than striving. What I have learnt from this story is not that laziness is better than hard-work, (which is not what Jesus was getting at!) but that attitude is more important than what you do. I need to keep constantly checking my own attitude in terms of how I view other writers and their successes and to keep sending out those tweets, but not obsess with how many have liked or retweeted them.
Veering between sales figure obsessions and disappointments over efforts that don’t seem to be immediately successful, and seeing the aerial view perspective of what I’m learning and gaining over time is a constant battle. It’s when I remind myself that I’m not the centre of all my creative endeavours but that creativity is a gift to be used for others that I can achieve true peace.