Sunday, July 22, 2012

Winning the Bronze Medal

The other day some writer friends posed the question, "How will you know when you've made it?"

Only partly joking, I said, "What do you mean? I haven't made it yet???"

I was only partly joking because I know at one point, I said to myself that I'd be happy if only I could sell one book. And I have a book contracted with a small press! And yes, I'm really happy about it.

Some of the writers asking the question are objectively more successful than I am -- multiple books published by big presses. To me, they seem to have made it. It doesn't feel that way to them -- there are literary, personal, and financial goals they haven't accomplished yet, and many other writers are achieving greater success. 

This reminded me of a study I read of Olympic medal winners that found that bronze medalists tend  to be happier than silver medalists. It turns out that bronze medalists focused on the alternative of winning no medal, whereas silver medalists focused on the alternative of winning a gold medal (Medvec, Madey, & Gilovich, 1995). It turns out that the expression is partly true: You don't win silver. You lose goal. But you win bronze.

So I'm a bronze medalist!  Yay!

I'm realistic about what being published means: my book will have an opportunity to reach readers. I also know what it doesn't mean: I'll be in the major chains, bestseller lists, mobbed by fans at cons. Maybe next time!

Because yes, goal posts move. I'm still writing, still trying to sell more books. The idea that I'd be happy with one contract ever wasn't true. But I'm right now, I'm standing on a podium, smiling and waving with a bronze medal around my neck.

How will you know when you've made it? What are your goal posts and milestone markers?


  1. Very interesting post! I'll never forget watching the Winter Olympics one year (I forget when it was) when an American snowboarder was about the win the race and she was way ahead of the other boarders and did a trick on the last ramp in victory...then crashed. She still won silver, but as the reporter put it, she'll always be remembered as the boarder who lost gold, not the one who won silver.

    As for writing, in her "Letter to Baby Author Me" post, Ally Carter suggested that you actually write down five goals/achievements that would make you happy. That way, when you achieve them, you remember that those were things you once dreamed of having and you can avoid the temptation of replacing your goals with bigger ones without celebrating what you've already achieved.

  2. I agree that the goal posts are always moving. When I started writing, the goal was to banish a bad dream by writing it all down. Suddenly, the goal shifted, and I wanted to write an entire novel. By the time I finished that, I had an idea for the sequel, and the goal was to write a second novel.

    I dove into the publishing world and educated myself on the market, finding an agent, and learning what is expected of an author before they are published (learning about the query process was an eye opener!).

    All of a sudden, my goal was to write a novel that had a chance of commercial success. The first two I wrote became my "practice novels." Since then, I've written two novels in a new series, and half of a third. I've found wonderful crit partners and beta readers, polished the first novel in the new series, entered writing contests, and put myself out in the world as someone who is serious about my writing. The next goal: Find an agent or editor who loves my stories as much as I do.

    If your goal from the start is to be a multi-millionaire bestseller, you're going to quit in defeat before you even finish writing the first novel. My goal changes constantly. Every time I reach it, I push it out just a little bit more. It sits just out of my reach, like a carrot dangling in front of a stubborn donkey.

    Right now, I'd settle for just qualifying for the Olympics. I'll worry about medals after I make it into the show.

  3. Good ideas, Ava and Laura -- interim goals that are marked and remembered even after they are achieved.

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  5. What a great post. I've always wanted an agent and have recently been rather depressed and frustrated by my query journey. My work has been repeatedly praised by agents and then rejected for not being 'markettable' to the big publishing houses. I had to make a choice: change my stories, change the way I write to be more market friendly, or stick to my dark and quirky guns and seek alternative publishers. I decided to go the indie route and have a YA sci-fi novel coming out early next year. While I'm a little disappointed to be told my writing is great but not 'sellable,' I also feel like I won because my somewhat odd stories are making it into the world even if my paperbacks won't be on the shelves of major stores. Got to be happy with that for now and see what happens next :)

    1. I get that too. -_-

      Congrats on getting your novel out there. ^_^

  6. Great post and great comments. It's always powerful to me to hear other writers' perspectives from various stages of the journey. My goals used to include getting paid for my writing and getting recognition or validation. Fine. Won some recognition in contests and got some money for it, but nobody got to read the darn stories and I realized something was missing without that. My goals right now? Get my own, original fiction published and get an agent (not necessarily in that order). After that, the goals will change. Good to remember.

  7. I tend to consider most of my goals as steps: If I do this, it's a step up for me to do THIS, but I'm unlikely to get THIS accomplished without first doing this. Then, one day, I'll get to that and THAT (which will likely turn into a new THIS).
    That being said, my ultimate goal is to have one particular story published. That'll be my gold medal. ^_^

  8. .thanks for sharing

  9. Since I will have published two articles by December, my next goal is to have a picture book in print. But, I'm sure, when that happens, I will admit contentment with "Just one more published"!


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