How to Make a Living with Your Writing

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, was the closing speaker for the Indie Author Conference back in November. Funny, personable, and ridiculously adept at making a living with her writing, Joanna writes both fiction and non-fiction.

She gave us a bit of background, told us how she wanted to read, write, and eat biscuits for a living. But, with a Masters in Theology from Oxford, she seemed best suited for work in IT. (?!)

She wanted to be a writer, considered being a writer, would quit her job and think about writing until the bills came a knockin’, then would return to the work-a-day duties.

She said societal mindset seems to be that writing “is not a proper job”.

On one of her self-imposed, non-working sabbaticals, Joanna did a LOT of self-help reading. But most importantly, she not only READ the books by people like Tony Robbins, she also began applying their lessons.

The first thing she learned to apply was–

  1. Change your mindset. What is your definition of success? You need to define your goals. Please note, your definition may likely change in process.

She came to realize how ingenious a book is! You write it once and sell it year after year and continue selling it for seventeen years AFTER you die!*

Your book is a product.
And an employee.
You send it out to work for you!

  1. Focus on the customer.
    Writing is not about you, it’s about your reader.
    What do they want to pay for?

Find the intersection of what you love and what readers actually want.










She suggested doing a keyword search. “How to be…”
What do people WANT? And more importantly, because come on, we all know the two aren’t necessarily identical, “What do people BUY?”

We are global. The internet is global. USE THAT.

Multiple formats—what can you still exploit?
Retitle and rerelease. Workbook edition. Professional edition. Children’s edition.
International sales—tweak to better relate to their culture.

Joanna’s tips to make a living from writing:
2. Try other genres.
3. Write to the Binge Culture.
4. Go short.
5. Go long.
6. Box sets! 3 book, 9 book, rereleased with new content, bonus content
7. Refresh your back list. Rewrite, update non-fiction.
8. Build multiple streams of income. This is why we are INDEPENDENT!

(As she went over the above list, I said, check! check! check! check! It is reaffirming to realize I am on the path to making a living with my writing!)

She kept emphasizing that each book is another product. Another employee out there making money for you.

But of course, she also mentioned the fact that most authors make money from resources other than book sales.
1. Public speaking.
2. Lectures and workshops.
3. Featured columns.
4. Endorsements.

(To which I thought nope, nope, nope, lol.)

Happy, successful authors need to attract an audience.
Choose what works for YOU.
Your book, your lifestyle.

Take action.
Be consistent.
Don’t do something because you think you have to but then not follow through.
If you want this, what are you doing to make it happen?

In closing, she asked, “Have you made art today? Have you written a thousand words today? Are you one step closer to your goals today?”

Well, have you? Are you?

(Sorry for the choppy notes. I was caught up in her lecture and forgot to write everything down! What can I say, she’s a dynamic and charming speaker. Luckily, her words and advice are available on her website, The Creative Penn, and also through her podcasts. Hopefully this blog is teaser enough to get you on the creative path.)

*I just read an article about copyright expiration and how it varies.

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When one chapter closes…

It’s easier than I would have thought to say goodbye to In Print. As a founding member, I guess I let the organization go when I stepped down from ALL responsibilities. I held many titles, wore many hats, and accomplished many amazing things through the Professional Writers Organization I helped begin with fellow writers Kristin Oakley, Kathleen Tresemer, Carol Ahrens, and Pat Noel.

It’s been eight years since we sat around Kristin’s kitchen table and talked about how the writers’ groups that were currently accessible to us were not meeting our personal needs or what we wanted in an organization.

I’ll be the first to admit, I never thought we’d really pull it off!
Pipe dreams, you know? Frustrated with not getting our writerly goals met, we were just shooting the shit and fantasizing.

Thankfully, there were stronger minds and movers and shakers at that table.
And brownies.


And it was good.

For a solid five years, In Print Professional Writers Organization offered area writers a place to meet, other authors to learn from and commiserate with, workshops to grow, guest speakers to influence, and a plethora of other options. We met monthly as well as offering outside prospects. The Prompt Club, Writers as Readers Book Club, Word of Art, In Print Radio which continues to offer authors a platform with the help of Bob Francis, field trips, contests, and the opportunities offered by our affiliate, Chicago Writers Association, allowed IP to provide resources, exposure, and connections to those in the field.

Thanks to the connections of Kristin Oakley, we attended UW-Madison writer events like Weekend with your Novel, the Writer’s Institute Conference, Write by the Lake, and had Media Goddess Laurie Scheer provide multiple workshops throughout the years.

Of the five founding members, three are published, two multi-published, three have led workshops at conferences, and one also teaches at UW-Madison. One is still finding her creative way, and one has stepped away from writing altogether, but that doesn’t change their initial impact on our group.

Not only are we IN PRINT, we are PROFESSIONAL WRITERS.

It saddens me that In Print is shutting down. I feel the potential was there to continue to influence writers of all ages, genre, and ability. We had big dreams we never got to—including a journal publication, our own writers’ conference, and non-profit status!

Selfishly, IP served MY purpose, and for that I am grateful.

The last In Print Professional Writers Organization meeting
will be Saturday, February 2, from 1 to 4 pm
at the Cherry Valley Public Library,
755 East State Street, Cherry Valley, IL 61016.

If you are in the Rockford area and looking for writer support, I encourage you to attend this meeting. A chance to talk to other writers, compare notes, needs, and desires. Who knows…when one chapter closes, perhaps another opens?
All you need are like-minded, dedicated writers and brownies.

Other options in the area include the Northern Illinois Novel Knights,  Rockford Writers Guild or OWLSOgle Winnebago Literary Society. I highly recommend CWA for all they have to offer including book reviews and awards, a conference, and the Write City Magazine.

I’d like to close with a Thank You to In Print for all it allowed me to accomplish.
Thank you to Kristin, Kathleen, Carol, and Pat. We created something good, ladies. I will carry these experiences with me forever.


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The Prompt Club

The Prompt Club was one of the many things I started through In Print Professional Writers Organization. Based on my earlier experiences with DAWGs (DeKalb Area Writer’s Group), The Prompt Club met once a month and wrote a one thousand word story to a shared prompt.

We would select from a list of suggestions provided by the leader, write our own interpretation of the selection, then hand out copies and read aloud at each meeting. We would have discussion and suggest edits. The one thousand word goal was to help focus the story and work on editing skills. It’s also a good length for reading aloud and perfect for submitting to journals and contests.

The Prompt Club ran for five very successful years.
We had a lot of talented writers participate.
Many of our short stories were submitted and published individually. Several were edited down to 200 words and used for Word Of Art. Others were inspiration for longer pieces of work.

Our Club also spawned two book publication by original members. Christine Cacciatore’s collection of Weird, Wicked Tales: Creepy Short Stories for All Hallow’s Eve and my own Foe Be Us, a collection based on phobias.

We no longer meet in person, but I have launched a new Prompt Club through the Facebook page. Every Tuesday I will be posting a writing prompt. I will also be sharing links to resources, inspiration, and submission opportunities.

I invite you to like and follow The Prompt Club page. Click here.

Prompts are a terrific way to practice your writing. Consider them weekly exercises to strengthen your skills for the heavy lifting–like novels. They can inspire a line of thought you didn’t know you had. They are helpful in developing back story and details for your work in progress. They can challenge you to write outside your comfort zone and help to hone your editing skills. PLUS, you acquire a handy pile of stories that can be shared, submitted, and/or published!

The Prompt Club – Calisthenics for your writing.

The Prompts are open to your interpretation. Use them as you will. Apply them to your work in progress, tweak them to meet your current needs, skip one and write two stories for another. The point is to get you writing, get you thinking about writing, then get you writing more.

Here are the first two posts:

Think about your writing goals for the New Year. Write a story from December 2019’s POV. Is the future month proud? Disappointed? Amazed?

Write about YOURSELF for 10 minutes. How you look, where you are, what you’re doing. Write in third person.

And a sneak peek at tomorrow’s Prompt.

Waxing, Waning. Pick a random object and write about it in 200 words. Edit to 150. Read aloud. Edit to 100.

I hope you will join me in writing to the Prompts.
I also hope you’ll share what you’re writing!
Maybe our Prompt Club goal for 2020 will be to publish the best of our collection from this year.

I think December 2019 will be very proud of us.

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Perceiving the New Year in 3D

I keep seeing a lot of posts on social media about your “word for the year“.

Kelly Epperson Simmons wrote a recent blog titled New Year’s Resolutions vs Word of the Year. She says resolutions can be vague and overwhelming. “Choosing a word is easier on our heads and hearts than resolutions. It seems softer perhaps, but can be even more powerful.

Vague is no good! Powerful is!

According to Elizabeth Rider, an Online Influencer, “The first step to manifesting anything you desire is awareness and intention. A Word of the Year will set you in the right direction by bringing more awareness to your intentions.

I want to be aware and intent.
I’ve decided I need three words.
Yes, it’s looking to be that kind of year, lol.

these are my words for 2019.

I like it!
Three dimensional.
Length, breadth, depth.
My words for the year represent my life as a whole.

I will focus on DEFINING my goals for the year,
DECLINING those things that compete, distract, or derail those goals,
and DESIGNING a plan that I can grow with.

It’s a just say YES!
and NO!
kind of plan.
The kind where I stop letting things happen and start making things happen.

After last week’s Chat on “success”, I am inspired by a fresh start.
I know, it’s just a date on a calendar, blah, blah, blah, but I do believe you have to begin somewhere so why not the FIRST of a NEW YEAR?
(c’mon, makes sense)

Do you have word/s for the year?
Words you hope to apply, accomplish, and/or avoid this year?

If you need some writerly inspiration, check out The Writer’s Alphabet.
I’ve got words, 🙂
And…I DEFINE them!

I do believe 2019 is definitely off to a good start.

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I asked a simple question…

And I received the most amazing responses!

For the December Literary Mary Chat, I decided that instead of asking one author a handful of questions, I would ask several authors one question…

What do you consider (literary) success?

The support and insight they provided is overwhelming. I hope you enjoy this final Chat of the year. I know you will come away inspired.

Beverly Finn

Success, to me, means a number of things, such as: Completing the writing project and getting started on the next one. Learning to navigate, to some extent, the writing/publishing world. Seeing the Author’s Copy for the first time. Opening that first box of books. Gathering and saving all the cards, notes, letters, e-mails and comments sent by people who had read my book(s). Being out on book tours and seeing one’s name (twice) in lights. Realizing, that my friend, who’s a New York Times bestseller, was right when he said to me: “We never know who those stories will touch”. Participating in Authors Days locally. Seeing an 8 year old with her grandmother (a personal friend) excited to “meet a real author and get her autograph”. Being back in one’s hometown and being told “Thank you for having the courage to tell your story.” Meeting new friends through writing groups and workshops. Being able to say with pride “Yes, I am an author” when questioned by a 9 year old about the books in my arms to be donated to the library in her town.

Beverly Finn is the author of memoirs, You Won’t be Coming Back and What Happened to the Rest of Us

Terri Reid

When I started publishing my ebooks through Amazon, I admit that my initial motivation was income.  My business had been caught in the “Market Correction” that had occurred in 2010 and I needed to do something that would supplement my husband’s salary.  Within six months I was making more than I had with my company and I thought that was success.

I became an Amazon best-selling author and I had readers from all over the world – and I thought that was success.

Then, when my books were printed and I saw them in my local library, I thought that was success.

Amazon contacted me and asked if they could translate my first book into German – yes, that must be it, that must be success.

Then readers started to write to me. Their emails included anecdotes about my books helping them go through chemotherapy and conquering cancer, or helping them deal with the death of a loved one, or just helping them escape from an often too hard and too sad daily grind. They tell me that they hadn’t read a book in years, but someone told them about one of my stories and now they are reading again. Or they tell me that they share my books with family members and it has brought them closer together.  They tell me that they feel like they know me and my characters, and that we are best friends.

This, this of all, the letters from my readers – to me, is literary success.

Terri Reid is the author of several Paranormal Mystery and Romance series, including Mary O’Reilly, The Willoughby Witches, and The Order of Brigid’s Cross.

Katie Andraski

At this point, I consider literary success to be a relatively consistent writing practice. I think for some people writing for themselves, putting pen to page and defying the blank page, can be literary success. For others finding an audience, whether large or small can define success. I used to think it meant being published by a traditional publisher, having your book go to auction and/or hitting the bestseller list, defined success. Then I thought it meant breaking even on expenses, even as an indie author. Now I think it’s what I said above, writing consistently. I have found a small audience through my blog and Facebook and that feels more successful than my writing staying in notebooks. The other dreams of being published traditionally and/or breaking even on expenses seems out of reach for me.

Katie Andraski, author of The River Caught Sunlight

Christine Desmet

Hearing from one reader who was moved or entertained somehow by what I wrote. Whenever I get a heartfelt email from a stranger who has read my work and felt compelled to reach out to me, it makes my day.

Christine DeSmet, Fudge Shop Mystery Series and more

Bambi Harris

I’m not sure I have a good answer. To me it seems like a distant mythological destination. How many are talented compared to how many have best sellers is uneven. I would say personal artistic success is having people read, enjoy, review and share your works readily and maybe make some money! Literary success seems more formal, accolades, a write up in the New York Times, widespread popularity perhaps. 🙂

Bambi Harris, author of new release, The Antiquarian, and multiple series including The Afterlife Series and The Coma Mysteries.

Victoria Holt

I consider “Literary Success” to be as simple as going back to something I wrote a long time ago and thinking, wow, that’s actually really good! I’m a writer!

Vicky Holt, author of the Heartland Cove County Romance series

Deanna Knippling

I think one’s definition of success changes over time, depending on your circumstances.  Like, most people will want to be making more money than they do now, be more famous than they are now, and write better than they do now, to some more or less reasonable extent.  My extent gets pretty unreasonable sometimes!  “I want to make six million dollars a year, buy my husband a house in the mountains, and add a new wing to my local library!  I want to be on all the bestseller lists!  I want to write books that will still be read a thousand years from now!”  But nobody can control any of that.  It’s not a reasonable goal.  So today I’m going to say, “I will have succeeded if I wrote some fiction, got a project a little bit closer to being published, and studied for a while.”  Even when it’s a one-step-forward-two-steps-back kind of day, nobody can take those things away.

Deanna Knippling, freelance writer, author of many Science Fiction, Horror, and Urban novels and short stories, editor, and designer

Lolita Ditzler

Those of us who write non-fiction like to be paid for our work. I considered making enough money to fill out a business income tax  form as success. Nobody tells internal revenue she made more money than she did.

Lolita Ditzler, freelance writer

Cindy Karnitz

What is a literary success?

For me, it is finishing a piece of work. Finishing as in all the edits are complete, I am happy with the final read and I can set it aside with a sense of peace and move on to the next writing project.

Separately, writing success, for me, is not publishing, selling, or being famous. Success comes from the internal and solitary sense of accomplishment.

Cindy KarnitzWriter, Poet, Editor, Chef, Baker, Artist, Musician

Chiara Talluto

Literary success to me is two-fold. First, I write for me. Selfish as it may seem, I write. It is my creative outlet. I have a love and hate relationship with writing, but mostly love. It consumes me to no end. It is a journey into the lives and experiences of my characters. When I’m in the “writing zone” I think of my characters and stories all the time because I want to get the story right. Right, meaning to have a completed tale. This is the part I love. The hate is when inspiration is not working. I can’t get to the next scene. I’m stuck. The other side, is that it can get too distracted that I’m not in the moment of real life. My family doesn’t like that part. But again, it is something I have to do. And that, is one part of my success.

The second part is to be READ. What writer doesn’t want that? You labor and labor, working in the middle of the night to no end. You want the fruits of that labor to be enjoyed by others. But, more than racking up sales, (it is good, by the way), I desire reviews. I can sell a 100 books, but if no one writes a review, how do I know if the story resonated with the reader or not? It’s like Yelp. I go to read up on a restaurant, a movie theater, hotel, etc. That’s the “word of mouth” review. It’s hey, I liked/disliked because of… To me, that’s literary success because if someone asks that reader what they’ve read, your book could be mentioned. I’ll take that gamble.

Chiara Talluto, author of Petrella, the Gillian Princess

Debbie Deutsch

I feel successful because I have written, produced and published a book I’m very proud of! Sales have been great and while I’m not on anyone’s Best Seller list, other than my own, I feel successful. I also feel successful because I make an effort to write at least once a week, if not more. Traveling, babysitting, working, being involved in theater all fight for my time, yet I still make writing a priority. I feel successful because I love creating something from nothing and LIKING it after it’s written. Well, most of it anyway, but that’s what editing, brainstorming and percolating fix. I feel successful because I have surrounded myself with other authors whom I love and are so incredibly talented. They inspire me.

I feel literary success comes in many forms and packages, stages and abilities and I feel very lucky to be where I’m at today.

Debbie Deutsch, author of YA novel Throw Away Sisters

Catherine Conroy

Getting words on a page.

Catherine Conroy, multi-published short story writer and poet

Chris Cacciatore

My idea of literary success is hearing from satisfied readers. There’s nothing like getting a new review on a book you worked hard on (and love yourself) and reading that they devoured your book and are recommending it to others.
Books are nothing without an audience.

Christine Cacciatore, short story writer, blogger, and co-author of the Whitfield Witch Series

KJ Gillenwater

For me, literary success would be landing an agent who ‘gets’ me and my writing and then finding a publisher willing to take a chance on me. I’d love to be able to make enough money to chuck the day job and just be an author.

K. J. Gillenwater, author of The Little Black Box and many more

Susan Wolf

When I write a piece I don’t initially write it with the intention of affecting the reader. When I write it’s usually because something is ping-ponging around my head and I need to write it out of my brain. Writing is also how I process life and recently for teaching. Literary success is then when someone reads a piece and connects with it. If I’m with the reader, I watch their face and reactions. I feel satisfaction when the person laughs or even becomes still and says “Wow…I had no idea” or “I get this”.  To me, that’s where the success comes in. Not in how many copies of something are sold but the connections made.

Susan Wolf, new writer

Christine Swanberg

It is so interesting that you would ask this question. I have been thinking about it lately.  After writing and publishing for four decades, a few ideas of literary success come into view:

Being a  successful writer combines purpose, identity, and a calling. Success lies in the question: Have you been steadfast in your calling to be a writer? If the answer is yes, then success will come your way.

Success comes in many forms. Perhaps it is recognition and respect at a local or regional level.  Is that enough? I feel very blessed by the recognition I have received regionally through Rock River Times, Northwest Quarterly, Rockford Public Library, Rockford Register Star and many organizations that have invited me to share my work. Yet I have to admit that I want more than local recognition. One of my goals has been to be published or to give a reading in as many states as possible. For others, there may be a more prestigious angle. At many of the writing programs, we were taught to aim for the highest and most prestigious journals. But these days it’s hard to define what that actually means.  Maybe academic success isn’t as appealing as it once was. One reason is that there are so many more academic writing programs than there ever were;  not only is the competition truly daunting, but these programs have created a subculture that may not be your cup of tea. So then what?

Being steadfast to your calling as a writer involves a process that moves through stages of success. The most important element of success is discipline. That means writing frequently and consistently. It means “showing up on the page.” When I first started writing, I felt that having a group to be accountable to was important. During this apprentice stage, belonging and participating in writers’ groups, group prompts, classes, and conferences were a whirlwind of challenging activity. Affiliation is a stage of writing success. At some point, at least in my writing journey, I realized that I was spending more time talking about writing than I was actually writing. I went through a stage of adoring big name poets, like sitting at the feet of the holy. Eventually that stage felt completed. In my own process, that marked the end of the apprenticeship and the beginning of something else. So then what?

Finding your way on your own can be very exciting. You are no longer competing but rather exploring possibilities. That applies to both the writing process itself as well as the publishing process. For example, writing workshops are positive challenges in many ways, but one drawback is that they can create a subculture that can be stifling to the writer and unappealing to an audience. Many times as a poetry writing teacher, for example, I have become aware of how many poets have been taught to reduce their poems, misguided by well-meaning teachers in the Imagist tradition who think that the elimination of certain parts of speech create a better poem. This creates stilted writing devoid of articles, adjectives and adverbs. It may take the writers years to get back to the natural voice they had to start with!

So what is my point? Successful writers take chances when they resist and break away from groupthink. Writers might do better to read as much as they can, see what’s out there, discern the current state of the art, and go on from there on their own. To be successful, a writer needs to be a contrarian. Then you have to believe in your writing, have some back bone, write regularly, and find audiences. For some, the idea of audience is daunting; yet  an audience completes the cycle of success. There are so many venues for publishing and reading now from journals, anthologies, contests, and a healthy array of book publishing options.

Mostly I write poetry so and am driven to succeed through established magazines and reading venues. I have published over 500 poems in more journals and anthologies than I can count.  Journals (at least for poets) serve as better audiences than trying to sell entire books because the audience is anonymous and exciting. If you have a piece in a journal with a readership of 1000 people, it’s likely that someone out there is reading one of your pieces. That to me is  success.

That leads me to think about the life cycle of a successful poem or prose piece:
1. Show up on the page and write. See where it leads without stifling yourself.
2. Put it away for awhile. Then come back to it. Is the energy still working? If it isn’t, either revise it or throw it away. Some pieces just don’t work.
3. Research journals and contests that take the kind of work that you write. Send for a sample copy always. That creates success by establishing rapport with a publisher/editor as well as letting you know if you would be a good match. Contests can be exciting, but now there are so many writers that winning a contest seems unlikely. I am very realistic about this. Forty years ago, when I was just starting out, I had success with contests and won several awards from journals. It was exciting and fueled my desire to continue. However, now there are too many writers and too many fees for national contests. In my own writing adventure, contests were a stage of the process, one which I no longer take part in. Keep in mind your odds and the amount of money spent entering and ask yourself if it is worth it. If so, proceed and good luck!
4. Follow the guidelines but don’t get too disappointed if you are rejected. My own philosophy is three tries and then move on. Frankly, by the second or third try, pieces are usually accepted. Why? Partly because you have been steadfast and proven you are serious about both your writing and that particular journal. I find success by sticking with journals that like my work. Usually this last several years until there’s a new editor. Then, sadly, I have found new editors are also contrarians and want new blood. Accept it and move on.
5. Eventually you will compile, if you are a poet, a manuscript. This applies to short stories and chapters of novels too. That manuscript is more likely to be taken seriously if you have already published some of the pieces in it. My own book success has been through networking and synchronicity.  I might be giving a reading with another poet who has a lovely book out. I ask questions about the book and the press. For example, one of my books, THE TENDERNESS OF MEMORY (1995), came about because I read with another poet in Chicago. Her book was stunningly designed by Plainview Press out of Austin, TX, a women’s press.  I followed up with Plainview and ended up with a book contract.
6. Readings, book launches, book fairs, radio come next. Some fall like magic from the sky. Others you have to set up yourself. Writers’ groups and organizations can be very helpful with this. Networking helps! If you are a novelist, it may be that an agent will set these up. For poets, however, virtually no agents exist. Sometimes you have to be bold, take chances, approach bookstores, conferences, and book fairs on your own.
7. Finally, another form of success might be labeled “recycling.” That happens when someone has read your piece and wants to republish or review it.  This could be a reprint, a written review of a book, an interview, or an article with the writer. It might be an invitation to read or share your expertise with others.That is the culmination of the cycle!

It has been fun trying to define writing success. Thanks for the opportunity to share some insights gleaned over a long writing span. Remember, if you remain steadfast to your purpose, identity, and calling, you will eventually find success.

Christine Swanberg, speaker, teacher, poet and author of five books of poetry

Sharon P. Lynn

I guess I won’t feel “successful as a writer” until I have my first published novel. I’m working on it. 🙂

Sharon P. Lynn can’t help telling stories

Carol Kuczek

Authors who are on the best sellers list or are making a living at writing (which according to statistics is about 11%), would tell you success is determined by how many books you sell and how much money you make. For the other 89%, the story of success is different. I consider it’s literary success when an author can corral the multitude of ideas floating around in their head, effectively write these ideas down until magically a story emerges. To clarify this, it isn’t really magic, but a lot of hard work and dedication with the constant bombardment of self-doubt. If an author can write to enlighten, entertain, or motivate their audience through their literary works, they have accomplished true success.

Carol Kuczek, artist, author, and original member of Chicks of the Trade writing & critique group

Isa Briarwood

When I write a book or story that other people honestly enjoy, I consider that true literary success. It also helps if I read some of my work years later and feel like it has held up over time. I used to equate success with being traditionally published, but that’s not true for me anymore. I haven’t been traditionally published, but one of my self-published books garnered three awards and that feels really satisfying. And finally, success for me means just finishing writing a novel. Writing is hard work, and when I complete a book it gives me a sense of joy and pride that I can’t get any other way.

Isa Briarwood, author of A Drop of Blue

Bob Francis

I had to think about this a bit. When I think of “success”, a lot of things come to mind – bestsellers… fame and fortune… swimming pools, movie stars… a de-luxe apartment in the sky… you get the idea. But all those things are nice to have, but not necessary.

Have you ever seen the “deep field” pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope. Like all pictures of space, these are filled with bright shining objects. But the point of the pictures was to look beyond the bright stars in the foreground and seek out what – if anything – was hidden in the deep darkness between the bright points of light.  SPOILER ALERT – It turns out that even in the darkest, most-empty regions of the sky, there is light. The light was generated billions of years ago. Over time and distance, most of the light has been blocked – by clouds of dust, by black holes, even whole galaxies got in the way. But – ultimately – there was enough for us to see and be amazed by.

I think up story ideas all the time. Most never leave my head. I jot some down and file them away. I still have piles of them – I peruse them every so often to see if I’m finally ready to write them. When an idea has finally matured, I start writing a draft. Many drafts are stillborn – they never get past a few paragraphs, a scene, some snippets of dialogue.  Others have full chapters full of characters. They might have a beginning, a middle, or an end, but not all three. Even when a story is finished, there are any number of re-writes that follow.

To me, the best measure of success is being able to get to that final version. It makes me laugh out loud, get a little misty-eyed, maybe say “Holy s%^t!” at a big reveal. I sit back and think, “You know, that wasn’t half bad!”. And I realize I wrote it. Can’t beat that feeling.

Bob Francis, short story and novel writer, NaNo King

Shannon Anderson

For a long time, my definition of success meant finding an agent and being
traditionally published. Recently, I’ve heard stories from other writers
about their agent nightmares and have queried a bit on my own. I’ve heard
many stories about writers having to revise to “fit the market” or comply
with an agent’s ideas rather than the writer’s. I don’t want to do that.
My thinking has changed. Success for me now is to write the best books I
can write and look for publishers who are willing to publish my books the
way I have written them. Even if I don’t find a publisher, having written
good books will be enough for me.

Shannon Anderson, historical romance writer and blogger

Rosangela Taylor

During the first six months of 2018 I asked myself, “Do you really want to go on with this literary endeavor?”  I was not feeling so motivated and I was thinking of throwing in the towel. In order to answer my own question and decide what to do with my life (professionally speaking), I had to remind myself of the importance of writing, and why I think it’s so beautiful, uplifting, motivating, enriching, and rewarding. It took me about six more months, then came the answer, “Yes, I want to go on writing, publishing and shaking minds.”

Why? Because when we dive heart first in such engulfing art, we live the beauty, the meaning, the inspiration, the wisdom and joy that we are spreading. That’s the first reward. The second reward is not the monetization, but what brings the money in: the loyal audience, the fans, the admiration for what and how the writer writes. Then we see success! Changing lives, inspiring, giving hope and love, shedding some light, provoking a smile… bringing a new perspective. Being able of all this is success. It’s to accomplish the goal of writing, reaching minds and hearts. It’s to educate, inspire, entertain.

From that point of view, I’ve reached literary success with my first novel Never Use the ESC Door (2016). Important to say that the person who motivated me to do it and participate in 2015’s NaNoWriMo was Mary Lamphere! Forever thankful to you, Mary! After answering my own question from early this year, and Mary’s question about success I can definitely say I am ready for more! Ready for another literary success in 2019!  Let there be writing!

Rosangela Taylor, author of Never use the ESC Door, a short novel inspired by the Challenges of Learning English as a Second Language

Kelly Simmons

Literary success means getting an agent on the first try, getting picked up by a major publisher, and selling millions of copies of your book with fans lined up around the block for your book signing. NOT!

Oh my heart, no. Success is picking up the pen or putting fingers to the keys. Success is expressing yourself and sharing a piece of your heart/mind via the written word. Success is having writing as an integral part of your life. Success is knowing that you are doing what you are meant to do.

Success is not measured.

Success is feeling joy to hit send, even if sometimes you feel trepidation that you exposed yourself a bit too much.

Success is reading what you just wrote and saying out loud to yourself, “Damn, that’s good!”

Success is loving “the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” (Thanks, James Michener.)

Success is defined only by you.

Success is the transformation that occurs within the writer, not the finished product (although that is significant too).

Success is the continual journey, the growth, the expansion. Every good thing that has come into my life has been because I have put myself out there in writing. Success is looking forward to the future and knowing that writing is part of my life, kind of like breathing. 🙂 Success is gratitude for the privilege of being a writer.

Kelly (Epperson) Simmons, writer, speaker, mentor and founder of Birth That Book, Joyful Living Institute, and Write Your Way to Your Dreams.

Sarah Hernandez

I guess I would have to say that literary success, to me, is fully capturing the essence of what a character goes through. What I mean by that is, all the emotion, the turmoil, the triumph and the defeat, in such a way that the reader not only gets to read about it, but experience it themselves. Writing is so much more than just putting action down on paper, it is capturing who the character is, a fully 3-D image of that character. Things happen to characters all the time, but not every writer conveys how that character reacts, feels, experiences, endures or overcomes what happens to them. Writing is not only about plots and storylines and the unexpected twists, it is about the human condition and about how humans react to the things that happen to them. When a writer explores the mind of the character and really gets inside their head, exposing all the turmoil, conflict, emotion and victories, then, and only then, can the reader truly understand the character. This, to me, is literary success.

Sarah Hernandez, author and co-founder of OWLS, Ogle-Winnebago Literary Society

THANK YOU to all who submitted a response.

Thank you to all who took the time to read through these invaluable answers.

Please click on underlined text for more information on authors and publications.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, and however you measure it, SUCCESSFUL new year. 



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Of Christmases Past

Christmastime is a season for recollection.

Have you noticed that as we grow older, our traditions change?
Become harder to hold onto?
Do you find yourself adapting instead of repeating?

It seemed so much easier before. Kudos to my parents (ALL of them, lol) for keeping it together for the children. As a grown up, I realize the pressure and stress associated with the holidays. But the memories I have of being a kid at Christmas fill me with joy and are reminders of lessons I learned.
I think I’ll share the first few to come to mind…

I remember being very young, maybe four or five, and sneaking down the stairs to wait for Santa. The colorful glowing tree was the only light in the dark living room. There weren’t spindles to peer through, but a wall and ledge to look over. I bumped my cheek on the wooden edge several times as I nodded off…then on, then off again. Finally, I rested my head on the carpeted step and fell asleep. My vantage was as blind as it would have been from the comfort of my own bed, but I remember thinking I would catch Santa. I woke the next morning to stacks of presents and a stern note from the jolly old man himself saying how lucky I was NOT to have seen him; Santa presents are for the faithful. I never stayed up again.

Then there was the year of the divinity…and trust me, there is nothing divine about this story. A holiday celebration with the full spread. The dessert table was by the door to the basement, where the kids were playing. Every time I came up the stairs, and back down, I’d grab a piece of my Gram’s pecan divinity. Every time.
I got SO SICK that night.
It’s been about forty-five years, and I have not tasted divinity since. Everything in moderation, even the good stuff.

My stepmom had a strict gift opening system. She was petrified the last gift would be the socks and underwear, which we were totally getting, and that Christmas would be ruined. She’d mark on the bottom of the boxes in tiny print so she knew the order to pass them out. The year I broke her code, YS = yellow sweater, she was so disappointed, she never marked the presents again. As a matter of fact, she let me wrap the presents, even my own, after that. I never peeked inside the boxes. (I still don’t peek!) I loved that yellow sweater. And I relish the element of surprise.

I won’t take up any more of your time with my foray through Christmases past, but I do hope these quick vignettes spark some nostalgic, silly, and sentimental thoughts of your own. I’d love to hear them, feel free to share!

Have a very Merry Christmas.
May the memories you make this year last you a lifetime.


(I don’t remember the Christmas pictured, but I’m thinking I may have given myself a holiday trim.)

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We made it! Welcome to the last original entry into The Writer’s Alphabet!

Can I just say, Z is a hard one.

Taking into consideration how much research we do as writers, how much ancillary information we pick up along the way, and, obviously, how much coffee* we drink, I actually think this Z word is quite fitting.

Okay, admittedly, I kind of cheated on this one. But you forgive me because I have provided you with a trusty trivia question/answer.
But mostly you forgive me because you, too, are eager to wrap this Alphabet up.

*Tea, latte, chai, etc.
An addiction by any other name.

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