My Strawberry Soufflé

Shouldn't success and happiness be the achievement of what we love to its own end, knowing that end might be private and personal? -- Felicia Sullivan from Love, Life ,Eat

This morning I came upon Felicia's blog. Having been at the Bouchercon mystery convention this weekend, her column really hit home -- I've just spent the last three days with hundreds of authors and was struck over and over by how many of us expressed unhappiness about our careers.

So many talked about not feeling like a "success."

"Why?" I asked again and again.

There were authors who complained they get nominated for awards, but never win. Others who said they often win awards, but don't have sales. Or that they get sales but no reviews. Or were upset they get reviews but no nominations for awards. Or, they are frustrated they are published in trade paperback instead of hardcover, or in mass market and not trade... you get the idea.

The Dalai Lama said if you compare yourself to people who have more than you, you will always be unhappy. But if you compare yourself to people who have less than you, you will always be happy.

I think that's amazing advice, but I'd even go further and ask: Do we have to compare ourselves to anyone? Can every writer really be "big"? Does every book honestly have that potential? Is it easier for some topics and kinds of books to take off? Or win awards? Or get reviews? And what if you don't write those kind of books?

The measure of achievement is not winning awards. It's doing something that you appreciate, something you believe is worthwhile. I think of my strawberry soufflé. I did that at least 28 times before I finally conquered it. -- Julia Child

I think the most important thing we as writers can do is figure out how we define what success will mean to us and focus on that.

This weekend one writer was complimenting me on, my marketing company. She told me how much we'd helped her then followed that up with a question. She wanted to know why, since we do such great marketing, I'm not a mega-name author and how I feel about not being a "real success."

I was honestly surprised. I'm realistic about my career as a novelist. I'm certainly not a superstar and far far from a house hold name, but I feel successful.

From the very beginning I envisioned success as selling enough books so I could keep getting published and continue to write what I wanted to without compromising.

Did I want to be a bestseller, make millions and get amazing reviews? If you'd asked I'm sure I would have said yes, but that just wasn't what I thought about. I was focused about having the kind of long-term career that would allow me to keep writing, because writing is what saves my life each and every day.

So here I am, 14 years later with my 14th novel to be published in 2014. I've sold enough copies of all those books to feel it wouldn't be ladylike to mention the number, and I've never compromised on what I wanted to write.

Am I a success?

Are you?

Clearly it all depends on who you ask. Or maybe if you're smart you'll stop asking anyone and not look beyond yourself to figure it out. Because is it what anyone else thinks, or is it what you think?

As Felicia asks in her blog, "Do you want to be big? Or bold? Be popular or remarkable? Or all of them?"

One of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, wrote: Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?

I am pretty sure no author at Bouchercon, or author reading this blog would think that worrying about meeting some arbitrary measure of success is worth spending that one life on.