On Being a Successful Author


I sometimes hangout in a couple of virtual staffrooms for writers and recently the talk at the virtual water-coolers has been about how success as an author is judged.

And the discussion got me thinking about what success as a writer looks like to me.

Some colleagues reckoned that being signed with one of the major traditional publishers was an essential part of being seen as a success. Others saw writers who are well-known to a large part of the population through the bestsellers lists, major prize awards, and appearances on television and in the other media as the successful ones. Having a book adapted for television or cinema was another mark of having arrived.

And there can be little argument that authors who fall into the above categories are successful. They’re hardworking and successful earners. They’re successful marketers of their work and they’re successful in writing books which appeal to many people. They are validated not only by their content but also by their sales.

But what of the rest of us, the majority of us, the mid-listers with the major publishers, the authors published by small independent publishers, or the self-published/indie authors? What constitutes success in these categories? As with the famous bestsellers, it seems in many people’s judgement to come down to sales. It’s not really surprising. Certainly for a publisher with a business to maintain and grow, their authors have to sell well. And even in the indie-author world the consensus seems to be that success equals sales.

Indeed even the Society of Authors and the Alliance of Independent Authors, both bodies which exist to support and advise writers have a two tier system. Members can be ordinary or professional and it’s their level of sales that determines the author’s status. Here success and even professionalism is most definitely judged by the sole criteria of number of books sold.

My opinion is that while sales are most definitely an indicator of success, they’re only one indicator. Sales don’t always correlate with the much more subjective components of success such as literary merit, or writing that seeks to raise awareness or challenge the status quo.

As a reader, I judge a writer to be successful first and foremost by how much I enjoyed their work. I’m not interested in who published them, in their sales figures or their media presence. Yes, these things will matter as far as me discovering them in the first place but discoverability, although linked, is a whole other topic. If when reading a book, I was entertained, or moved, or made to think or rethink, or learned something new, if I was captivated and taken to another place in my head – if any, some, or all of these things happened – then that author has, in my view, been successful.

And as a writer: How does success look to me? Am I successful?

Short answer: Yes.

I’ve written three novels. Success!

In the above quote I would substitute or equate ‘happiness’ with ‘success’.

For me the enjoyment, frustration and challenge I get from the writing process – living in the heads of my characters, letting them surprise me as they tell me their story, crafting the flabby monster of a first draft, seeing the thing edited, honed and packaged, holding the finished article in my hand – that’s success. The achievement of getting a novel to the published stage is success enough.

Having just one other person read and enjoy it adds a bit more to that feeling of success and yes, the feeling grows the more readers read it and report favourably on the experience of having done so.

But whether I’m successful or not in the eyes of others, it’s not for me to say. However, in my house I’m a world-beating, best-selling author, and I’m a successful writer just by turning up at my desk every day. Sales or the lack of them make me no less professional or successful in my own eyes.

Of course I’d like to make a comfortable living from my writing, and yeah, it would be cool to be interviewed on the BBC Breakfast Time sofa, or to pull in the crowds at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

But that level of success is not what motivates me, I write because I can’t imagine not doing so. Just the act of writing, to me, constitutes success.

How would you define a successful writer? Please do leave your comments below.

Success at Christmas


This will be my last post this side of Christmas. It’s the season of good tidings and I have some good news to share.


A few days ago I heard that my second novel Displacement has been selected by the IndieB.R.A.G. organisation to receive one of their medallions. Of all the  indie-published books submitted to them only 10% are selected for the medallion sign of approval and quality. Click on the link above to learn more about this organisation and to see my book displayed along with those of other honorees. Needless to say I’m delighted to have had my novel chosen.

The Silver Locket Cover MEDIUM WEB

As for the work in progress­––my children’s novel is almost at the end of the editing process. Once again I’ve used the services of John Hudspith, who I describe as an alchemist of prose. Editing this book with him has been as inspiring and instructive as always and the story is well polished and ready for readers. The equally talented Jane Dixon Smith has designed the cover for the book (she designed my other two book covers) and I’m very pleased with what she’s come up with. So, The Silver Locket is  on track for publication early in 2015.

Harris Tweed owl

In non-writing life there’s been more good news. I got a call last week from the local newspaper to let me know I’d won a Harris Tweed owl doorstop in a prize draw. Pretty cool! It will be much more attractive than the plastic wedge I currently use to prop the kitchen door open. I await its delivery.

And that’s it. I hope all my readers have a wonderful Christmas and see you on the other side.

Motive, Means and Opportunity for a Mindful & Meaningful Year

Fireworks #1
Fireworks #1 (Photo credit: Camera Slayer)

So, it’s onwards and upwards in 2013. I have the motive, means and opportunity – as the cops say of criminal masterminds –to succeed. Only in my case, I don’t plan to commit a crime – but to commit myself to what really matters in life – and especially to my writing.

The blog pause is over and I promise I put my time away to good use.

I did get some writing done but, with the small matter of Christmas to organise, perhaps not as much as I’d hoped. However, I’m not going to be too hard on myself. Last year’s mantra was ‘now’ but this year’s is ‘mind/don’t mind.’ By that I mean I’m only going to be mindful of the important stuff – the stuff that is worth paying attention to. The other stuff – guilt, pointless worrying, and other unimportant wastes of time – I’m not going to pay any heed to them.

So, on that positive note, I’m not going to mind too much that a lot of time in 2012 had to be given over to family matters, health matters and moving house as well as to the ever-increasing demands of my fulltime teaching job. That was all as it should be.

And in spite of all that stuff I did get a reasonable amount of writing done last year. I made progress with both novels-in-progress – my second adult one and my first one for children. I submitted my bi-monthly articles to the writers’ magazine ‘Words with Jam’. I also blogged almost every week. I made a new personal best, record number of sales for my novel ‘Change of Life’ and made it into Amazon’s women’s fiction bestsellers list – albeit briefly.

Other good things from last year – I read some great books – many of them reviewed on here. I spent a lot of quality time with my wee granddaughter during her first year. In July I made my third visit to Israel and had an amazing time there – also recorded here on the blog. And the visit provided some valuable research for the grown-up novel.

Edinburgh, Scotland's capital and second-large...
Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital and second-largest city (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And 2013 has got off to a good start. I spent a few days at New Year in my home city of Edinburgh. It was a lovely break made up of family, fun and fireworks.

Edinburgh: New Year fireworks 2013
Edinburgh: New Year fireworks 2013 (Photo credit: kaysgeog)

The city’s Hogmanay fireworks, which I viewed from the street outside my son’s flat, were an awesome and a fitting start for ‘WriteEnough’s’ year of living mindfully. I stayed with my son and his lovely partner and was thoroughly spoiled by them. I met with my sisters for a good catch up and spent some time with  my elderly father and auntie.

2012-12-31 12.35.55

I spent a magical morning in Edinburgh’s Botanical Gardens, one of my favourite places in this city of many magical locations.  I said hallo to the grand old Figus Sylvatica – one of three specimens of this magnificent silver-barked tree situated at the top of the Gardens. It is under this tree, looking out over the town that I would like my ashes to be scattered – but not for many years yet! I spent some quiet time in the Chinese garden section, enjoying the sight and sound of the gentle waterfalls . And I sat on the bench where I used to go and sit when I was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer and needed to get my head round the fact that I was mortal after all.

2012-12-31 12.38.09

Another highlight of my visit to the capital was going to the John Bellany exhibition at the National Gallery of Scotland. Wow! What an amazing artist he is. Three of my favourite paintings were ‘Eyemouth Boatyard’ because it reminded me of childhood holidays spent near there, ‘My Father’ because it was so alive with the artist’s father’s character and ‘The Obsession’ which was subtitled ‘Whence do we come? Who are we? Whither do we go?’ in which Bellany’s desire to know the meaning of life is grippingly portrayed. And there were so many other incredible pictures, from gorgeous Tuscan landscapes to gruesome Holocaust evocations – and some truly amazing ones done while the artist was recovering from a liver transplant and contemplating his mortality. Fabulous!

English: The National Gallery of Scotland on t...
English: The National Gallery of Scotland on the Mound in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo taken by Finlay McWalter on 7th August 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And now, I’m back at school and enjoying seeing all the children and hearing about their Christmases. Some have had lovely stories to tell about their near misses almost meeting Santa Claus, hearing him on the landing outside their bedroom door or being certain they saw him cross the bedroom floor. Magic!

And as to my writing motives, means and opportunities – well – I have the means – I have my little writing den back as the granddaughter and her parents have their own home once more; I have the opportunities – as long as I choose to take them and make time for them and I have the motives – two novels almost complete and ready for editing AND –

AND – what could be more motivating for an insecure writer who sometimes wonders if she’s kidding herself about being a writer at all – than to hear (today) that I was shortlisted in the story competition jointly run by the National Library of Scotland, the Scotsman newspaper and Scottish Ballet. The brief was to rework the Hansel and Gretel story for an adult audience and to end it at the part where Hansel and Gretel go into the forest. It seems the judges liked my version. I am smugly but quietly proud.

So here’s to 2013, thank you for reading my blog and happy new year to you all.

Slainte Mhath!