How Authors Get Everything They Really Want: The Death of Traditional Publishing “Success”

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What is “success” as an author?

This question has more answers than Carter has pills. (My grandpa liked to say this, which always made me feel badly for whoever Carter was. Who is Carter and why does he have so many pills?)

Ah, this is great. I'm munching some popcorn Charlotte, my 5 year old, just brought me from her mid-morning snack. She’s home today for teacher’s conferences, and this is way more information than you need, but I want to set this up first, to say how glorious it is working from home, and appreciate that beauty with me, but second, how instructive it is to have a kid around who comes downstairs with her big bowl and quietly sets it near you, careful not to interrupt the typing, and say, “You can have some of my snack, if you want.”

I mean, this isn’t the way I imagined it. I had no idea. But I take a handful and she smiles and tells me to get lots of work done and leaves.

And I will. With this popcorn, I will work like a factory-assembly-line maniac. Like Carter without his pills.

Now I don’t work for her affection. She gives it to me freely. I don’t do a thing. I could even deny my affection, work so I never see her and miss out completely on a relationship with her and she’d still bring me her own food to share.

Because this is how it is with love.

And this question of how we define success has so many different answers because so many people don't feel loved. Underneath what we say we believe, "success" always has to do with whatever we're seeking most. These are words I've treasured: When you first seek to give yourself to God's way, his higher purpose, you'll be given everything you desire.

I used to think this was a cheap trick because when you do this, your desires "magically" change—and how easy is it to give me what I want when he just changes what that is first? Come on! But there's a deeper principle at work that says when you seek the higher purpose beyond yourself, you get what you really wanted all along.

It’s not different from your original desires, it's just deeper, more real. And hense, more lasting when it's fulfilled. It's always better to give than receive. It’s always better to do for another what you’d want done for you.

And I believe it. But do I? Would I act differently if I really believed? Do I give my popcorn, or do I eat it myself? What’s success: having the biggest handful or giving the most away?

Affirmation and validation are big traps for authors. Most realize it’s a fool’s errand, but the exploiters still sell it: “Are you desperate to feel appreciated and worthy? Sign with PAI-YUP Publishing today!” So many authors say they know where ultimate love is, but they don’t seem convinced. If they felt it, they’d know, and they’d figure out it’s probably dumb to try and squeeze love out of a book contract. But they don’t want to look deeper.

That’s not me. I mean, I know you can’t derive your value from a car or a job or even others’ opinions.

But we all still do it. And we close our eyes, rationalize it and make it “all right.”

Why do so many books get printed? Why do so many people work so hard when the only pay off is more attention and more work? Ask anyone “important”: more importance = more problems.

I know what I want to say with my work, and it is a way to give back, but I think I need to look harder at how what I’m writing is directly pouring into who is receiving it. This is a critical step in the process for anyone looking to share a book of true lasting value. I need to spend some more time picturing those outstretched bowls and me pouring from mine that’s been so generously filled…

So what's "success" to you, that is, what do you think is most important? Are you writing to “give back” or is it more about what you want to say?

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8 thoughts on “How Authors Get Everything They Really Want: The Death of Traditional Publishing “Success””

  1. “…but I think I need to look harder at how what I’m writing is directly pouring into who is receiving it.”
    Emotional brilliance right here. :)

  2. Mick: This is a great post, as always. The way I say I define writing success, the way I desire to define it, and the way I feel it are so different and it changes depending on where I am at in the journey. What I say is that how many books I’ve sold and published doesn’t define me as a writer. What I feel is usually that I’m a big fat failure. What I know is that everything that has happened is a blessing that God has used to grow me as an artist, but more importantly, as a person. My prayer for the past few months has been, “God, please let my books be read and to touch lives.” It’s pretty hard not to add on requests about making some money, etc. etc., but it’s freeing when I pray only those words.

  3. God gives us experiences and journey’s so we can in turn help others. I combining my love for kids and my passion for writing to give back. Thank you team Jesus!

  4. You would think at my age I would be demanding that I finally get what I have long deserved. But I have come to realize that I dont deserve anything. I will never get what I want unless I give it away first. I know my “need” to be published is not a need at all. And that “need” is a part of my humanity that I strive to put down to make room for the bigger picture. Success? It’s whatever God says it is. I just need to hear and prepare.

  5. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
    For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” Isaiah 55:8-9
    The Greatest “success” of all history and eternity, was tiny…a babe came to earth…unnoticed, eventually was forsaken by all, called nothing His own…died a criminal’s death. Started the greatest Kingdom that shall rule all with only 12, unlearned, ignorant, dirty fisherman.
    What is “success”? It is often upside down from what we imagine.
    “Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him” Isaiah 43:7
    Are we willing…to hide behind Him? The only “success” that will eventually matter is what He crowns as success. That which brings glory and honor to Him. Are we pointing others to Him or…ourselves?
    The author that most impacted my life, Amy Charmichael, was so intent that others would not see her but only Jesus that she at one point scratched herself out of a group photo…
    ***Just reminding myself here ;)

  6. Success in enjoying popcorn with a five year old. Wisdom is realizing that this is success.
    As Charlotte walked away knowing she is loved and valued, can we share popcorn with our readers in ways that build up their already infinite value as children of God?
    Thought provoking post Mick.

  7. “But there’s a deeper principle at work that says when you seek the higher purpose beyond yourself, you get what you *really* wanted all along.”
    King’s Cross. Keller. Chapter 3. The Healing — speaks to just this, in the most compelling of stories.
    {Success… is it this? To decrease, to be last, to bend low, that He alone might increase, be supreme, be exalted, He who is all Grace and Beauty and Salvation and Wholly Worthy.}
    Your Charlotte… serving like Him.
    All’s grace,
    Ann

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