Sunday, October 01, 2006

Sunday Brunch. . . The Sweet Smell of Success. . .

It was exactly eleven years ago today that I first made the New York Times Bestseller List. The List. THE BIG TIME. October 1, 1995. A day which will live in-- well, at least my memory.

The news came at a terrible time in my life and was most welcome. But it all felt a little unreal until a group of my writer friends in Minnesota decided to throw me a party to celebrate. And what a party it was!

But the focus of this blog is the idea of success. Our definition of it and our reaction to it. If you think back, you'll probably remember a number of times in your life that you thought: "if only X would happen. . . I would have it made."

But would you? What are the real effects of success? How long does it last? And how does it change you? A surprising number of people fear success; even the thought of it takes them into unknown territory. They have no models for it in their lives and don't trust themselves to handle it. Or they fear the inevitable changes that come with it. . . failing to realize that even if you're not successful, sooner or later, you'll still have to cope with change. That part is not an option. Change happens.

What did it change for me? The first and most lasting effect was that the money got better. Vastly better. And right away. My publishing house didn't wait for the book I was working on (the last in my contract) to be turned in. They offered me another three-book deal with great money and good options. And I got respect from people both inside and outside the industry in a way I'd never experienced. (Even my neighbors knew what the New York Times List was!) People, including editors, knew my name and wanted to meet me at conferences. . . I began to see the subtle ebb and flow of "influence." I also got congratulations from people I couldn't believe knew my name. . . other writers who had made the list before me. Really interesting. There were also requests for speeches and workshop talks and they asked me to run for Pan Liaison for the RWA board. . . flattering stuff. . . none of which had anything to do with my writing. Except that it sometimes interefered with my actual writing.

Did it change me? Sort of. I saw the world of publishing in a bigger way and understood more of "what happens and why." I saw that I could handle success, that it wasn't a nightmare or corrupting or disruptive of my life and relationships. I saw that my values and my ideals and behavior stayed steady. My primary and most important concerns --always my family, faith, and friends-- were still at the core of my life. All good things to know.

But I have to say, in the intervening years my definition of success has changed. I still want to be able to have a comfortable income and some financial security. (More and more difficult for everyone in this changing publishing climate.) But what is increasingly important to me is fostering a sense of community wherever I am. . . on line, in my neighborhood, my church, my writers' groups. More than ever, having the chance to love and be with my family seems like the goal I should be striving for. And I want to help others realize their potential and follow their dreams, too. Intangibles. Much more important than they used to be.

Not that I wouldn't welcome another million dollar contract. ;)

And not that I'm perfectly adjusted and confident. I still get freaked out about the prospect of writing new things and moving genres, and I wonder if I'm on the right track-- personally and professionally. But I'm not afraid. Not of success.

I have looked it in the eye. And I'd like to think neither of us blinked.

So. . . what are you working toward? What's the brass ring you most want to grab? I think it's true that you have to set goals and state them concisely and often. A sale, a multi-book contract, an award, a contest win, a nomination, a great review, a list, an invitation to speak, a meeting with an editor, a wonderful contract, mention in People or Entertainment Weekly, a film option, a foreign edition, an author tour, a special promotion put on by your publisher. . . reaching a certain number on a bestseller list. . . what's your goal?

Maybe your definition of success has to do with being able to pay for whatever college your kids want to attend. . . or saving for that lake cabin. . . or having people recognize you and line up to get you to sign books. . . or holding your new grandchild and saying to your grown-up kid, "well done."

Whatever it is. . . state it. . . share it. . . make it real for yourself somehow.

You can start right here. Snag a cup of coffee and a croissant and pull up a chair.

We're your Sunday Brunch bunch. We'll listen.


Helen Brenna said...

Betina, I remember your party and I remember wishing, too, that it had come at a better time for you. But is there ever a better time for good things or bad things to happen? Life just is ...

I was raised with a definition of success that had everything to do with money and nothing to do with happiness. The old German, you work hard and then you die style of life.

As much as things have changed for me over the years and I recognize the importance/necessity of people and relationships in my life, now that I've finally published, I still find myself wanting it ALL. The NYT, the big contract, the movie deal, ALL of it.

And while I'll try to satisfy myself with earning a living wage and being able to put something away for retirement, I would LOVE a lake cabin, occasional extravagant travel, and a Jaguar!

In the end, the only part of it I can control is writing the best book possible. So, yep, that's my goal.

Heavy thinking for a Sunday morning. Now we're going out for breakfast!

Debra Dixon said...

Betina-- I think you've uncovered a great truth about success. You have to own it. You have to put a name to it, think about it, puzzle over it, recognize that success is not synonymous with money.

Money is certainly a lovely blue ribbon pinned on success but it can be holding that grandchild, raising a great kid, finding time to exercise.

Success comes in so many small ways that I think we forget to enjoy all the successes of our lives while we run so hard after the big success of our life.

For some people success is never sweet because it is the struggle, the game of getting there that they enjoy. Once having reached the top of their game, they look around for another game.

Right now for me, success is time. My dad died unexpectedly last year and that made me rethink a few things. So, I'm working on finding time to enjoy life. That'll be my success...this year.

Betina Krahn said...

Oooh, I hadn't intended it to be a major heavy. Sorry. I guess I was in a contemplative mood. Sunday mornings can be kind of bittersweet for me.

I was raised in a tradition where "the world" and "worldly success" were considered highly suspect, if not downright evil. Yeah, there was religion involved. We were exhorted to choose a life of service and noble poverty over a life of comfort and corruption.

Still, everybody I knew aspired to a better life and my parents had seized the opportunity to go to college and better themselves, so I guess their view countered a lot of the negative stuff from the tradition. They were very supportive of me and my choice of career. . . even proud.

And Helen, I have a sneaky feeling the "all" of it will find you. I can't wait for your book to be out! I know it will be a great success and give you (and us!) a lot of joy.

Betina Krahn said...

Deb, I'm working on that too, keeping things in balance. . . taking time/making time to do the things I feel strongly about.

I'm so sorry about your dad. But as you pointed out, even such a loss can lead us to good things if we let it.

:) Betina

Kathleen Eagle said...

What happened to the croissants? Oh, I see. It's well past brunch time. I've been under the weather for a couple of days, which is unfortunate since the weather is gorgeous now.

This is a scary time in the writer biz, and there's lots of debate about the nature of success. It seems that we're a reflection of the rest of American society at the moment--big gulf between the have lots and have lots lesses. I've always said that writing the best book I can write and getting it published is my main goal, but I can't deny that I want to make a good living at it. I've made gradual but steady progress over my 22 year career, and I've tried to be aware of the market and consider it in choosing my next project without trying to hop on a bandwagon that is totally not me. I'm not sure that's the way to go if you want the big career these days. The other thing that isn't really me is self-promotion, and I struggle with what to do, how much, whether anything I can do makes any difference.

This writing life is one of high highs and low lows. Without the 3 f words Betina mentioned--family, friends, faith--it would be hard to keep our sanity through it all lo, these many years.

Betina Krahn said...

Kathy! Glad to hear you're feeling better. How was MBA? How did the MFW celebration go?

Details! Details!

Jaye Wells said...

Debra said: "For some people success is never sweet because it is the struggle, the game of getting there that they enjoy. Once having reached the top of their game, they look around for another game."

Oh, man. Guilty as charged. I'm just starting out on this crazy ride, but that's already me. But I'm also trying to learn to enjoy the dips and curves of life.

But since Betina asked, the ultimate goal is to be able to afford a villa in Tuscany where I can live part of the year with my family and also do writing retreats. Inherent in this is the money to afford such a thing. NYT and influence are part of this equation.

But, failing that, I'd be content making enough money to afford a maid.

Debra Dixon said...


"the ultimate goal is to be able to afford a villa in Tuscany where I can live part of the year with my family and also do writing retreats."

Yes. Exactly. Part of the BelleBooks oft stated success milestone is "the beach house." Decisions can sometimes be decided by the simple question-- "Is this going to get us closer to the beach house?"

Jaye Wells said...

I like that litmus test, Deb!

Betina Krahn said...

Jaye-- afford a maid-- yep! That AND a villa or beach house. But I'll settle for being able to fly to visit anywhere I want, when I want, without having to find a supersaver fare! Dang, I should have married a pilot!