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IWSG: What does success mean to me?

I’ve been in a huge writing slump for the past year. Now that it’s fall and my daughter is back in school, I have way too much time on my hands. I decided one of the things I needed to do was engage more with the writing community. But how? Over the last few years, I’ve intentionally distanced myself from certain parts of the book world. I had to in order to stay sane. Unfortunately, I crawled so far into my introvert cave, I can no longer see the light. Now, I crave some interaction with other writers. So where to begin?

In my search for a new writing community, I stumbled across the Insecure Writer Support Group. The first Wednesday of every month is officially IWSG day. The awesome co-hosts this month are Rebecca Douglass, T. Powell Coltrin @Journaling Woman, Natalie Aguirre, Karen Lynn, and C. Lee McKenzie!


How do you define success as a writer?

I had already decided I was going to participate in September’s IWSG blog hop. But then, last night, I was reading Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. And one of the things they recommend is redefining what success and failure look like for you. That really got me thinking about my journey as a writer so far, and what my goals were at the outset, and what they might be now. And so even though the blog hop is still a couple of weeks away, I’m sitting down and writing this all out now, while it’s fresh in my mind.

The thing is, I have already had and LOST what many writers would consider to be “success.” And so now that it’s come and gone, I’m left wondering where to go from here.



I am not one of those people who always planned to be a writer. I’ve always been an avid reader, and being a writer crossed my mind from time to time, but I never seriously considered it because I didn’t think I had any stories to tell. Fast forward to December 2008, when I quit my job of 11 years at a local OB/Gyn office to be a stay-at-home mom to my toddler.

It was my first time being unemployed since I was 15 years old. I had no idea how to handle it. I spent the first few months bumping around my house like a pinball, unclear what to do with my time now that my day job wasn’t consuming every brain cell I had. Around the fourth month, I woke up with an idea in my head that wouldn’t go away. I started writing. That idea eventually turned into my first novel, Promises. The first publisher I sent it to rejected it, but the second accepted it. It was published in January of 2010, and suddenly, without warning, I was an Author.

I was lucky in so many ways. Kindles were brand new and exciting. Ebooks and digital publishers were booming. My genre (gay romance) was absolutely exploding. My first book wasn’t particularly interesting, and it certainly wasn’t very well written. (It has since been extensively re-edited.) But, quite by accident, Promises hit that sweet spot that readers in the genre were looking for at the time and it sold quite well (for my little corner of the book world, that is). I published four novels and two short stories in that first year, and had a surprising amount of success. (Looking back, I can’t believe how fast I wrote those books. That is definitely not my normal pace.) By my third year as a published author — also right around the time my daughter started 1st grade — I was making about what I’d been making at my full-time office job. It wasn't big money, by any means, but it was enough to justify staying home and writing rather than going back to the office life. By my fifth year, I was making a respectable living at this.

This, to me, was success. I didn’t need to be a NYT bestseller (although I wouldn’t have minded, of course). I didn’t need to make millions (although it would have been cool). But I was making enough to feel that I was doing my part for my family. It was fabulous.

Right up until the bottom fell out of my personal book world.

Things Fall Apart

Right around this time, Amazon decided that being the largest distributor of books in the world wasn’t enough for them. They wanted to be a publisher too. I can’t think of a single other industry where the largest distributor of a product is also allowed to produce that product. I certainly can’t think of another industry where that distributor is allowed to blatantly throttle the sales of their competitors. Regardless, that’s what happened. One by one, my publishers went out of business, and my income began to plummet.

Now, keep in mind, I kept re-releasing those books that lost their homes, mostly by self-publishing. I kept writing at the same time, releasing 2-4 new books per year. I am quite confident that my writing had improved greatly by that time as well. I had amassed a decent following of devoted readers. And yet over the next two years, my "respectable" income became a thing of the past. My “success,” as I had been defining it, was gone.

The last writing convention I attended was in 2017. I talked to as many authors as I could, trying to figure out how to be successful (by my own definition) in this new book world without changing genres. Everybody’s answer was different, and yet the same. I was told:

“Publish every three months.”

“Publish at least six books per year.”

“Publish every 6-8 weeks.”

“Publish at least one book per month.”

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Are you effin' kidding me? I know some authors can produce that fast, but I’m not one of them. Even if you chained me to my desk, I couldn’t write that fast. (Not on any kind of regular basis, at any rate.)

The other advice I was given was to write a contemporary series with lots of sex and take advantage of KU. So I did that. I put my head down and got to work writing the Heretic Doms Club series. I’d hoped to write each book in three months and publish them all within about a year. I failed miserably at that. It took closer to three years to write the series. Still, the series did well. It got great reviews. My sales were still about what they’ve always been. I was still re-releasing books too, as more of my publishers went under. I was also having most of my titles released in translation in France and Italy. (A few in other countries, but France and Italy are where my books do best.)

At this point, I have roughly forty published titles to my name, most of them published in multiple languages. My sales continue to be decent. My mailing list continues to grow. And yet every year, I make less than the year before. I still make a tiny bit of money, but it’s far less than I was making 6 years ago (even though I have twice as many published books), and it's nowhere near what I would make if I went back to a full-time office job.

My success is gone.

Or Is It?

This is where I’m stuck. I know many of you will say it’s not about money. I should just be happy people are reading my books, and maybe that's true. But I am no longer contributing to the welfare of my family. My daughter will graduate from high school this year, and I am doing NOTHING to contribute to the cost of furthering her education.

I'd also like to be clear that loss of income is only part of my current writing block. There's more to it than that, including a certain amount of disappointment in myself, frustration with the industry, disillusionment with my genre, being burned out on marketing, and a lot of rage and helplessness over the state of the world. (I'd hoped that writing Spare the Rod would give me some catharsis on this last point, but it wasn't enough.)

Of course, Covid played its part too. I somehow cranked out the final Heretic Doms Club book in record time (for me) during the first two months of lockdown. I then pulled out a trunked novel (Lost Ship of the Tucker Rebellion, co-written with Cari Z) and whipped it into shape. And then…


I have done absolutely nothing since summer of 2020.

(Well, technically I wrote exactly four scenes of a new novel. But four scenes over the course of a year is nothing to celebrate.)

So what now?

This brings me full circle to the beginning of this post. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to reclaim that success I had, but I do know that if I have any chance of doing so, it means I need to get back to writing. And yet I have zero motivation because I’m not convinced that any amount of work (at my writing pace) will ever make a difference. Hence my search for a writing community, and my purchase of Burnout, both of which led me to consider re-defining my definitions of success and failure.

Here’s what I wrote in my journal this morning:


· Making more money than I spend on frivolous crap like Starbucks (I should just spend less, but that's so much easier said than done.)

· Knowing I’ve reached readers and made at least a few of them think about something in a new way

· Coloring outside the lines at will


· Cranking out cookie-cutter stories just so I can publish fast (I can pretend like this is about my standards, but the truth is, I couldn't write that fast even if I wanted to.)

Is that enough?

The real question is, are those things enough for me? I know many people will say that the writing should be its own reward. Believe me, I'd love to feel that way, but it's really never been the case for me. Maybe if I had a story in progress, it would be different, but right now, I have absolutely nothing in the works and no motivation to start anything new. And if that keeps up, I will need to give up and find a job.

(Which I really don't want to do. I definitely like being my own boss! 😁)

For now, I'm going to keep trying to expand my network. I'm going to keep waiting for a character or a story to show up in my head, demanding my time. I'm going to keep hoping this isn't the end of the line. But I have to admit... it's getting harder and harder to keep the faith. 😕

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Thanks for reading!

(Assuming that post didn't scare you away, I'm definitely interested in making some new writers friends! I'm now reading The Hero is You: Sharpen Your Focus, Conquer Your Demons, and Become the Writer You Were Born to Be. The author talks about how writers need allies — something I'm definitely missing at the moment. I really miss having other writers to talk to. Feel free to leave a comment or drop me an email.)