Writers in the World: Learning to Measure Success

bk_turnleft webI got great news recently: my book Turn Left at the Cow is a Nebraska Golden Sower Award nominee. That means that thousands of students across the state of Nebraska will have the chance to read my story (along with other nominees) and vote for their favorite. The nomination represents an especially exciting possibility for me because the ultimate award honors books that children themselves have chosen as their best-loved. To me, this is the highest kind of honor!

I didn’t always recognize that truth about myself. There was a moment, early in my writing career, when I grew discouraged because my then-newest book had received a critical review in one of the professional journals. I couldn’t get that bad review out of my head. I began to see the book, and by extension, myself as a writer, as a failure.

Not Enough Beds!And then one day I was at a bookstore event, and a reader came up to me with an armload of that same book. “I love this!” she exclaimed. “I’m buying one for every family on my Christmas list!” I looked at that big stack of books and realized that there was more than one way to measure success.

Sure, there are a few authors that are successful based on pretty much any measurement you can think of. But there are many others that are only successful if you are evaluating them by the right yardstick. Is making big money what qualifies as author success? Well, there are authors who are paid huge advances for books that go on to be critical flops. Is winning the major book awards the real measure of an author’s worth? There are some top award-winning titles that leave educators scratching their heads and saying, “No real kid would love this book! It won because it’s the kind of thing grownups WISH that kids would love!”

Fortunately, that enthusiastic bookstore buyer helped me recognize at that early point in my career that the biggest success I could imagine was to know that readers themselves—particularly children—were falling in love with my books. So whenever I get a bad review, or when my latest royalty check isn’t enough to buy even a fancy coffee, I remind myself of the moments in my career when I’ve gotten proof that young readers love what I’ve written.

If you haven’t yet done it, spend some time considering this question: How do I choose to define what success as a writer looks like for me?

And then pop over to this YouTube book report, where young reader Charlie Fleming gives Turn Left at the Cow a whopping “14” (on a scale of 1-10). I think seeing Charlie’s review is all the information you’ll need to understand what keeps ME writing on even the bad-review days!

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About Lisa Bullard

children's book writer, book promoter, writing teacher, writer in the schools, mentor, author of Get Started in Writing for Children
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