Wow, that’s a challenging question, and one with many answers that have shifted over time.
When I first started writing, my goal was to publish commercial fiction. I started writing decades before I published anything, working on novels and short stories. Thankfully, they never saw the light of day! I attended workshops and conferences, and joined writers’ groups. I wanted to learn about the business of publishing, as well as how to improve my fiction writing skills. I read and read and read. When attending a workshop in 2006, I came up with the idea for mystery, using the themes in the book I’d been working on (families, adoption, relationships).
With this kernel of an idea, I felt that I’d surpassed a hurdle. I thought I had something that people might actually want to read! A character and a compelling social topic. Most importantly, my idea was within my grasp as a writer. I felt I could be successful.
I went to work, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter. It took years. When I had my first draft, I felt successful. When I received comments from early readers and my writing coach, I felt like I was on the right track. And, when Due Date was accepted by a publisher and published in 2012, I felt like I’d reached my goals.
But my goals for success then shifted. I decided that if at least one person I didn’t know read my book, I’d consider that a success. (Of course, it would be all the better if they liked it.) After that happened, I decided that if ten or twenty people I didn’t know read it, I’d consider that a success. And now, almost seven years after the first edition of Due Date was published, I feel like the book has been a success. I have a lovely number of happy readers on Amazon and Goodreads. I can’t help but get a lift when I think of that.
Now, my measure of success is a bit different. Naturally, I want readers to discover the Shelby McDougall series and enjoy the books. But I also want readers to think about the cultural and social issues I raise in the books. I hope that the issues are so compelling that it will get readers thinking — enough so that readers will spread the word and talk about these issues with their friends, in their book clubs, on Goodreads and Amazon, and over dinner and cups of coffee.
Who knows though? By the time the third book in the series is available, my measure of success may have shifted yet again! At that point, I’ll have to check back in!