Cometary Tales Blog,Craft Success as an author?

Success as an author?

Depends what you mean by “success”

One of my writing groups (the one that isn’t a critique circle) has set a blog-post prompt of “How do you measure success as an author?”
We’re supposed to introspect, come up with wise words to inspire and console others. I don’t know about y’all, but the past two years have been a low-rising roller coaster, beginning with a brief burst of elation that my first book (my “debut” if you want to get precious about it) was coming out.

WIte, red, and blue award ribbons from a fair

Only then we had a little bit of a pandemic to deal with.

And now it’s two years later.

All That Was Asked has never had a book-launch party (it slightly predates online launch parties), a signing session, a reading at a convention—none of those things. Not uncoincidentally, it hasn’t made much dough for me or for my publisher. At least the print copies are mostly print-on-demand, so no one’s staring at a warehouse full of unsold copies and calling a shredding company.

But is selling a ton of books a success? To stay sane in this business, I think you have to measure success more on the basis of what you are doing than what you have done. If you’re making oodles of money in the publishing industry, that’s mostly a matter of luck, so is that success? I’d call it good fortune. It’s very much a lottery. I’ve read absolutely stunning work in critique circles, listened to mind-blowing readings by little-known writers, and I’ve even had people tell me after a reading “wow, that was awesome!”

What makes sense is to measure how this work—writing—impacts your life. Is this what you live for? Not in a rosy-eyed, dreamy way, not “I luv writing <3” but “writing is what drags me out of everything else” and “writing is my food, drink, and sleep” and “writing is how I exist in this universe.”

What I’m doing right now is working on projects that I’ve wanted to tackle for years—no, decades—but never could due to the vicissitudes of child-rearing, day-job workload, personal upheavals, and disability.  I’m not whining. These are just facts. I chose to raise kids, and it was satisfying work (and, yes, frustrating, too, but in all the right ways). However, doing the best job possible involved more than dropping them off at our barely-adequate schools. It meant advocating for them, fighting an uncaring administrative system, volunteering, fundraising, and, as a last-resort, homeschooling. At least in the pandemic age, there are more parents out there who understand that homeschooling—at least not ideally—isn’t a romp in the garden, it’s serious work. And, like most of us, for me that was work that had to take place in parallel with earning a living.

So right now, I’m successful. Every morning (afternoon?) I wake up, and there’s writing to do.

  • This kind of writing, which is off-the-cuff, barely edited, and hurled into the interweb’s event horizon, never to be seen by human eyes.
  • Critical writing, where I’m critiquing work by fellow writers, trying to help them make their stories the best they can be. 
  • Social-media writing—mostly Twitter—where I practice being concise, kind, and thoughtful.
  • And, finally, yes, writing my own stories, the ones I’ve been wanting to read.

What I’ve been looking for—and yes, I’ve found some, but far too few—are stories led by characters who have trouble communicating, who don’t fit in, who think differently than others but find a way through life anyhow. I’m tired of hero’s-journey stories and chosen-one tales that take themselves too seriously. I don’t mind playing with the tropes. For instance, one of my WIPs has a seeming “chosen one” in it, but the whole thing is a crock, a scheme worked up by a person who’s trying to change society and is using an old myth to get buy-in. Not that the “chosen” person isn’t worthy, but there’s no magic in the process—they’re carefully selected for capability and then trained for the job.

I’m not writing to market. I admit that. So I can’t complain about sales, not too much. It may take time for people like me to find the stories I’m writing for them. That’s OK. I waited a long time. A little longer—I can deal.

Well, I’m trying to, anyhow.

In the meantime, I’m keeping on. For me, that writers learned to use remote meetings to connect for critiques, discuss craft, conduct conventions, and more has been a compensatory gain during the pandemic. It’s not a benefit of this horrible time; it’s a thing we could should have been doing all along, and only just now learned to value. When the pandemic’s over, we’ll keep connected this way. That’s a good thing, but we don’t get to pretend it’s all right that millions of people died while those of us privileged to live were fumbling our way to this belated discovery.

I’ve leveraged that new learning, because I’m an engineer and tech things come naturally to me. I’ve let myself get roped into volunteering to help others less comfortable with the technology—and that’s OK, because participating with other writers helps me connect more deeply with my writing community.  I value the friendships I’ve formed with people I’ve only met in Zoom rooms. This is not a trivial feeling—I dedicated my Monday afternoons for half this past year to help a Zoom friend whose critique circle had lost their only zoom-capable member. That meant stepping aside from one of my other critique circles, one that needed me less. I’m returning to my prior group as of this month, because my friend’s old zoom-host has returned. I’ll miss the new friends I made in her circle, even though we only ever saw each other in little boxes on our computer screens.

Am I a failure because I had to defer my writing career? Looking back through my drawer of shelved and partly-done stories, one thing is strikingly clear—I was so young, so ignorant, so clueless. Much of what I’m writing now, I couldn’t have done when I was younger. In technique, I’m much better than my younger self; some of that gain I can attribute to years of writing science and engineering reports and papers, working collaboratively with colleagues on phrasing, structure, and word choice … plus coping with deadlines. Beyond the technique, older me is able to imagine more-complex characters, see worlds with more-different people in them. Through personal experience, I know most lives—most real stories—don’t have a “call to adventure” or a “supreme ordeal.” There’s no wise mentor waiting to guide us. We have to muddle through, try to survive in an irrational universe, and deal with the fact we’ll never quite make sense of it all.

Sure, I’m still learning. You have to keep learning. It’s the key to growth in every respect. Even there, though, I’m doing better, working actively to learn more of what I need to continue improving.

In my next posting, I’ll demonstrate my success by sharing a list of what I consider to be my 2021 accomplishments not only as a writer but also as a member of the writing community.

I’ll warn you right now: it’s a longer post.

You might also like to read:

Gravity & EnergyGravity & Energy

This category of the blog is dedicated to science & technology topics that I think may interest my fellow nerds.

(Note: Original post: 2012. A few updates were made during site reorganization in January, 2021.)

Tracking Movement In the Solar System

For starters, I’ll be posting in the blog regularly under Astronomy & Astrophysics. (In some of these older posts the category is tagged Pixel Gravity.)  To jump straight to those posts, visit the PG Archive–readily accessible in the menu.  For some time now, I’ve been running the social-media support for the program that made the picture you see here.  I’ve been posting about robots, space exploration, astronomy, big steps in physics, and so on.  Sometimes, the space available for a posting on Facebook is too restrictive.   So those kinds of discussions will move here.

What qualifies me to write about this stuff?  Well, I’ve admitted elsewhere that we are a family of hypernerds.  That’s not my term.  It was invented and applied by one of our charming (adult) offspring.  It’s not a misnomer As a family, we are 40% engineers and 60% scientists.

I’m a power systems engineer, which in my case means I’ve made a career out of simulating how power plants and electric and gas networks operate.

My husband is a computational physicist, specializing in solar physics.  Want to know what’s going on inside the sun?  He’s your guy.

Our youngest son is too busy for now, building catapults and robots on his way to a mechanical-engineering degree at UC Santa Barbara. (Update: graduated, with honors. Currently open to job offers.)

After two summer internships in NASA’s astrobiology group, our middle son is working on an honors thesis project on metabolic processes of microbes in deep serpentine wells, attracted by the prospect of doing biology fieldwork in extreme ecosystems right here on planet Earth. (Update: he’s now nearly done with his Ph.D.)

And the oldest escaped from UC Berkeley’s astrophysics program with a degree and a desire to never return to academia.  He built Pixel Gravity instead.

What’s “Pixel Gravity“?  It’s a detailed, graphical astrophysics simulator with real-time controls.  It looks sort of like a game, and it’s fun to play with, but it’s also a serious science tool  As an “n‑body” simulator, it lets users model complex groups of many objects, from the solar system to galaxies.  Most of the other easy-to-use programs available online limit the number of objects or lack physical accuracy, so (for example) relativistic effects on motion near a black hole are not handled properly, if at all.  University researchers have access to extremely-detailed models, but those require supercomputers.  Pixel Gravity provides accurate modeling on personal computers and is priced low so that even students can explore gravity in action.  In addition to Newtonian gravity, Pixel Gravity models the additional effects of atmospheric drag, general relativity, and dark-matter, as well as user-defined forces.  Plus, the software package includes helpful tools for curriculum development such as a tutorial-builder and video-production capability. (Update: Pixel Gravity is at present a retired product–contact us if you’d like a copy to play with.)

So, in short, the topics under this heading are just the kind of things we talk about at our house.  So if you come to dinner, you don’t need to bring a foodie specialty.  But you might scan the latest issue of Scientific American.

Oh, right, I’m on MastodonOh, right, I’m on Mastodon

Everybody’s making the move. Most of the people I’ve followed on Twitter have slowed down engagement. Some stick to it purely for promotions, so maybe it’ll become the book-promotion site. For those of us looking to connect with other writers, with readers, with people in the business or whose creativity overlaps with ours…Mastodon is the place to go.

I’m CometaryTales over there, like I am everywhere, because that just makes it easy, doesn’t it? I’m a member of two instances, wandering.shop and sfba, because one is for SFF people and one is for SF Bay Area folks and that lets me feel connected in two ways. But, mostly, I’m on hanging out on wandering.shop, where you’ll find me posting about the works in progress (WIPs), the upcoming books, things that happen to interest me, and my friends’ bookish stuff. C’mon over!

Here are a couple of useful resources to help you navigate the move: This one gives you all the basics if you’re an author moving to Mastodon (but, really, the advice applies to anyone). This one tells WordPress users how to do the fiddly bits of verifying your website connection, if you want to do that.

Awwwriiiight! Let’s go!

© 2012-2024 Vanessa MacLaren-Wray All Rights Reserved