Do you feel under pressure to strive for bestseller status? Is the endless competition draining your creative reserves and sapping the joy out of your writing? Don't worry, it doesn't have to be this way. Nor do you consign yourself to hobbyist status if you don't reach for the top. Becoming a mid-list author is something to be proud of.
Retired psychotherapist/college professor Kassandra Lamb, now an indie author of mystery novels, explains why she's happy to set her sights on a lesser but more realistic goal: to be a successful mid-list author, in a discussion of the nature of success and the pressures of a competitive culture.
I’m working on my fourth career in my lifespan – that of a fiction author. I love being a writer, but I also loved many aspects of my other careers. I have few regrets, and none regarding what I consider to be my “main” career, that of psychotherapist.
Striving for Success in a Competitive World
I spent twenty years listening to a lot of people talk about how their middle-of-the-road dreams had gone awry, often due to circumstances that were not completely within their control.
Their stories gave me a real appreciation for how it is okay to aspire for moderate success, for a goal that meets one’s needs, whatever they may be, without necessarily bringing one fame and fortune.
The United States, where I live, is a competitive society. We are taught that we should aspire to being the best we can be, to win prizes for being the best at what we do. Why?
I consider my career as a therapist a huge success, even though the profession doesn’t pay all that well, and I was never a “big” name in the field. But I helped most of the people who walked through my office door. In a fair number of cases, I helped turn their lives around. And in a few, I saved their lives.
My Writing Dreams
But I’d always dreamed of writing fiction. I loved to write. As a college professor (my third career), I even enjoyed writing tests! I had plucked away at a novel – about a psychotherapist, of course – during most of those years while I was pursuing other careers.
And then I retired and finally had the time to pursue my writing in earnest. When I finished the novel that I’d been writing for years, I suffered from a common ailment of new writers: the write-it-and-they-will-buy-it syndrome.
I imagined that readers would scarf up my new gem by the droves. But I wasn’t dreaming of huge profits or the New York Times bestseller list.
I was imagining hundreds of people READING my book.
Perhaps my retired status gives me the luxury of not caring so much about how big my profits are. But I just can’t get all that excited about things like rankings or bestseller lists or writing awards.
I Can See Clearly Now…
In retrospect, I can see my goals more clearly than I did at the time when I published that first book. Here they are, in order of importance:
- I wanted to experience the joy of having people read my work and tell me they were moved by it.
- I wanted my characters to come to life for readers who cared about them.
- I wanted the recognition that I was a good writer (not necessarily great, but good enough to entertain people with my stories).
- It would be nice to have some extra money from my writing.
Does this make me a hobbyist writer? No.
Writing as My Fourth Career
I take my writing business seriously. It is truly my fourth career. I work almost every day on business-related tasks and/or writing.
What I’m getting at here is that it is okay to have modest goals. We don’t all have to aim for the top of the heap. There isn’t room for all of us up there anyway!
Back when I was a psychotherapist wishing I had more time for writing, I never truly believed I would be where I am today – a successful mid-list author whose writing provides a satisfying supplement to my retirement income.
But here I am, fat and happy in the middle of the pile of fellow writers.
So what do you think? Do we all have to strive to be the best?#Indieauthors - does the pressure to strive for bestseller status grind you down? Let @KassandraLamb reassure & inspire you with permission to be content with less extreme goals. Click To Tweet
OTHER HELPFUL POSTS ABOUT AMBITION
From the ALLi Author Advice Center Archive
Love this approach to a writing career. In our marketing-based society we are bombarded by promises of being a bestseller if we only do X. And of course, there are people who charge to teach us how to do X. I know hundreds of writers who keep taking class after class, looking for the final answer for how to make their book a bestseller.
Like you, writing is my 4th career. I started in counseling. Left for computer science when the money wasn’t enough. Returned to counseling when the money didn’t make me happy. Went back to school for a doctorate. Then joined academia for 15 years. I’ve always loved writing and had published off and on during those other careers, but I never believed it would be steady or enough income for me to raise children, get them through college, pay hospital bills, etc.
When I left academia eight years ago, I did have dreams of bestsellerdom. I had a five year plan of building a following, writing enough books to have a good backlist (I was thinking 8 books then), and then magically I would hit a list. After all, I’d never failed at anything I tried.
Here’s the crux of it, my dreams were not my goals. My goals were to build up a following of readers who liked my books and would want more. Readers who liked my themes, my voice, my character arcs. And I wanted to write enough books so that I could make enough money to keep a roof over my head, food on the table, and my husband and I could take a trip east to visit the grandchildren at least once per year.
Three out of the past five years, I met my goals. I’m still working on that being every year, and I have a couple of new goals that relate to writing income that I’m working on to make sure the ups and downs of sales are buffered and therefore more consistent. I don’t consider myself a failure at all. Rather someone who continues to learn and get better every year with the business side of writing.
I have not met my dreams and, honestly, I may never hit a list. But I’m good with that. As I’ve learned more about what “hitting a list” really means I’ve decided that’s not a good dream for me because it’s likely not within the level of control I’m willing to wield over my career. I’ve also learned that hitting a list is not a measure of how many readers love my writing and will come back for more, and its not a measure of income except for a brief period of time (a day or a week or a month). Hitting a list doesn’t guarantee anything for the future. I’ve meet hundreds of writers who have never hit a list yet make a very good income–one that is significantly more than mine.
About three years ago, my dreams and goals became aligned. That is to continue to enjoy the writing, to be open to learning and flexible to change when needed, to continue to become a better business woman, and to be grateful for every reader who finds something worthwhile in my books. Since aligning my goals and dreams my writing life has been much less stressful and more joyful.
Your article and advice are wonderful, and well-timed. Publishing has become a crowded place, which I’m hearing many authors find discouraging. However, there are many of us thriving in the mid-lists, and happy to be here. I will add, I’m indie pubbed, and love the freedom to move quickly, make my own decisions and take most of the profits from my books.
Writing is also my second career, after working as a teacher/librarian. I never, ever wanted to be a small business owner, but here I am… my love of writing pushed me to accept the challenges of over-seeing promotion, formatting, and hiring cover artists and editors. I still don’t love all the facets of owning a business, but they are worth it.
My dream used to be seeing my books on the racks at the local big-box stores. But since I have no desire to apply to be trad pubbed… I’ve given that dream up. And honestly, I don’t miss it anymore. Just wasn’t worth the costs.
I’m sorry but the phrase “mid-list” is new to me. What does that mean? Thanks