What does your idea of book success look like?

witanddelight.tumblr.comOne of the most challenging–but most helpful–things a writer can do before getting into the book business is deciding what success looks like to them.

This is a topic close to my heart because it’s all about being honest with yourself, making the most of your time and energy, and helping visualize where you want to be. For some people just getting a novel on paper is the whole point of writing. For others, it’s about getting an agent and that’s their first step of success. (Getting an agent means beating serious 1:2000 odds!) And I know some of you dream hard and won’t stop until you get your agent, editor submissions, publication offers, and book tour.

I’m a proponent of never stop dreaming. Only the ones who stick to their guns will have the gumption and strength to make it in this crazy, creative, subjective business. I can rattle off all the cliché quotes and you can plaster them above your work desk, but only those who internalize them will have the tenacity to achieve their idea of success–whatever it is.

Agents are here for one type of success: traditional publishing, foreign and subsidiary rights, and consultation on other paths, like digital publishing. If your idea of success is 100% creative control, an agent isn’t for you.

If your idea of success is writing a memoir for your family as a keepsake, an agent isn’t for you.

If your idea of success is self-publishing to great acclaim, an agent can only help in certain ways. We can help you pick a publicity and marketing company to assist you, and sell foreign and film rights. But an agent is there for the long haul.

And if your idea of success is writing one book, an agent isn’t for you. We invest a lot of time and energy in clients and are looking for authors that want a career.

If your idea of success is having an agent negotiate a contract–and that’s it–what you want is a contracts consultant, not an agent.

Agents are here to help our clients achieve long-term print and digital publishing success. And what success means to me and my clients is great publishing contracts, working with amazing editors, financial stability through writing (which takes years!), subrights expansion with foreign sales, an honest relationship with me, social media proficiency, and looking into the future for all the great digital opportunities that arise.

I’m not saying one type of success is better than another, what I am saying is that agents are here for one type of success and it’s a collaborative one.

And because it’s MLK Day here’s one inspirational quote:

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” – MLK

Q: Writing isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. What does success look like to YOU?

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

16 thoughts on “What does your idea of book success look like?

  1. For me, success would be getting my YA fantasy novel completely written. I don’t expect to make a career out of it; that’s why I’ve been slacking, I suppose. I just graduated with a degree in digital art and graphic design, so I wouldn’t know where to begin if I wanted to seriously pursue writing. I’d probably do a better job at designing cover art for books, but I write regardless because it is a fun hobby and I have a good story to share. If I were to publish, it’d probably be an e-book.

    What’s your take on self-publishing and digital formats? Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing sounds good, though I probably shouldn’t count my chickens before they hatch! ;)


    1. As long as you’re honest with yourself! That way you make the most of your time.

      You can self publish through both KDP and Smashwords and those will cover all your bases. Good luck!


  2. Fantastic post!
    My idea of success is having a book club discuss my future books. Years ago I had an image of a group of women all holding my book, discussing the symbolism, and debating the motivation behind certain characters. I’ve wanted that to happen ever since I imagined it.
    I view a writer as successful when he or she can bring people together and stir up conversation. I know that I writer has to provide the content, but it takes many more hard-working people to get that content out into the world.


  3. Yay, Tracy. I’ve been there, and it is a little scary when you visit the discussion, but really helpful to see how readers look at you. Authors can get wrapped up in other authors and forget the real goal of writers: to be read (by people who aren’t related to you by blood or love). My goal is to seek representation who believes I have what it takes to be noticed by a major publisher–help along the way for sure, a cheerleader to keep me polishing the craft, and advice cemented in reality. I started out ten years ago with an article in a major writing journal, followed by a big-ish contract for a novel series, but I had no idea then how to capitalize on those achievements and less than dedicated advice. I write full-time as a job–but that’s not putting fresh words on paper for myself–it’s often helping others and getting paid for it.


  4. I just want people to read my books.
    As far as money goes, I’d like to survive, but I’d rather have one person read and really enjoy my work than have a million dollars.


  5. My idea of book success is to have my novel in the hands of high schoolers fifty years from now as they moan and groan about reading things on ~gasp!~ paper.


  6. I loved this post!

    Book success for me has always meant having an agent and a publisher. I would be too scared for the success of my book without an agent. Having someone work with me, who believes in my work as much as I do would be a great comfort to me as a writer.


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