You can find my novels in many places—libraries, classrooms, bookstores, awards rosters. But one place you’ll never find them is on a bestseller list. I used to think that was a problem. I used to think success meant Amazon rankings, that sales numbers were directly related to literary merit. This mindset generated more than a little anxiety for me, which, in turn, impaired my productivity. How could the creative juices flow on my next project when I was worried about the sales numbers on my current publication?
Eventually, I understood the fallacy of my thinking. I’d been defining success improperly—for myself, anyway. Just because Hollywood wasn’t calling for the movie rights, I realized, didn’t mean my books weren’t successful in truly important respects.
So I expanded my definition of success in a way that stimulates a more fertile mindset. A mindset where I give myself the freedom, the personal permission, to write from the heart and feel good about it, bestseller list or not.
What does writing from the heart look like? Take my newest book, Ripped Away (Regal House Publishing, Feb. 8, 2022). This novel is based on true, lesser-known events that took place in a specific time and place—London during the Jack the Ripper spree. When I learned about these real events, though, I saw more than an historical event. I saw a broader theme, one with urgent contemporary relevance: tolerance (and its flipside, bigotry). Once I made the connection between then and now, between them and us, writing the story became a labor of passion, of making universal connections. Ripped Away was great fun to write, but it was more than that too. It was also deeply satisfying and personally significant.
Here is my new definition of writerly success. Aside from the sales reports, I am succeeding if:
- I’m writing meaningful and entertaining stories for young readers.
- I’m enjoying my work—writing with enthusiasm and honing my craft.
- My daughters see me working hard in pursuit of my goals.
- I’m getting positive reviews and other literary recognition.
- People are engaging with me in-person and through social media platforms.
I encourage other writers to develop a kinder, gentler definition of success. The way I see it, if we’re going to do the hard work of writing, and if our sales figures aren’t going to soar as dizzyingly high as we’d fantasized, we should do whatever we can to keep ourselves motivated, creative and sane.
Shirley Reva Vernick is the award-winning author of five novels for young readers. A graduate of Cornell University and an alumna of the Radcliffe Writing Seminars, she is committed to creating stories that inspire hope, tolerance, and a love of reading. Shirley also mentors incarcerated individuals with their writing via the Prisoner Express program. Please visit her at www.shirleyrevavernick.com.