[The Biz] Measuring Career Success As A Writer (Part 1)
3 mental models to quantify your financial success as a writer.
So, you want to be a writer?
I have had this book idea for a while now.
(In a Notes folder on my iPhone right next 437 other ideas. Fun fact: DP stands for Different Publishing—the name of my Personal Publishing Company. You might have noticed the logo on the spine of my new book, The Art & Business of Ghostwriting.)
The idea for this book in particular came several years ago, at a height of frustration in my own writing career.
I had quit my job in advertising and decided to “take the leap” to work for myself full time. I had just published my first book, a memoir called Confessions of a Teenage Gamer (which, very surprisingly, did not make me millions of dollars and grant me worldwide fame overnight). I had fallen into the world of ghostwriting and started building a stable of clients. And then, all of a sudden, I had started scaling my ghostwriting service into an agency—leaving me very little time to work on my own writing.
All of this happened within a span of 10 months, which caused a sort of existential crisis. My definition for “becoming a successful writer” had blossomed from being solely defined as “someone who writes books” to suddenly someone who made money in all sorts of different ways, through all different sorts of writing.
“Am I a successful writer ONLY if I earn 100% of my income from writing & selling books?”
“Am I a successful writer if I earn 100% of my income as a ghostwriter? Are ghostwriters real writers?”
“Am I a successful writer if I earn 100% of my income as an agency owner who employs ghostwriters & editors, but whom I train, manage, and oversee? Am I technically a writer if I’m guiding the strategy of the writing, but not writing all of the words all of the time?”
“Am I a successful writer if I earn a bit of income from books, and a bit of income from ghostwriting, and a bit of income from one or several of my businesses?”
It’s a funny question when you think about it:
What does it mean, really, to be a successful writer? And how do we objectively define it?
Here’s the mental model I’ve landed on:
Why Measuring Career Success By Money Alone Is Flawed ($$$)
Financial success isn't something that gets measured in a vacuum.
It has to be measured in the context of something else.
Financial success relative to Industry.
Financial success relative to Vehicle.
Financial success relative to Time.
When someone says, “I want to be a successful writer,” they aren’t actually saying what “success” means—and if you ask them to define it, chances are, they can’t. (As we’ve talked about: Specificity Is The Secret.)
In my opinion, the reason for this—not just for writers, but professionals in every industry—is because defining success means making hard choices: “I care about this; I don’t care about that.” Making hard choices requires being specific about what you value and don’t value. And being specific about what you value means making the goal Tangible. Something that is Tangible is obtainable, and if something is obtainable then the only variable left is your own execution risk (your ability to do the work required to get there)—which means owning the responsibility and control you have over your life.
OR… second option: forgo responsibility, make the goal Intangible (“I want to become successful!”), and never know exactly what you’re striving for so that when you fail, you can chalk the failure up to circumstance: “I guess it just wasn’t in my cards.”
Which is why, if you truly want to become successful (at anything), you must first start by defining how you define success in the first place.
And, financially speaking, all “earnings” are not created equal.
Earnings are always relative.
1. Financial success relative to Industry.
Joshua Bell is (was?) the most well-known violinist in the world. And in 2012 it's estimated he made $1.2M/yr.
In the context of the violin industry, that's incredible.
In the context of the tech industry, it's mediocre.
When someone says, “I want to become successful,” they almost always are talking about either Money or Fame (or some combination of both). But both Money and Fame are inextricably linked to the industry you are playing within.
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