The illusion of success is that it came overnight. It’s easy to understand why. Who doesn’t like to think that one great idea, or one focused effort, can make our dreams come true? As a culture, we glorify the rags to riches story. We celebrate athletes, businesses, and stars that seem to come out of nowhere and take the world by storm. But while these cases arise, the prevalent success story comes from grit, endurance, and a desire to develop.
One of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, once told a story on his Masterclass session about a timeworn work that still lives in his attic to this day. He described how he dusted off the manuscript one day, read it, and then shoved it back into the attic where it belonged. Gaiman implicated that the book left a lot to be desired, but reading it again gave him peace of mind. It helped him realize that his voice was there, but his craft still needed work. He gathered the tenacity and withstood, growing with each published project, which would accumulate into his vast extension of accomplishments that today makes him a world esteemed storyteller.
Writers live off of the hunger that our next work is going to be the big one. If you want to survive in the publishing market, that’s the attitude you need to have. However, like a set of ascending stairs, each project, if it gains an ameliorated quality, brings you closer to your aspirations. Set goals, expectations, and add a bit of a dream to the equation, and your next title will be a success whether it upgrades you to a larger publisher, gets you that agent you’ve been drooling over, or it turns into a New York Times Best Seller. Still don’t believe me? Just look at these stats.
According to a study by writer, Joseph Epstein, 81% of Americans feel they have a book in them and should write it. That’s 200 million aspiring authors. 97% of people who write never finish their book. So, for every thousand people, thirty complete the task. Then there’s the demanding job of being published. A report taken from Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Surveys states that of those survivors who wrote a book, only 13.4% earn a traditional publishing contract. Even after that, according to Quora Digest, the odds of being able to make a living as a writer are 1 in 10,000, but that likely means you’re also writing as a journalist, freelancer, etc., besides books. If you want to become a household name, at least in your genre, odds of that happening are 1 in 100,000.
Given these proximate numbers, it’s clear that defying the odds and transforming into a success overnight, no matter how good your work might be, is unlikely. An author might set themselves up for failure by placing all their hopes on one work. Rather, they should feel assured knowing they're determined to push forward with a new marvelous project, inching towards the top with every improved manuscript. The more monumental projects you put out into the world, the stronger the odds grow. After all, the illusion of success is that it comes overnight, but it’s the plural form of the word “overnight” that gets a writer where they want to go in their career.