In my interactions with writers and authors over time, one fact is clear: we have different definitions of what success looks like. For some, it’s having your work included on the New York Times or Amazon bestseller list. For others, it’s a multi-book deal with a traditional publishing house, plus a huge advance. For others, it’s having a ginormous social media following to generate book sales and become an influencer. For others, having your work adapted for the silver screen is the ticket. For me, as an African-American independent author, my personal definition of success is somewhat different.
As with many, writing is my passion. I write because I can’t not write. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I also love to read, and I was encouraged to do so by my father. As such, the public library was my second home. Unlimited stories were stacked on the shelves, waiting to be checked out with my library card. As a kid, it was typical for me to walk home with books up to my chin–and then proceed to read them all in my favorite “reading chair.”
As I grew older, I asked more questions, one in particular: where are the stories with characters who look like me? As a man of a certain age, these words from Toni Morrison come to mind: “If there is a story you want to read, and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must be the one to write it.” The late Black gay novelist E. Lynn Harris, whom I had the honor of meeting at his first book signing, said something similar in his appearances. This quote also resonates with the motivation for many BIPOC writers to become independent authors.
That being said, as one who loves the public library, seeing my body of work gracing its shelves is a mark of success. To date, six public library systems have my Christopher Family Novel series included in their collections, as well as the library of my alma mater. Success is having the people who were there for me at the beginning to share it with. Success is having a reader tell me, after reading my work, “I know someone like that,” be it a friend/relative/coworker, or “That happened to me.” Success is making a positive difference for somebody else, in supporting other authors. Success involves paying it forward. Success is both gratifying and humbling. And above all, I give God credit for my success, since He gave me this gift.
30+ years ago, the success I enjoy today was a dream. To the writers/authors out there, whatever your definition of success is, I wish you the best in achieving it.
Believe in dreams and never give up.