What Is Success?


My friend John Anealio made a pretty dramatic announcement on his blog yesterday:

I’ve been plugging away at this particular phase of my artistic life for about 7 years now. I’ve spent the majority of this time trying to write good songs and to get people to listen to them.

Songs like George R.R. Martin Is Not Your Bitch, The Millennium Falcon For Christmas, Summer Glau & Steampunk Girl found niche audiences and helped me to obtain whatever notoriety that I have. It’s been great. Those songs are the reason that I’m able to communicate with you right now, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

But there’s a dark side…

For every song that got a lot of attention, for every write-up on Tor.com or io9, for every opportunity to open for Paul & Storm and Molly Lewis, it left me wanting more. It left me feeling like I deserved more. That’s a dark place to be.

Those of you out there who create stories, music, art, films, games, whatever — can any of you honestly say you’ve never felt the way John has? Show of hands? Yeah. Me neither. John’s chosen a way to deal with it:

So, after months of consideration, I’ve come to a conclusion:

I’m quitting.

Let me clarify. I’m not going to stop composing and performing music. I’m quitting the race. I’m getting off the nerd music ladder. I just don’t want to be in that head space anymore.

Let me just say that I’m thrilled that John isn’t quitting music; he’s just giving up the pursuit of the Holy Grail of fame and fortune. I’ve posted a few of John’s songs on this blog. Check them out and decide for yourself the quality of his work. Hell, just listen to Empire State. The guy’s amazing.

His post has made me think about the meaning of success. What does it mean for me? Is it a traditional publishing contract? Seeing one of my books on the shelf at Barnes & Noble? Commercial success, large enough so that it will fund my retirement? Celebrity status? Enough royalties to cover the down payment on my next car?

I really have no idea. I’ve never thought I could support myself just writing, and my track record to date has proven me correct. But I have dreams like everyone else, and I guess my dream is a traditional publishing deal. I’ve been submitting And Ghosts Return to agents for that very purpose. I don’t know if that’ll happen, but it’s what I’m aiming for.

Maybe someday I’ll end up in the mental place where John is now. I greatly respect his conclusion and his decision to go public with his feelings. Not an easy thing to do.

What does success mean to you? Should we be striving for recognition from the Big Six publishers? Are there too many of us chasing too few seats at the big table? What are other ways to define success? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments. And while you’re at it, drop by John’s blog and join the conversation there.

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2 Responses to What Is Success?

  1. It’s an interesting place to be. I’ve been there as well. Back in the 80’s my dream was to be a professional songwriter. I spent 5 hours almost every evening playing my piano and writing my songs and sending them in to publishers and some some contests. I heard from some who said “I don’t hear a hit” to “we don’t accept unsolicited music” and the best thing that ever happened was that I had one song make it into the top 600 of a music competition.

    I gave up music and moved into a different genre, where monetary success might not be there but I have more people paying attention to me via my writing, and I’ll take that and run with it for now.

  2. Tim Dodge says:

    I like this. Success to you meant reaching people, not necessarily fame and fortune as a songwriter, and you’ve achieved it. Well done.

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