What does kidlit career success look like to you? The first question I ask students when we start a new book publishing project at Society of Young Inklings is: What will make you feel like a published author?

At first, they might tilt their head in confusion, or they might grin and say, “When I sell a million books!”

Then, when we dig deeper, we find that they might hope for:

  • Seeing a reader with their nose buried deep in the book
  • Giving a book talk at their favorite bookstore — with readers in the crowd asking genuine questions
  • Reading a real (and positive) review from someone other than their mom or best friend

Over time, I’ve learned many lessons from these conversations, lessons that I’ve taken to heart with regard to my own writing career.

Here are three reasons to paint a clear picture for yourself of kidlit career success:

1. A vague definition of success leads to dissatisfaction.

When we set out to achieve a goal, a misty idea of “I don’t know what I want, all the good things,” can lift our hearts and spark our imaginations. As the prism of possibilities shifts into shape after shape, excitement shivers through us. Ooh, and maybe this might happen. Or maybe that …

Later on, that same openness leads us to say, “Yeah, that happened, but what about …” The minute we cross one finish line, we dismiss it because we’re now focused on the next. Or, we obsess over one beyond-our-control goal—say, winning the Newbery, and instead of taking action, we wait and wish and ultimately, give in to discouragement. Who did I think I was, anyway?

2. Clear goals, within our control, focus our efforts (and the efforts of our supporters).

When we know that success might look like giving a book talk at our favorite bookstore, we can then identify the challenges between where we are now, and where we want to end up. Maybe we need to practice answering questions on the fly, or we need to network to find someone who knows the bookstore owner.

Also, when people ask us how they can help, our answers are more specific. Maybe we’d appreciate our friends and family ordering the book in that particular bookstore, so that our title is top-of-mind when we follow up with our ask. Perhaps we’d prefer that they put their energy toward saving the date for our event, and inviting a friend.

3. Success feels more meaningful in small, relational moments, rather than in pie-in-the-sky impersonal wins.

What will it feel like when your 10,000th book sells? Will you even know it happened? How about receiving a fan letter from a reader who was so inspired by your book that they started writing their own? Or, what if your writing mentor reaches out, completely out of the blue, to tell you how much they loved your book and how proud they are of you?

Sales goals, winning a big award, or landing a movie deal, may seem like meaningful goals. However, in my day-to-day experience, letters from readers and feedback from people I admire have a bigger impact on my overall happiness and motivation to keep writing.

Here’s what dreaming and then achieving a specific success looks like:

At a recent kidlit night out, I found myself beaming as I told my author friends, “Society of Young Inklings is collaborating on a contest with Stone Soup!”

I’ve loved Stone Soup magazine since I was a young girl. For me, designing video lessons and teaching on camera to help youth put their best foot forward when entering a big-deal writing contest is exactly what success looks like. In fact, about ten years ago I wrote my dreams, defining what success as a kidlit author and as founder of Society of Young Inklings might look like. Working with Stone Soup was high on the list.

What does kidlit career success look like for you?

Try this. List all your dream scenarios, even the one about sailing away on a yacht and never working another day in your life. It won’t take much more than a scratch beneath the surface to get to the substantial dreams, the ones that truly light you up. You may even realize that you’ve been measuring your success against a goal that isn’t your heart’s desire. I mean, if you could sail away on that yacht, how long would you sleep and sunbathe before becoming a little restless? At what point might you start dreaming up your next novel?

Inspire us! Share items on your success bucket list, because you know your ideas will spark all of our creativity and resourcefulness. You never know, by putting it out there in the world for all to see, you may just take the next leap toward that dream.

In any case, if you share tag me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram so I can support you and cheer you on.

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