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Q & A What does Literary Success Look Like to You?

By C.V. Lee
February 16, 2024

Defining success can prove challenging! What one individual epitomizes as the ultimate achievement may hold no appeal to another. For example, someone may aspire to be a world-renowned doctor, while I try to avoid even stepping into a doctor’s office. But our own definition rarely remains static, it may change with the passage of time.

So when I pondered literary success, I wondered what it meant to me and realized that as each goalpost was met, my definition morphed.

I never even considered having literary goals until I read a very brief history of an amazing woman from the 15th century. I searched for books about her life and came up with nothing. How could I allow this incredible story to disappear in the annals of history? So initially, literary success meant actually writing and publishing a book that I could be proud of. That required a heap of research, not only about the time period and setting, but also how to write a book, develop characters, and story arcs. Just the beginning of a long list of what it takes to bring a book to market.

Once my first book, Token of Betrayal, was published, I anxiously awaited the reviews, hoping for some validation of my abilities as a writer, hoping that readers would appreciated my story and that my years of toiling over the manuscript had not been for naught. Now, I am looking for a wider readership, searching for that audience that will love my stories. Ultimately, that would fulfill my initial dream of not letting the stories of some amazing heroes and heroines of the past be forgotten.

Curious to know how others viewed literary success for themselves, I put the question to some of our lanterns.

Ana Brazil.

Historical mystery author of The Red-Hot Blues Chanteuse and Fanny Newcomb and the Irish Channel Ripper, Ana Brazil says:

“Surprisingly, my version of literary success looks the same before and after my cancer diagnoses.

“Before, success meant get accepted by a mid-sized publisher who enjoyed nurturing historical mystery writers. Success would be getting a three-book contract and partnering with my publishing team to edit, promote, and sell my trilogy. I imagined that with a publisher behind me I would find and hear from more readers who resonated with my ambitious, whole-hearted heroine Viola Vermillion.

“After my second cancer diagnosis, as I realized that my pursuit of small publishers would take months, possibly years, I decided to self-publish THE RED-HOT BLUES CHANTEUSE. I hired an editor and a book producer and paid for the Kirkus Review; I managed the promotion. It was an entirely different path to publication, but oddly enough, literary success still looked the same: hearing from readers who resonated with my heroine and her fellow characters.

“The ultimate literary success is to hear from readers I don’t know who, totally unprompted by anyone I do know, let me know that they enjoyed reading what I wrote.”

Jonathan Posner.

Jonathan, who writes historical adventure series set in the Tudor era, including the Witchfinder’s Well and the Mary Fox Adventures series, has a slightly different take:

“As a self-published author, I’m realistic enough to know I am unlikely to hit the top of the New York Times bestseller list (but hey—I can dream…). And while volume sales are financially desirable, it’s not really quantity that motivates me. It’s quality. And that means getting positive reviews; ones that validate my abilities as a writer. Reviews that show how I have been able to engage a reader and provide them with a few hours of real enjoyment. Reviews like the one I got on Goodreads for The Lawyer’s Legacy that began, ‘Jonathan Posner won my heart with this tale of intrigue… ‘ That’s what literary success means to me—and whenever I get that kind of feedback, it makes me feel ten feet tall!”

Jillianne Hamilton.

Romance author of The Spirited Mrs. Pringle and her new Homefront Hearts series, a trilogy of World War II romance novels, states:

“Success in the literary world, for me personally, would be writing entertaining novels that readers love while being able to make it my full-time career instead of having to limit it to evenings and weekends.

“Hearing from readers that one of my books made them laugh is the best feeling in the world. When a reader says they were rooting for a couple and were delighted with the happy ending, it fills my heart to the brim. I enjoy my day job, but being able to have more time to write so I could publish books quicker would be a dream come true.”

Anne Beggs

Set in medieval Ireland, author Anne Beggs has a special challenge for her readers that comes through loud and clear in Book One, Archer’s Grace.

“What does literary success look like to me? The loftiest visions of success would be best sellers’ lists (NYT, Wash. Post…), Oprah or Reese Witherspoon Book Clubs, or the NEXT big virtual Book Club, Miniseries options, books in libraries, and my books still being read and relevant decades from now.

“As I build my literary network, I remember why I write. I want to share my love of horses, my medieval fetish and love of history. How lovely for readers to take those riding lessons, pick up a bow and arrows, just get up and go…especially to the bookstore to buy more of my books. Hahaha, and leave a review, please.

“Writers want readers to look at the world from a different perspective, to consider the lost or hidden voices and what those lives reveal. Even greater success would be for my readers to find their inner hero. Don’t wait to be saved. Then help others find their inner hero.

“And of course, literary success would be my books still being read and relevant decades from now.”

And now reader, if you are an author or a writer, tell me, what does literary success mean to you?

C.V. Lee

Written by C.V. Lee

C.V. Lee writes historical biographical fiction featuring forgotten heroes and heroines of the past. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Alli, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can find her on Facebook @cvlee.histficwriter and on Instagram @cvleewriter.

View CV’s PLW Profile

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