What is Success?

Novelist Martha O’Connor, author of the terrific novel BITCH POSSE,  is musing about the meaning of success.  Here are some excerpts from Martha’s post:

I’ve been having some interesting discussions with other writers on the issue: what is success? Some see success as selling a bunch of copies of one’s book, and producing a book a year. Some see success as something less quantifiable—a personal best, if you will, an art-for-art’s sake kind of endeavor.

view is this: If a writer who consistently remains on bestseller lists
is automatically a better writer than one who doesn’t, then that means
Dan Brown is a better writer than Marilynne Robinson. In which case, I have to drink bleach.

If quality is all about monetary success, then Britney Spears is a musical genius. If success=money, then Coldplay is actually the best band in the world right now.  GUH.

Think of it this way, if artistry were reflected by sales then McDonald’s would be the VERY BEST RESTAURANT in the world. Who needs filet mignon or lobster bisque when you can have a flippin’ QUARTER POUNDER?


10 thoughts on “What is Success?”

  1. If you read the rest of O’Connor’s post, she casually mentions that she didn’t even bother reading the Da Vinci Code (she didn’t even make it past the first chapter, which is what, three pages long?).
    Dan Brown doesn’t need much defending, but I personally get tired of smug literati types who bash popular writers without reading them. And before Dan Brown, the same types of people said the same types of things about John Grisham, Stephen King, Mickey Spillane, etc.

  2. That’s why she wrote the blog entry—we were having a debate on http://www.bksp.org.
    People can bash McDonalds. Everyone has an opinion. But if you’re buying stock, whose stock are you buying?
    Publishers are the investors. They want the universal appeal of McDonald’s, not exclusive haute cuisene places that appeal to a miniscule demographic.

  3. I don’t know if “success” is the right word. There is no question that Dan Brown is successful. Wildly, unbelievably, astronomincally successful. But because THE DAVINCI CODE is a financial and popular success, does that mean it’s a well-written book? Does it mean, as a piece of literature, it’s better than a lesser-selling novel like, say, Thomas Perry’s BUTCHER’S BOY? McDonalds may be more successful than, say, the Habit, but does that mean their food tastes better and is healthier for you?
    If a porn movie out-sells a main-stream film, does that mean the porn movie is better? Those are the real questions, I think, at the heart of Martha’s argument.

  4. Oh for goodness sakes, not this old debate again. Don’t you people have better books to write? Here’s a thought: there’s a place in this world for both types of books and both types of food. You work on your specialty and leave others to do theirs in peace.

  5. I had a back and forth conversation with a Conservative Talk Show host about the “failure” of Brokeback Mountain. His stance was that, because the film didn’t manage to make 100 million at the box office, it was a flop. I countered that it was 14 million dollar movie, so it made a HUGE profit with its 80 or so million. He compared it to the remake of King Kong, which did 200+ million. I countered that the remake of King Kong is considered a disappointment and needed to gross in excess of 600 million to turn a domestic profit. Also, how can movies like the remake of Dawn of the Dead be considered a hit, costing a tad more than Brokeback and making about the same amount of cash. Profit=success.
    As far as the other level of arguement. Financial success does not equal artisitc success. Many “great” writers did not see success in their lifetimes. Others were dismissed and were not accepted into the “literary fold” until well after their deaths. (Charles Dickens, for example.)
    It’s just a grey (or is that gray?) area where subjective opinion and difference of taste mix with the need to feel superior. “What is success?” For me its being able to look myself in the eye while gazing in the mirror and know that I am not looking at a phony. I do whatever it is that I do to the very best of my ability. Enough for me. Whether I am artistically exploring the many truths of humanity via artistic expression, or simply using that same form of expression to just entertain the audience. Both can be successfully done, and one does not have to feel that they are a failure for doing the latter instead of the former. (Note: In “On Writing” Stephen King admits to being ashamed and “feeling guilty” about the kind of fiction he wrote. It wasn’t until he was well into his forties that he became comfortable with being a “popular commercial writer.”)

  6. To me, the definition of success is being able to write books you like, while selling enough copies to keep you from having to do anything else. See you when I get there….

  7. She has “success” confused with being the “best”. They’re two completely different things.
    Success is a journey. It’s also subjective. Success is getting what you want out of life.


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