How Writers Measure Success

It used to be writers had a pretty standard measurement of success – get published. Then the standards rose and it became – get published and be able to make a living. One FWJ reader’s comment made me stop and think about where the standards are now. I recently wrote on whether having a niche was necessary and a commenter remarked she had never heard of a six figure writer who didn’t have a niche or two.

What stood out to me is “six figure writer.” Now, before I get started, let’s not think this is a low self-esteem post. I am not trying to tell writers to lower their expectations. I would love it if every writer in the world that worked hard and maximized their opportunities would become a six-figure (plus!) writer. I guess my question is “Is that the only measurement of success?”

Is an established, respected writer who makes $60,000, $75,000+ any less successful than the writer who breaks into the upper tier of prolific writers? Should a writer who makes $25,000 – $30,000, can pay their bills, pick their days to work and spend time doing whatever they want feel less accomplished than the blogger whose single tweet earns them hundreds of dollars?


Writers should be careful in how they let others define their success. Right now the trend is six figures, somewhere down the line the billion dollar writer club may be the buzz. And yes, I said that with a straight face.

When we take an honest look at the writing world, not everyone is going to make the big bucks. Not everyone has the opportunity, the drive or even the desire and you know what? That’s okay.

Geographically most writers are likely not going to need $500,000 a year to live comfortably. And what about writers who are in a two-income household?

Never stop striving for success. Never stop looking for an opportunity to break out, but never let anyone else make you feel that where you are is somehow less than. Instead, create your own, Wendy Writer or Bob Blogger success guideline. Ask yourself:

  • Am I happy?
  • What did I imagine life would be like as a freelance writer? Have I achieved that dream? Do I want to or have my expectations and life situation changed?
  • What do I need to earn in order to live a life that includes not only the necessities, but the nicey-nice things I like to have?
  • Realistically, what would it take to hit six figures and beyond? Am I willing to take those steps?
  • What credentials, publications or benchmarks would I like to achieve regardless of monetary compensation?

And so on. I’ve been writing professionally in various forms for over 10 years and throughout that time I’ve had very lean and very lucrative years. One of the greatest things I’ve learned, besides the random factoid: people overuse the word ‘that,’ is true success is never all financial. It’s reputation, experiences, opportunities and choice as well. If you let other people or popular ideas determine your success you’ll forever chase the bar others set for you instead of setting them for yourself. So, instead of worrying about being six-figure earning writer, we should focus on a six-figure life. A life of abundance and longevity.

How do you define success for yourself as a writer? How do you determine your earning needs and potential?


9 responses
  1. Natalie Avatar

    Sucess for me is purely whether I am writing about what I want to write about. So in that case, I would say a niche is needed.

    Earnings etc don’t come into it at the moment, because I have had a pretty good six months. If that changes, then I will need to change my niche and success won’t be there anymore.

  2. Velma Avatar

    Wonderful article. Success is not defined by the size of your bank account. Personally speaking I will know success when I have that sense of, “Yes. At long last I am pursuing my passion.” Thus, for me, I will have overcome the need for identity crafted by other people, places and things. I will have succeeded in allowing the rose of me to blossom and bloom in perfect harmony as life intended; as was purposed before I came into being. That indeed is the rose garden of success; what a sweet aroma!

  3. bill Avatar

    I’ve been freelancing full time (writing-editing) for a year and have learned to live on a lot less income since being laid off. If I judged success from a purely monetary standpoint, the past 12 months have been pretty thin indeed on that score. But I’ve discovered that I’m much happier today — sure, there’s pressure and uncertainty and I miss that regular bi-weekly paycheck. I’ve discovered there are other ways to prosper; I would also like to discover how it’s possible to earn six figures in today’s market!

    1. Velma Avatar

      @Bill: I hear you; I’ve just packed in my bank account corporate to do just what you are doing and frankly, am excited about the whole thing. Living and meeting needs is a whole other venture rather than the continuous accumulation of stuff that sure as heck didn’t do anything for me!
      @Terreece: Again, thanks for the post!

  4. John Lister Avatar

    I earn as much/more than I spend. I don’t wear a tie. I don’t use an alarm clock.

    My score may be low, but I still win the game 🙂

  5. Clara Avatar

    I’m glad to know there are other writers who think about success the way I do. Monetary gain is a good thing, but, if you’re following your passion and not just chasing the almighty
    dollar? You will prosper, eventually!

  6. Kendra Avatar

    I always laugh when I hear about the “low end” of the freelancing scale ($25k – $30k) and, meanwhile, that’s still much more than I make at my current full-time job. Six figures? Heck, I’d be thrilled to make $25k.

    1. Kim Avatar

      Totally agree. My crap job wouldn’t pay $25k even if I were full time. I knew it was dead end so I returned to school. But I love to write and try to look for opportunities to do it, especially paid ones. I’ve never made more than $700-800 a year writing because I work and do school too but when I graduate I plan on taking the first few months to really write the crap out of anything I can and see where it takes me.

  7. newsuperhuman Avatar

    Don’t worry Kendra, writers, like most people, tend to exaggerate their finer qualities. I can assure you that only a small percentage of writers make much more than $30,000 a year. And as in many professions, the higher paid ones don’t necessarily correlate so much with talent as who you know and how well connected they are. In fact, too often it’s the crappy writing that sells. The real question usually becomes, “how much are you going to sell out?”

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