In my research, I see different paths to becoming a successful writer. Though there is no one way to attain your dreams, all writers seem to fall into one of the following five categories.
1. BEGINNING WRITERS - these are people who know they want to write. They have stories to tell, but they haven't written a lick beyond a fun short story here and there. Or they may have several beginnings of novels, but nothing completed.
2. PRACTICED WRITERS - these people have an actual finished product. They have finished a novel. Or they have written scores of completed short stories. Or volumes of poems. They usually have a better understanding of what it takes to get published. They are more likely to have edited their work, and have probably gotten close to writing their first million words.
3. PUBLISHED WRITERS - these people are published. An editor has deemed their work worthy to be distributed to readers. The writer actually receives money. This includes self-published authors who are sufficiently acknowledged by the public.
4. ESTABLISHED WRITERS - these people are actually making a profit from writing. They can quit their day job if they so desire. They most likely have several books published and their works appear in several magazines.
5. FAMOUS WRITERS - these are the cream of the crop. Almost everyone knows their names. The books that they write will survive for centuries.
The number of people in each of these group is a reverse exponential function. About 99% of all writers fall into the first bucket. Then out of the 1% that make it past the first group, 99% are in the second group, and so on. Making it from one stage to the next is a major achievement worthy of celebration.
I consider myself to be in Stage 2, and I'm working very hard to make it to Stage 3. Everyone starts in Stage 1, and it can take a very long time to get to Stage 5.
Consider the recent success story of J. K. Rowling. She started at Stage 1 as a Beginning Writer like the rest of us. She pursued education to help refine her talent. After a divorce, she went through poverty and during that time she was able to put together her first novel: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. She officially hit Stage 2 in 1995 at the age of 30.
Next came the lengthy process of trying to get the novel published. Even though her talent was noticed quickly, she was rejected by twelve major publishing houses before Bloomsbury took her on. They published her book and she officially entered Stage 3 in 1997.
That first Harry Potter Book was received quickly. It won all kinds of awards. Scholastic published it over here in the US. She wrote the next three sequels in quick succession. I don't know exactly when, but sometime between 1997 and 2000, she entered Stage 4, meaning she was making enough money on writing alone.
But even then - who knew about Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling beyond avid book readers? Sure, she was hitting the New York Bestselling Children's books list like crazy, but how many names of the New York Bestsellers list do you recognize today? It wasn't until 2000 or 2001 - after she had published the fourth Harry Potter Book - that she made it into the mainstream - Stage 5. That's when people who don't read books started reading her books. And boy, did she hit big! The rest is history, and I'm going to see Part 1 of the 7th movie sometime in the next few days.
So, there you have it - the Aspiring Writer's Spectrum of Success. After you figure out what stage you fit in today, what are you going to do to get to the next stage?
I wish you luck and I hope to see you with me in Stage 5 in the near future!