"Let money be your measure of success"

That wasn’t my quote. It’s a quote by Orna Ross of ALLI, and the fallout of that statement led to this article where she explains her thoughts. Definitely worth a discussion!

Well… That started something

One could sell a crap ton of McDonalds burgers and Mayonaise. Those are absolutely the highlights of eating, am I right? :X

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I didn’t read it- but I’m gonna keep my measure of success through personal accomplishments.

Best case, giving the benefit of the doubt (people have different aspirations), it doesn’t seem to factor in writers where–while selling books is nice–is not necessarily their end goal: for many years I wrote as a means of coping with my demons, or perhaps for a brief period maybe Literary Ambition.

Factor in that I’m distancing myself from academia in general, even literary greatness no longer makes sense as a goal. Ever since I went more left, it’s less about the money or amibition, as conveying the message I want to convey in the most concise way possible, without making the reader feel like I’m beating them over the head with it.

This very ancap way of making sales the determining factor is something I’ve honestly expected better of writers. People are free to be different. But when that capitalists systems, it’s not the therapeutic writers that will no longer be writing their books because they made sales absolutely everything.

Compare for example Journalism and Folk Music ( I don’t mean the American offshoot about Trucks running away with people’s wives ) where the goal is less making money, and more giving people a story people can relate by talking about current events.

My thoughts…

When my brother met his now wife, she was a pediatric nurse with a passion for cooking Greek food. Her career was most definitely being a pediatric nurse – she had been one for over two decades. But she loved to cook Greek food.

At the time, her food was her passion, her art. It wasn’t a money maker. But then she provided food for a party. Then another one. And then she started a small catering company. It was just a side thing. She was still a full-time nurse.

But her dreams were getting bigger. The catering business expanded. Weekends were now spent at festivals. And then she voiced it aloud: She would like to open a restaurant.

Opening a restaurant was a huge step. It was expensive. It was a BUSINESS. It was more than procuring a space with a kitchen and hanging out a shingle. Lots, lots, lots more. She retired from nursing. They found a space downtown, negotiated a lease, remodeled – it took more than a year! Opening was just the first step. She had those early customers who came out of curiosity and of course she had friends, but she had to develop a REAL clientel. And that was work – work that has to happen, work that happens outside of cooking, work that doesn’t end.

But she did it, and now she has turned her passion into a second career. A profitable one.

There would have been nothing wrong if she had continued to cook only for herself. Or only at parties. Or only occasional catering. Or only as a serious caterer. NONE of those steps were “required.” AT any point she could have declared herself satisfied with what she was doing. She could have declared herself successful at what she set out to do, even though she wasn’t making a lot of money doing it.


That definition of success is her own personal definition. Everyone should have their own definition! And no one’s personal definition (for their own accomplishments) is wrong.

A personal definition is NOT an industry definition, though, and it’s meaningless in discussions with others. No publication in the world, no benchmarking company, no other restaurateur would say “Wow! She is catering parties once a month! What an amazing success story!”

The industry is going to look at dollar amounts, because those are the great equalizer. Quality of her food is subjective. Even if she were compared only to other caterers, if she were catering only occasionally, she wouldn’t be ranked as highly as those who are running catering businesses.

Maybe it’s not fair, but people who cook for fun are not the same as people who cater. People who cater occasionally for friends are not the same as catering businesses. A side catering businesses isn’t the same as a full-time restaurant.

I see a DIRECT correlation with self publishing.

  • Someone who writes and doesn’t publish isn’t the same as someone who self publishes their novel for friends and family.
  • Someone who publishes (even multiple novels) but doesn’t invest in professional covers and professional editing isn’t the same as someone who does.
  • Someone who does those thing but doesn’t learn the business aspects (including marketing) is not the same as someone who dedicates themselves to self publishing as a business.

From a personal level, any of the above can claim success if they’re doing what makes them happy. But the industry doesn’t have to see them that way. The industry is interested in people who succeed financially. Those are the people others want to learn from and emulate. Those are the people who shine a professional light on the industry as a whole and give it legitimacy.


No, but no one is going to say McDonalds isn’t a successful fast food franchise either. It is. And has been for 50 years. They don’t compete against haute cuisine or fine dining or seafood restaurants or Italian restaurants, etc. There are GENRES in restaurants, just like there are in books.

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It does. Those writers may be personally successful, because they’re defining their personal success. But the INDUSTRY isn’t going to see them as successful – and there’s no reason it should. Why should publishing be a field where everyone gets a blue ribbon and a trophy just for participating?

It’s ONE measure of success. Take the following quote from the article:

The more businesslike among you are likely scratching your head at why we’re even having this discussion. For you, it’s obvious. Of course, money should be the measure! That’s what running a business means!

Remember the movie “100 Foot Journey”? The Helen Mirren character ran a successful restaurant. It was her business. But she measured her success on the number of Michelin stars she got. Of course getting the next star probably meant more financial success, but it was the status of the number of stars that determined her success.

The golf superintendent of the golf club I lived at quit. Not for money. He wanted to be in charge of a course that hosted a U.S. Open and ours would never (the tournament is in June and the temperature where my golf course was is in the 100s and more likely in the 110s in June). After he achieved that success, he came back to our golf club. Hosting the U.S. Open was a major success for him, but not a financial one. He came back to the same job he had.

Was Vincent van Gogh a success? Did money measure his success? Not during his lifetime. So someone could argue he wasn’t a success during his lifetime, but became successful after his death when his paintings sold. But was his success about the money he brought in or his art?

Yes, money is one measure of success. But not the only one.

Again, that’s personal success versus an industry definition.

A restaurant that has 3 Michelin stars and can’t turn a profit has a special term: FAILURE.

Actually, as I think about it, I think it’s fair to differentiate between the success of an individual and the success of a book/business, although in the larger scheme, the industry still isn’t going to make a list of successful WRITERS (as opposed to successful books) and base it on anything other than money.

The more Capitalistic your society, the truer that is (and I’m a Capitalist). However, you also need to take into account Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. At the bottom is basic needs (food, water, etc.). Once you have the basic needs satisfied, the next level is psychological needs (prestige and feeling of accomplishment). At the top is self-fulfillment (which includes creative activities).

Bill Gates was a financial success. Microsoft was very profitable. He made billions. But now he measures his success on his philanthropic work. Not-for-profit. It makes him feel good.

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Sure. That’s his personal success. And note that it came AFTER financial success. If he had dedicated himself to philanthropy from the beginning, he could well have considered himself and his life a success. But the business world would not have unless he was successful in BUSINESS.

Microsoft itself lives and dies by its balance sheet. If it stops making a profit, it becomes a failure, even if it suddenly (oddly) begins helping people.

The publishing industry isn’t judging JK Rowling’s lifestyle and charities. It judges her success in selling books. Period. It really doesn’t care whether she’s an angel or… Donald Trump. It’s going to judge the money her books make.

I don’t think you can equate an author who’s making a lot of money selling books to a fast-food franchise. That’s a bit offensive, honestly–we can’t say that authors making a ton of money MUST be producing work of lesser quality.

Authors are too often told that we should focus on our art/write for the joy of it, not the financial compensation. That thinking is part of the reason why so many authors are deeply underpaid for their work (and journalists are being completely run out of business).

Writers who write as a hobby should be respected and their non-monetary achievements acknowledged. But writers who write to make a living (ie money) should not be told that they’re selling out or that the quality of their stories must be suffering.


I was playing Devil’s Advocate with you and the article. But the more I presented the other side, the more I thought about it. How about this?

The author who treats his/her writing as a business needs a metric for success. The most clear one is profit. After all, unless it’s a not-for-profit, profit is the goal of all businesses (and even a not-for-profit can’t operate in the red for too long). The more profit, the greater the success (in a Capitalist society). Executives’ compensation is based on profit, just like an athlete’s bonuses are based on their performance metrics. (Which, as an aside, is one of the problems in today’s corporate world. Decisions are driven by short-term profits and stock price rather than long-term health of the corporation.)

But there are authors who don’t treat their writing as a business. I’m one of them. I’m way above the bottom layer of the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. My writing falls into the middle level (feeling of accomplishment) and the top (self-fulfillment).

When I finish a novel, I get a feeling of accomplishment. That is one measure of success. When a novel sells, it’s not the few dollars I make on the sale that provides self-fulfillment. When I was working, I’d make more in an hour than I make in a month from my writing (actualy way more than a month). But I never felt the self-fulfillment at my job that I now feel selling a single book.

So, let money be the measure of success for a publishing business. But not for writing.

Where I fall down with the argument is that the measure of success isn’t how I measure it or you measure it. It’s how you and I together measure it. We have to have the SAME definition, or we cannot communicate.

If that person over there is asked, “Is Blayde a successful writer? What about me? What about this group? What about that group?” they’re not going to make that decision based on whether each individual has met their personal definition of success. Eventually they’re not going to KNOW that information. So they’re going to look for a commonality on which to make that decision.

I can agree that money doesn’t have to be the measure of success for writing. But once a book has been put out for sale, it’s now about money, even if the individual writer doesn’t care about profit. If I didn’t know you here, I wouldn’t know your personal goals. Heck, even knowing you here, I’m not going to know that unless you explicitly tell me. Barring that, I could judge only the success and failure of the work you put out for sale.

That is exactly right (in as much as something can be touted as being correct and still be in-line with the crux of this statement :thinking:).

I feel like paraphrasing on a piece of advice I got from a teacher when I was very young: Don’t make a job out of your hobby, for then you will have lost a hobby.