on success

This past weekend I have been reading through my freshly edited (I’ve written about my process here) third novel for the final time before sending it back to my publisher (there it is on my kindle if you want to zoom into the picture and have a sneak peak!). This book has been a hard one to edit for lots of reasons; my editor left half way through so I have been working with someone new – she’s great but change always takes some getting used to – and the heroine in this book has chronic illness so it’s a subject very close to my heart. There were times when I was editing it, and when I was reading it through when I thought it was rubbish. We are all so hard on ourselves.

Anyway, all of this got me thinking about success and how elusive it is. My first novel sold really well, but my second didn’t do as well (especially in America). I feel like there is a lot of pressure on this third book and I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself because “success” still seems so far away – like the top of a mountain.

But what is success?

I had a Facebook memory from two years ago today. It was a picture of me sitting at our dining room table in our old house finishing the edits on the book that was to become my first published novel. I still didn’t really believe that anybody other than my close friends and family would ever read it. I still didn’t really believe that I would send it out into the world because the risk of failure was so great.

But thanks to some good friends I did send it out into the world and I did get a publishing deal and an agent and I’m now submitting my third novel. How did that happen?

A lot has happened in the last two years – some good and some not so good – but the Rachel of two years ago, sitting at her dining room table, would have thought that a three-book publishing deal and a literary agent sounded pretty successful.

So why doesn’t the Rachel of today think that? Why are we always striving for something more until we can tell ourselves we’ve succeeded?

We need to rethink our definitions of success

There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve on last time, with wanting to hone our crafts and become better versions of ourselves. Anyone who knows me knows that self-improvement is totally my jam. But I’m starting to understand that success isn’t all about looking forward to the next big thing, and the next. Sometimes it’s about looking back and seeing how far we’ve come.

For me success isn’t about numbers or money (although selling lots of books and making a good living is pretty cool too), it isn’t about how far I still have to go. Success is about creating a life I want, a life I’ve dreamed about. Success is about fulfilling the dreams of that Rachel from two years ago, or five years ago, or even ten years ago. Success is about getting to know yourself, really getting to know yourself, and working out what it is that you want or need, what it is that makes you happy.

And when I look success like that, I’m not doing too badly after all!

What does success mean to you?

Posted in Blog.


  1. I don’t think I know what it means, probably because I still haven’t worked out who I really am or what makes me happy. That’s not say there isn’t plenty of happiness in my life. There is. Just haven’t been able to pinpoint how, if that makes sense?
    I like your conclusions very much. Perhaps I need to work harder!

  2. “So why doesn’t the Rachel of today think that?”

    I have been thinking about your post since reading it earlier in the week. It’s nice that you ended on a positive note, but I’m thinking that your statement quoted above might be more of the truth.

    I find that it is difficult when everyone else is telling you how well you’re doing, and it’s so amazing, etc etc. Maybe some people believe the social media persona we all try too broadcast which makes all of us sound like some kind of JK Rowling on steroids.

    The reason I don’t consider myself successful is that I find my dreams getting smaller and smaller, not the other way around. At first, I wanted to be a best-selling, successful author, and I thought the publishing contract might enable that. Then, I just wanted to be able to write enough books to be able to quit my awful day job, and no longer have to get the 7:21 train 3 days a week.
    Now, I am praying that I don’t have to go back to work full time, which is now looming.

    I’m not looking sideways at what other people are achieving (OK that’s a lie) but It is soul-destroying to put so much into writing a book and have it not reach the audience we believe it is meant to find. So I don’t find looking back to be very encouraging at this time. Maybe those previous goals were unrealistic, but it was a happier, more innocent time.

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