The Making of a Novel: What Constitutes Success?

08/27/2010 12:53 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The fracas surrounding Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner's comments about favoritism in the New York Times Book Review is hard to read for a midlist writer in the middle of working on a new book. The debate touches on so many hot buttons, which I normally try not to think about because I'm just trying to get my work done and figure out my story. Most of those buttons are all wired to the same central question, which is this:

What constitutes success?

Is it being reviewed in The New York Times?
It is making The New York Times bestseller list?
Is it laughing all the way to the bank?
Is it making enough to send my kid to college without breaking the bank?
Is it making enough to put food on the table?
Is it making the New Year's list of great books of the year? Or the decade?
It is being invited onto Oprah (just a few more days of that prize)?
Is it having your book make into a movie? (Here's what Elizabeth Gilbert says.)
Is it having a small but loyal audience respond with gratitude and understanding to my work?
Is it having a growing audience?

I often say that my goal is to be able to keep doing what I'm doing -- to be able to write another book and have someone publish it. But is that all? Is that it? Of course it's not. The answer to what I want lies somewhere in that list above. I just don't know where. And I don't know if I'll know it when I get there.

I have a child about to go off to college. By every measure, she is a brilliant success. It is very easy for me to look at her, knowing what I know about how hard she's worked and what she believes and who she has become, and to say, "THIS constitutes success."

It's never so easy when you're looking at your own self.