Sunday, February 20, 2011

How Do You Measure Your Achievements?

Last week, I received the results of the RWA Emily contest. For those who don't know, you submit the first 7,000 words or about 20 pages of your novel, no synopsis. Three first round trained judges score the entries. Finalists are judged by professionals in the industry. It is a competitive contest, where making the finals is a big deal. Out of 63 entries in the paranormal category, both KINDRED OF THE FALLEN and PARADOX tied for third place. When I told my husband, he promptly congratulated me. My response, “Why am I not happy about it?” After a sympathetic hug, he simply said, “Because you’re an overachiever.” It’s true, overachievers live by the motto that second place is first place loser. Finishing third is … well, you get it.

At first I entered contests for feedback and to garner some wins for the credentials paragraph of a query letter. Then I set out hoping to entice an editor to request the full. This would open the door to potential publication through an editor and it would give me another line to add in a query letter to attract agents. Blocks checked. Now, I am going through the query process slowly, in small batches. So what could I possibly hope to achieve from this contest that would make me happy? At the time I entered back in September, I only had one win and no requests from editors yet. While waiting for the results of the Emily, the answer to my question eluded me. Then something unexpected happened.

I found out one of the final judges who is a bookseller ranked KINDRED OF THE FALLEN number 1 out 63. This is what he had to say:

“I’m impressed. The writing is evocative and descriptive, and the storyline compelling. The storytelling drew me in, and it makes me want to read the whole manuscript.
Assuming the remainder of the book is as well done, I would stock it in my store, hand-sell it, and bring the author in for an event. There is a very strong market right now for this type of fantasy/real-world crossover.
• The naming is excellent. Even details fit perfectly.
• This was the only contest entry I read where there wasn’t a single spelling error or grammatical inconsistency to distract me from the story. Or maybe it was there and the storytelling was so good I missed it. It works either way!
• I like the way the first page sets the genre. Clearly, we’re set in the modern world, but her “gift” makes it clear that the story will be paranormal.”

Touching someone who works in the next frontier, beyond the land of agents and editors, a bookseller and an avid reader, brought a new kind of joy and sense of achievement. Perhaps getting #1 in there somewhere also helped.

Being an overachiever means we strive to do the best in all of our endeavors. It also means the yardstick by which we measure our achievements is long and harsh. My yardstick is clearly a product of my childhood. I remember bringing home a test in a tough subject, 98 written across the top with a smiley face from the teacher, floating in a bubble of pride. I did not receive a “good job” or the classic attaboy one might expect. Instead I received, “What happened to the other two points?”

I’m not blaming my family for who I am today. I take full responsibility for lacking the personal insight required as an adult to modify my yardstick. I’m not looking to change it by much, just enough to find more joy in my accomplishments.
Did you know there is a formula for achievement? Where A=achievement, I=intelligence, and M=motivation, the formula reads A=I*M. I didn’t come up with it.

I’m more interested in the formula showing how our perceived level of achievement correlates to happiness. I ask all of you, how do you measure your achievements and how happy are you with them?


  1. Isis,

    I understand what you're saying. When I sold my book, The Catalyst, I was numb instead of overjoyed with success. I didn't feel anything, and I had to work so hard to promote the book. I didn't have time to let it sink in I had written a book people could read.

  2. Isis: I am a member of the "over-achievers club" and I know how it feels. I constantly ask the "where's the two other points" question all the time. I don't have a measurement yet - I just try to focus on becoming more self-aware of my strengths and my weaknesses. You've definitely given me something to think about!

  3. Hey Isid I think that is where I am at when I say I only got so many words in a day or week I think I should be able to pound out thousands every day no matter what. I think how can I expect to be published if I can't write?

  4. That was supposed to be ISIS the lag between what I type and when it appears on the screen is aggravating. You miss typos that way. I think I am an over achiever because I expect perfection from me.

  5. Isis, I wish I had more brain activity to think about the question you proposed, but I'm just too tired. Acheivement right now is turning off my computer and heading to bed...shoot. I forgot I stripped the sheets and didn't put new ones on yet.

    But, I do want to say that response you received from the bookseller is AWEWOME! Congratulations! Keep doing what you're doing.

  6. Sandy: Not being able to enjoy the sale of your first book is exactly what I'm talking about. I'm working now to make changes to avoid that predicament.

    Robin and Kathy: Self-awareness is key. As members of the "club" we won't fail. We just need to ensure we enjoy our success.

    Stacey: I hear you about the little things. If I can stick to "family time" every day, which means no computer after a certain time, then I try to put that in my success column. Thanks!

  7. Great post, Isis and very timely for me. I'm going through some setbacks in my writing career, and I've become too focused on what's going wrong, not what's going right.

    In this world of publishing where our writing is constantly being subjected to criticism, it's essential to find the kernel of praise that keeps us focused on moving forward.

  8. Connie: You are so right. I've created a mental filter to help block external negative energy. Now I need to conquer the internal. What is it all for if we're not happy doing it? Then again, I couldn't stop writing even if I wanted. It's an addiction I don't want to break. KEEP MOVING FORWARD.

  9. That's some incredible feedback. You should be very proud! Each time your put yourself out there, it's one more step toward being discovered and reaching your goals.

    I'm lucky in that, while I love to get good feedback from others, I don't need it to feel like I've accomplished something. Even if no one ever reads my novel, I feel so elated just to have finished it. I've enjoyed the story and that's what matters most to me. On the other hand, I want to get better at my craft and that's why I do continue to seek input from other writers and eventually, from contests. All feedback is good feedback if you can learn from it.

  10. Isis,
    Fabulout blog post on a challenging topic. I, too am an overachiever. My reasons are similar to yours. I am proud as thrilled by my every achievement. It's all very humbling, but like you, I keep going, looking for yet another door and lately I wonder if I need to learn how to stop, celebrate each success. Then, how do you not feel guilty of taking the time to celebrate when you could be 'doing' something else. :) Oh yeah, the joys of an overachiever. *G* I do know that my greatest joy comes in my volunteer work. Giving of self to make a positive difference in others lives is the absolute best!
    Thank you for your insight, and I wish you every success!

    Diana Cosby, AGC(AW), USN Ret, RomVet