Why Do Some Writers ‘Make It’ and Others Don’t?

Do you really have a shot?

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So you’ve just finished reading a book by an author you’d never heard of until picking it up. You’re slightly disappointed, and sigh as you slide it onto your bookshelf, wondering if you’ll ever pick it up again.

It was an OK book … but you’re sort of thinking you could have done so much better, if that story had been yours to write.

You find yourself thinking, “How did this writer get so lucky? Why did they get a book published through a legitimate channel and I can’t even get an agent to help me do the same thing?”

Why them? Why not me?

As a writer, it’s hard to focus on the big and small picture at the same time. You want to focus on your current work-in-progress, but you can’t help but worry it’s not ever going to be worth your time.

Not if so many people just like you have already done it, and you can’t seem to catch a break.

Will you ever?

Why do some writers “make it” (publish books, build successful blogs, create businesses) and others “don’t”? Is it even worth trying? What chance do you actually have of being as successful as your favorite authors, bloggers, or journalists?

The truth is, there’s no way to predict whether or not your efforts will pay off the way you’ve always dreamed of.

There’s also the possibility that you will find success as a writer in ways or through channels you never imagined. Heading off to college, I had my heart set on becoming a novelist. I never thought I’d make a living as a writer doing anything different — and I was wrong.

What does luck have to do with it? Maybe a lot. There are some writers who just happen to have a specific idea or project that falls into the right hands at the right time. That’s not something you can predict or force to happen. It just happens — the same way many writers have created great things, but just haven’t met the right people that could help those ideas take flight.

I don’t like looking at this problem as an “all or noting” scenario. It’s not an “either you become a bestselling author or you work at a paper-making factory until you’re 80” kind of outcome.

So instead of wondering why some people “make it” and others don’t, maybe it’s better to think of writing as an even playing field, with everyone writing, but all for different reasons, doing different jobs, accomplishing different things.

Here are the things that have helped me appreciate my own accomplishments even when I haven’t done the things I’ve wanted to.

  • Redefine what “success” means for you. Maybe you’re just not the right person to publish bestselling science fiction novels. That doesn’t mean you can’t use your writing skills to excel in a different career.
  • Try not to compare your work to other writers’ accomplishments. If you fixate on that one acquaintance from high school who started publishing their work before graduation, you’ll never be happy when you do anything the rest of your life. Focus on you, and your goals, and your big (and small) victories.
  • Remember that you’re on your own path, moving at your own pace. There’s no “too late” in the writing world. You haven’t “failed” because you said you’d have a literary agent by the time you turned 30 and it didn’t happen. The only way to ensure total failure as a writer is to stop trying.

The best chance you have at finding a job that lets you write what makes you feel fulfilled is to keep writing, to experiment, to try different things until you find work you love. Maybe you won’t ever go on your own book tour. But success might find you some other way — and you don’t want to miss that opportunity because you’re too caught up in where you haven’t gone yet.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


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13 thoughts on “Why Do Some Writers ‘Make It’ and Others Don’t?

  1. I think, as writers, it’s natural for us to also craft “our story”, and believe, and wish, but as you say, we don’t get to dictate the outcome.
    It’s tricky, no question. On the one hand, we have to work hard, on the other, we have to accept the uncertainty.
    I think it’s an ongoing effort, with good days and bad ones, but the only choice we have is between continuing to work at it, or taking a break.

  2. Thank you for the advice. I have started a blog to promote a book I am writing. esthersstorythewheelchairactivist.com. This book is based on my sister-in-law, Esther, who developed A.L.S. She was at a crossroad as to quit being an activist or continue regardless of her disease. Her chose is the book she wished to write, but couldn’t finish before she died. I promised to finish it for her using her diaries, journals, and tapes when her hands became too deformed to write. I included an editors note and four chapters on my blog so I could get some feedback. I would really appreciate it if you could look at it and let me know if I am doing Esther justice in this attempt. Thank you. Judy

  3. Thank you for the advice. I have started a blog to promote a book I am writing. esthersstorythewheelchairactivist.com. This book is based on my sister-in-law, Esther, who developed A.L.S. She was at a crossroad as to quit being an activist or continue regardless of her disease. Her choice is the book she wished to write, but couldn’t finish before she died. I promised to finish it for her using her diaries, journals, and tapes when her hands became too deformed to write. I included an editors note and four chapters on my blog so I could get some feedback. I would really appreciate it if you could look at it and let me know if I am doing Esther justice in this attempt. Thank you. Judy

    1. That sounds like a very impactful story to tell on Esther’s behalf. While I unfortunately don’t have the time to review individual writers’ work at the moment, I do hope you’ll continue working on it despite the challenges you may face along the way, and I do wish you all the best.

  4. Great work Meg,

    when I look at people who have achieved success, I must notice that prestige title on books “best seller”, not the best book,which means that is really great marketing behind,right !
    Thank you

  5. I wish I was more qualified to contribute to this, I only have one short story to my credit, but I think a lot of writers don’t “make it” because of a lack of trying. My good friend has two excellent indie novels on Amazon but openly admitted to me that he hasn’t done a single thing to promote them since he took on a teaching job. My uncle has a creative writing degree and has written a tiny number of works but also doesn’t do anything with them because his focus is on his business. I think the few crappy writers I’ve seen succeed in mainstream publishing only do so because the agents and publishers wanted to take a risk. I think if you really work hard and promote your blog or your book or whatever you will have success. The level of said success depends on your skill, effort, actions, and so on.

    1. I agree! To add onto that, I think your level of success also depends on how you personally define “success.” Like, for me, just publishing a novel would make me feel successful. For someone else, they wouldn’t consider it a true success unless it became a best-seller, or something like that. I think we stress out way too much over being “successful” and forget to count the small victories. I believe some never get that far because they’re looking at obstacles that are just too big to achieve outright.

      1. If I had a novel or two published I’d feel much more qualified to give writing and publishing advice. Without anything to my name, though, I feel like I am not qualified. Like someone trying to teach without a teaching degree

      2. This is why I hesitate to give advice specifically for book publishing. I don’t know enough because I haven’t been through the process. I’m fortunate to have other writing experience/credentials to go off of, but I didn’t always have that. I was in high school when I started blogging about writing. Personal experience still has merit, even if you don’t always know if you’re doing the right thing, in some contexts. :)

      3. I mean, I worked as a profession, certified reading and writing tutor for three semesters at college but that was obviously focused on academic essays, not literary work

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