Recently, my husband asked me a question. “You’ve written eight books, babe. What’s your next career goal?” My knee-jerk response was to sell another book. To always and forever sell another book. As authors, we never know when our last story…will be our last. With so many manuscripts to choose from, and profit margins dwindling in the publishing industry, it’s more competitive than ever. And it doesn’t simply take talent to get picked up anymore. It takes luck.

I thought again about what I wanted to accomplish. Another book, yes. But more than that I wanted reassurance that what I was writing was worthy. I had loyal readers, and received weekly fan mail, and that was more than I ever dared hope for as a once-aspiring writer. But I’ll be honest, I’d also grown accustomed to watching fellow authors rack up awards, and make reading lists, and accrue starred reviews. I had readers, and so I had enough. But deep down, in those dark, shadowy folds of my mind, I wondered–will I ever be recognized in that way?

I decided I probably wouldn’t, and I accepted that. But truth be told, it was a career goal–one I didn’t tell my husband.

Let’s be clear, I’ve had stellar reviews from Voya, Kirkus, Booklist, etc. in the past. But never a star. Stars were reserved for stand-out books. The game changers. The bestsellers. So who was I to dream of being awarded one?

But then, yesterday–it happened.

My editor, agent, and publicist all emailed at once to tell me I’d received a glowing, starred review from Kirkus for Salt & Stone! I screamed. I cried. I called my mother and scream-cried some more and then I ate a Mighty Kids hamburger at McDonald’s because I totally deserved an extra patty beyond the usual Happy Kids hamburger because, really, what adult can survive on one meat patty alone?

Then I told my husband. Then I told the world.

Today, I woke up feeling validated, which is both beautiful and pathetic at once. But more than that, what I really feel like is this: I’ve had a group of loyal readers and fans who said, long before Kirkus did, that I had value as a writer. You guys paid hard-earned money for my first book. And then you did it again. And again. You emailed your praise. You sent inspiring messages on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. You told me you loved what I did. So why did I need validation?

I’m not sure. But it’s nice all the same. And it’s made me feel more thankful than ever for those readers who have been there since the beginning. Truly, it’s you who drives me to write stories worth telling.

And a story worth telling is the first step toward publication.

And publication is the first step toward a starred review.

That, and a little luck.