The simple answer to the title question of this post is” sales of their books”, but there is so much more to author success than that.
I’ve been pondering the question since I attended a recent meeting of the Atlanta, Georgia chapter of the Romance Writers of America. The speaker was Georgia author Piper Huguley, and her presentation was, “Make a Way When There’s No Way: Creating your own niche in an ever-changing publishing market.” She went on to discuss her experience, as well as that of a few other authors, who found success by finding their own niche markets, and it was inspiring. Whether pursuing a traditional publishing path or going indie, her presentation had information everyone can use and relate to.
But one question she asked stuck with me, which was, “How do you define success?” Ms. Huguley made the important point that success is a very personal thing, and may have a different meaning for everyone. Some authors aspire to hit the New York Times Bestseller List; some have goals of a certain number of sales; while others consider success to be making enough money to pay off their car loan. And then, there is the mother of all author goals, considered by many to be the holy grail- making enough money from writing to quit your day job. (Sigh…..)
I’ve been so busy “trying to become a writer” that I hadn’t given much thought to my goals, but now that I have thought about it, I realize that success has many levels. There are small victories, mid-level milestones, and big, exciting accomplishments. Here are a few possible examples:
Small Victories– finishing a first draft; getting positive feedback on a WIP; having a blog post shared or retweeted; finally getting a scene that I have struggled with to sound right; the little gems of writing, where you amaze yourself (“where did that come from?”)
Mid-level Successes– when someone well-known compliments your work; getting a WIP ready for querying or publication; hitting a publication milestone (five novels, etc).
Big, Exciting Accomplishments– Getting a contract or becoming self-published; your first sales; a certain number of sales; finaling for or winning an award; hitting any bestseller list; and yes, being able to quit your day job!
There are certain to be more one can add to these lists. For me, being published for the first time will be a biggie, a personal accomplishment. I have been an entrepreneur for many years, so my goal after that will be to earn out the money I put into self-publishing, and become profitable. Beyond that, I’ll be happy simply to find an audience that likes my books and wants more. If the income is better than I hoped and I get to enjoy some of those other big, exciting, accomplishments, then that’s extra.
But there’s a negative side to all this. What if you can’t hit some of your success goals? I had an attack of doubt last night, after discovering the Twitter hashtag #MSWL, which stands for Manuscript Wish List. Agents and Editors tweet about the kinds of stories they are looking for, which is useful information, even if you’re planning on self-publishing, as I am. I was being nosy, curious to see if I could find out what might be trending in the marketplace.
But it’s disheartening when you read, “DO NOT want X, Y, and Z stories. And never any A or B”, and you realize that statement encompasses everything you’re working on! And then you see others saying variations of the same thing, meanwhile they are all asking for “new and improved” variations of stories you have seen recently done to death.
So…in that situation, should you keep on writing what you want to write, even though there may be no (or at least, a very small) market for it? If you know, going in, the chance of success is small?
The answer to that question is whatever you think it is. Some may say “No, write a sure thing, give the readers what they want”. Others may say, “I gotta be me.”
When my fears about the marketplace subsided, I remembered Piper Huguley’s example. She was told by a well-known agent that it would likely be twenty years before her work would be able to sell in the marketplace, because of the subject matter and type of characters. But she went ahead and published them herself, and guess what? They sold, better than even she had expected. There was a market for her work. She counted that as a success, and so do I.
I can’t stop now, change my WIPs around, or start all over just to chase the market. Maybe when I become more experienced and skilled, I can cater to trends. But for now, I gotta be me, and do what I love to do.
And that is how I measure success.
How about you? What are your levels of success? How many have you reached?