And so, today we wrap up our official in-depth study of the essentials of self-publishing with the big question that lies underneath all of our efforts: How do we know if and when we’re a success? All that work, all the honing our craft and writing, the money spent hiring a professional editor and cover designer, the thought, time, and expense that goes into marketing … how do we know if that pays off?
Success is elusive, fickle, and varied. What defines one person’s success might be a whole different monster than someone else’s definition of success. The problem is, we can start to feel as though all of our blood, sweat, and tears are for naught if we make one big, subtle mistake. You guessed it, that mistake is comparing ourselves to others.
Comparing your successes to what you assume other writers successes have been is the quickest way to drive yourself absolutely crazy. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of looking at what other people are doing and assuming that they’re better than us. I’m not gonna lie, I’ve obsessively checked Amazon rankings and reviews for my fellow authors, and almost universally I’ve gone into a tailspin of depression if they have more positive reviews and/or higher rankings than I do.
But my absolute worst success comparison kryptonite is when other writers I know announce that they’ve finaled in or won contests. I’m happy for them, but I eat my heart out that I didn’t final or win in those same contests. Um, it may be worth noting that I never entered the contests! It’s pathetic. I feel bad for not winning contests I didn’t enter. Yes, I need help.
That’s why I have firmly come to believe that when you begin your self-publishing (or traditional publishing) journey, you have to set a clear, well-defined goal as to what you consider success to be. Write it down and post it over your computer if you have to. Make it as straight-forward as possible. When those demons of comparison start to sneak up on you, stop those thoughts, reread your definition of success, and remind yourself that THAT is the path you are on and no other.
My personal definition of success as a self-published author is to be able to make a living off of my writing and to be able to quit my day job and JUST WRITE. That is my goal. It’s specific, definable, and, I believe, attainable.
Okay, so I’m not making my living off of my writing right now. Does that mean I’m not a success?
With each book that I’ve published, my sales have increased. With each promotion that I’ve run the new normal amount of books I sell per month has increased. Each book I have on my list of books to write, whether I’ve already got the first draft, the outline, or just a vague idea of what I want to write about, my potential to earn more money and reach my goal increases. I am working steadily towards the goal that I have set myself as the definition of my success. I’ve also done some hypothetical math and come up with an estimate of the number of books and years it will take until my goal is reached. With that, I have a plan that involves both writing and working my day job until my back-debt is paid off, and dropping to working the or a day job part-time and writing more until my writing alone (and the workshops I would like to teach at conferences) provides me with enough financial stability to quit the day job entirely. I have a plan. The answer right now is 5-10 years.
Yes, it may seem like my goal for success is a long way off, but considering how long a writing career can be, that’s a pittance. For me, patience is the key. Patience and persistence. I’m just lucky that I love what I’m working so hard on.
My definition of success might not be the same as yours. I know some writers who just want to publish that one book they’ve worked so hard on, then dance happily off into the sunset. I know other writers who are determined to be a New York Times bestseller. Some just want to get 100 reviews for their books. Still others want to win the top awards for their genres. And honestly, I wouldn’t say no to winning a RITA. Everyone’s goals and definitions of success are different.
Don’t put yourself down if you’re not meeting someone else’s goals. There’s no point in feeling like a schmuck because you aren’t winning awards when awards are not your measure of success. Feeling miserable over a fellow writer’s sales is futile if your own sales are helping you be where you want to be. It’s so tempting to look around and judge ourselves by the accomplishments of others, but you have to resist that temptation.
Along those same lines, I am constantly researching, Googling, and asking around to find the answer to the biggest, baddest comparison question of them all: How many copies does the average book sell? I want to compare my sales to the national average so badly, whether it’s good for me or not. Just in case this is your goal too, or in case you’re judging yourself based on your sales, I have yet to find a consistent answer. One statistic I saw is that the average book sells 2,000-3,000 copies in its lifetime. Another statistic I stumbled across said that the average self-published eBook sells 200-300 copies in its lifetime. Other stats put the average much higher. But then, when I was at the Philadelphia Writers Conference a few weeks ago, someone whose knowledge I trust said that only 1% of books ever sell more than 1,000 copies. If anyone has heard of some other clear, measureable statistics on this front, please share!
So what is your goal for publishing? What measure will determine if you have been a success or not? I’m interested in what other people are aiming for. But I also want to say that YOU ARE A SUCCESS if you have taken the plunge and put yourself out there with a book in any way, shape of form. Go you!