When your first book comes out, you come to some awful realizations.
The sales numbers you see are not accurate. You will not know how many books you sold in this fiscal quarter for many months.
You will not know if your publisher is happy or sad about your sales unless you hit some pretty serious markers (a bunch of printings, hitting list).
You will now continue to try to publish books, not really knowing if your prior book is what your publisher would consider “successful.”
The only data there is to really analyze is reviews: how many on Amazon/Goodreads, what the average star rating is, how many trade reviews/articles/newspaper write ups and what they said…But the problem with reading reviews is, it will drive you slowly and irrevocably insane because this is art after all, and what one reader loves another loathes with all their heart.
So now what? I’ve been asking various authors at different stages in the journey (six books out, one book out, three books out) who seem from the outside to be what anyone would consider “successful.”. What I’ve discovered is that they all have similar struggles, whether they received a small advance and sold relatively few or received a large advance and sold many.
So I’ve been trying to come up with my own metrics for success. If I keep equating success with popularity, sales, and reviews, I’m going to drive myself off a cliff with worry because I have no control of these things. I need to find a way to define creative success in such a way that I can actually achieve it. If I keep considering success in terms of popularity and numbers, I’ll keep setting myself up for disappointment. And what if I did hit these metrics? It would be because of efforts that were out of my control and which I can’t replicate.
So here are some ideas I’ve come up with that perhaps we can use as success metrics instead of sales and popularity. Maybe each of us could ask ourselves these questions in order to determine if a project was successful:
Did I make the thematic artistic statement I set out to make?
Did I create deep characterizations, atmospheric world building, and a compelling plot to the best of my ability?
Did I collaborate effectively with my agent, editor, and critique partners, using the advice given to me to make the project stronger?
Did I do my best on the syntax and stylistic elements, refining the project at the line level to the best of my abilities?
While working on this project, did I still attend to my mental and physical health? Did I still care for my child and was I still a good friend and loved one to those around me? Did I still do my best at my day job?
Once the book was written, did I make sure to return to promoting others’ work, doing blurbs and encouraging those around me? Am I attending to my relationships with those both ahead of me and behind me on this road?
Have I done my share of the marketing and PR work, continuously learning and growing as I pay attention to what’s working for other people and trying new things on my own?
Have I been professional and collegial with my publishing team, keeping my expectations of them realistic and being a strong businesswoman on the back end of my publishing career?
Have I grown since the last book I wrote?
Am I working on new projects and keeping my eyes on the road ahead?
I’m going to open comments up on this post. Please feel free to leave me your own ideas about what success as an artist looks like.