Selling your writing: on having success, or not

Here is a philosophical post for a lazy Saturday.

When you write, invariably, you get asked the question: are you successful? When people ask me, I’m never sure what to say. I sold my work to publishers and got into some good magazines. I guess that’s success. I never made much money doing that. I then bowed out of this industry and now sell enough books that we could live on it. But no one knows who I am, I’ve won no awards, have received no accolades in the traditional sense in recent years. But I’ve sold a lot more books and have hundreds of reviews. I guess I could call myself successful, but that’s really hard to say about yourself. I also know people who sell way better than I do. I know people who sell less who I consider more successful.

So what, really, is success?

Here are some thoughts.

First, define success

You will hear this line often from people who want to diffuse discussions about the subject. They say: not everyone wants to make millions and retire on a yacht in the Bahamas (looking at you, Hugh Howey). Some people just want to sell 50 books to people that are not their friends and family. Some people consider success the simple fact of having completed a book.

Really?
Really, really?

I would prefer to set the bar at least a little bit higher.

But how? Money? Awards?

Success is one of those things: you’ll know it when you see it. It’s not quantifiable by income. Some very successful writers especially in the trad world don’t make their living selling books.

Here are a few things I believe to be true about success:

There is always someone who is more successful than you

Seriously, this never gets old. As soon as you have shifted the bar, someone else will put it higher still. Compare-itis is a recipe for disaster for your personal mindset and productivity. Don’t forget all those people who are less successful. Look at them and feel happy about where you are.

When you’re doing well, acknowledge it

Nothing more annoying than a writer who’s doing pretty well whining about standards or sales levels that most people would find unattainable.

And enjoy it while it lasts

Everything that goes up must come down. Make hay while the sun shines.

There are a variety of cliches that deal with this very issue. Don’t forget that amazing sales never last, and bank for the leaner times in between releases.

This happens to everyone, and there is nothing wrong with you or your books when sales slow down. Just write the next book.

Most importantly: Check your expectations

If you go into a project as unknown entity, you realistically can’t expect a huge success story. Yes, it has happened, but here is my law about it: the more confident/cocky you act about the potential of success, the less likely it will become a reality.

Experienced creators know that they can make certain sales based on the size and engagement rate of their mailing list, but unexpected successes are pretty much that: unexpected.

If you go into a project with no reader base and/or no mailing list, the chances of a hit are very, very slim. Know that, acknowledge it, and keep plugging on.

The most important rule about success that I adhere to: in the public space, I don’t put myself forward as successful. I let other people do that. Or not. It’s not up to me to judge.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *