For a type-A personality, success is a tricky thing to navigate and define. I thrive off getting good grades and being told that I’m at the top of the class. In writing, I’m definitely not at the top of the class. I’m not even in the middle. I’m at the bottom of the totem pole, trying to pull my way up. It’s been quite a while since I haven’t been at the top or a competitor, and it’s disconcerting to know that you’re a nobody.
I know I’m a newbie to the world of self-publishing. It’s been less than a year since I published my first book, and I’ve not only had sales every month but I’ve gotten a few loyal readers who love my books and characters. There is no reason for me to complain, but part of me wonders if I’m succeeding or failing. In this industry, I can’t rely on grades to tell me whether or not I’m doing well. You can’t rely on sales rankings because while you made a sale, you may not have added a reader. You can’t even rely on reviews because you aren’t tailoring the story to the reader as you would an assignment for a professor. Some readers will love it, others will be ambivalent, and a few will hate it. People won’t get it, and you’ll be frustrated that they didn’t see your vision. You can’t go and say anything to explain your point of view, all you can do it hope someone else gets it. It’s frustrating. It makes you question if you’re doing as well as you hoped or thought you were.
The key is to define what success is to you. It’s so much easier said than done, but when you figure out what success is to you, you can determine whether or not you’re actually failing or simply lacking confidence. Do you want to sell a lot of books each year or do you want to gain a larger readership? Do you want consistently high ratings on your books or do you want to grow with each book?
As I’ve written more and gotten deeper into the publishing process, I have found that what I care about are: gaining new readers and improving the quality of my writing with each book. Unfortunately, you need sales to get readers, but I’d rather have ten very loyal readers than a hundred ambivalent ones. In terms of quality, I know my first book is not my best work, and I’m okay with that. I’ve grown since I published it a little over a year ago, and I should have. With each successive book, I should get better. I should improve and grow and experiment. That’s what art and writing are about. The good thing is I know book two is even better than book one, so I guess in that area, I’m successful.
In this area, I find myself battling logic and emotion. Logically, I know that most writers aren’t successful in multiple areas (readership, sales, improvement, notoriety, etc.) until they have at least five books out and do a lot of marketing and connecting. Emotionally, I’m upset that I don’t feel that I’m doing as well as I should. I also realize that no matter how many sales, readers, or 5 star reviews I had, I would still probably feel insecure. This state of mind always worsens when I’m feeling stuck in my current writing project, and guess where I am currently– floundering in planning my next chapter. In order to not fall into this trap (or at least not as often), writers need to define what success is to them and work towards those goals.
What do you define as success?
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