Success and the Awkward Authoress

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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9 thoughts on “Success and the Awkward Authoress

  1. I agree success/failure is hard to define for us writers. I also agree we have to somehow define it for ourselves. I think it’s hard to keep going else. I want to believe that I am writing something which is crafted as well as I can make it and says something worthwhile which will maybe make a reader think as well as engage them. It would be great to have more readers, but I’m getting closer to accepting I maybe a niche taste!

    1. That’s part of my problem as well, writing for a niche. I find that I’m halfway between what the establishment terms literary fiction and genre fiction. I am too slow or emotion focused for the genre fic people but too much action and aesthetics for lit fic people. It’s a very odd place to be.

  2. I’d say the measure of success is that you did exactly what you set out to do–self-publish your books. More than one to be exact! The fact that you haven’t given up and you’re invested in your work speaks for itself. Like you say, it’s hard to pinpoint when you’re hitting that success mark, because even other writers will have their own opinions on when you’ve “made it.” Maybe once they make birthday party favors or valentines with your characters on it, then you’ve hit the highest possible success point, haha!

    1. Lol! I look forward to that moment. Maybe you need fanfiction about your characters to be successful. I once saw on Pinterest a sign that said, “Don’t compare your chapter one to someone else’s chapter twenty.” It’s very true. It’s overwhelming to look at authors who publish a book every few months and have as many books as years I’m old. All writers, especially newbies, need to step back and say, “I’m a beginning. I don’t have this, but I have this and I’m proud of it.”

      1. No kidding. I feel like out of the thousands of writers that want to publish, only a handful really get to where you are. I just barely finished writing a complete manuscript, so I know the feeling of being a newbie. I feel the same with blogging/social media-ing about my stuff; people have built up their readership over a few years, rather than a few months like I have. It’s just one big patience game.

      2. Ugh, the social-media-ing kills me. I’ve been on Facebook for years (with my personal page), but having an author page makes me wonder what I’m doing every day and if it makes any difference. Are you planning on self-publishing? There are a few books about building a media presence and such that were really good. Unfortunately, even after reading them, I feel lost. Less so, but still lost. Luckily, no one really seems to know what they’re doing.

  3. I guess I haven’t decided. As in, my first choice would be going traditional. I like the idea of paying someone to help with the editing, design, and marketing. But even with traditional, I have to pull my own weight. If that doesn’t work out then I’d just have to buckle down and do it myself!

    1. It’s a hard choice, both have their strengths and weaknesses. One thing I have seen a lot from authors who are both traditionally published and self-published is to have your work professionally edited before sending it out to agents or publishers. That way your work is as polished as it can be before the “professionals” see it 🙂

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