I once met an author who wrote childrens’ books and had sold some thousands of books, or tens of thousands of books, and considered himself a failure.
This was right before I was set to publish my first book which would go on to sell roughly eighty copies in its first year.
Four years later, and I’ve got four books under my belt, and I’m still nowhere near selling a thousand books across the span of my writing career.
I understand that this is the nature of the industry I’m in and that you have to work damn hard to get those big sales.
But I don’t consider myself a failure. I work hard at what I do. I surround myself with fantastic and talented friends who are kind and encouraging.
Success comes down to how you define it.
Sure, I would consider high book sales a success. If you can live off the money you earn from writing, that’s a success. But also finishing a manuscript is a success. Getting accepted by a publisher is a success. Actually holding your book for the first time as a real thing, that’s another success too.
The writers I talk to usually consider my achievements, and my lengthy list of works in progress, as success. You could have five or ten books out, and if you’re struggling to write that next book, it can feel like failure. If your book came out and no one’s talking about it, no one’s buying it or reviewing it, it can feel like failure.
I was really proud of my second book, Day of the Milkman. I thought the concept was great and that it had just the right balance of narrative substance and dream-like style. To this day, it’s only received one review on Amazon. I didn’t want to have to push people for reviews, and I think at the time, my presence and handle on social media wasn’t up to the standard that it probably should be. I still don’t think I’m there yet, but that’s a different kind of success that I’m working on.
The thing I’ve found is that once a book is out there, you can promote it, you can watch your sales rankings closely, you can brag about how well it’s doing or wallow in its failure. But the book itself is finished and you can’t change it now.
I think part of my success, and the perception that people get that I’m succeeding in what I do, is that once I’ve got one thing out, even before it’s out, I’ve got something else working its way up through the pipeline.
I’ve got at least half a dozen projects in various stages of development because something is with a publisher waiting on edits, something is waiting on an acceptance or rejection, something is currently being edited, something is being written, and something is just being formed as an idea, planning out what will be written soon.
Some days the writing may not come. Some days the editing doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. But there’s always something I can do to make progress with one thing or another.
My success comes in making personal goals that are challenging, yet realistic. I want to push myself further. Sometimes it’s difficult. Sometimes I have trouble keeping track of everything and I don’t know where to start. I go through periods where I won’t write anything, or I won’t read or review anything. Hell, this blog was inactive for a good couple of years. I pick things up and put things down, and it’s hard keeping on top of everything.
I’m trying to manage my time and my projects with various apps at the moment. I’ve started off with Nozbe, which seems pretty robust in what details you can put into your projects and tasks. Wunderlist is another one which seems good for general organisation, but I found the emails and the notifications annoying. I tried setting deadlines for a bunch of different things, but it doesn’t work out like that. I’m setting out time each day for general housekeeping, my mental and physical wellbeing, and for my writing projects. The writing projects are the complicated stuff and it’s hard to predict my time frames there. I’ve had a bit of a poke around an app called Asana, which looks like a simpler Nozbe. Simple is good as far as breaking my goals down into stages and ticking them off as I go. First draft, editing, submissions, etc. Even breaking them down into sub-tasks, every thousand words or every chapter or two, another step towards my goal.
Then there’s Habitica. This one is the most fun for me to use. It’s all about rewarding every habit or routine task and everything checked off your to-do list. It’s set up like an rpg, where everything you do on there will give you gold and experience. As you complete more things, your character levels up. Your reward is watching your avatar grow, and you get the satisfaction of achieving more in the real world.
So I’m using these tools to push myself further. The writing is going well, but I can always be doing more to reach out on social media, keep my blog updated, write a few articles, reviews, and interviews, connect with other authors. These are just simple things I can do to define my successes in different ways, and to ensure I continue to grow and reach out as an author. I’m hoping to keep this blog a little more up to date, and to try new things to engage with readers and other authors while avoiding any unnecessary drama (I’m looking at you, facebook). I’m no marketing expert, so I’ve got to learn with trial and error.