A writing friend recently called me successful. Her comment gave me pause. What is writing and/or publishing success?
I see author success in steps.
Step one: Write a good book. This involves taking classes, reading books on craft, attending conferences, webinars, workshops, joining critique groups – all to improve your writing. Every year you should be a better writer than the year before. If you’ve got a well-written story, you are successful.
Step two: Submit to and have agents and editors give you positive feedback about your work, even if they reject you as client or for a manuscript. When your story makes it through the initial reader, through the editor, through the editorial group, and to the acquisitions group, this all indicates that people in the publishing industry verify that you have been successful with step one. If traditionally accepted, follow that route, and I’d strongly recommend it.
If wanting to pursue self-pub, follow the next steps.
Step three: Partner with an awesome cover illustrator. Sales rank has proven that fresh covers make a difference even when there is no text change. You can judge a book by its cover. Traditional presses can pay $1,000 – $5,000 for a single cover illustration. That’s out of my price range. But if you know an illustrator whose work you admire, negotiate for a reasonable fee. Never accept an offer for a free cover. There could be legal and relational repercussions in the future. Finding a good illustrator match is success.
Step four: Learn how to self-publish. There are entire books on this subject. I could list a few hundred tips here, but it would be like a flood gate opening. Read as much as you can about how to self-publish. If this is the route for you, then do it. Having an ebook, or holding a physical copy of your book in your hands with your name on the cover, this, too is success.
Step five: Book sales indicate success. If only friends and relatives are buying your books, your success is limited to who you know. To me, when one stranger buys my book or does a review, this is success. To sell books, learn about marketing and promotion. Again, many books on this subject. Read. Read. Read. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Repeat what works and embrace your failures. I spent $92 on gas alone for a far-away book signing and sold a mere three copies of my book during the signing. I didn’t get paid for those books, not until, according to their contract, all their inventory of my books had sold, which they never did because they went out of business and donated my other 17 copies someplace. I can only hope that “someplace” wasn’t the dump. What is marketing success to me? Marketing success is when I sell books.
Step six: Write another book. If you make millions of dollars from your first and only book, good for you, but that’s not truly literary success. Being able to be creative enough to write more and more good stories – this is success.
Step seven: Having the strength and endurance to repeat these steps with each book, and to convince your friends and family that you really do have a job which takes up your time – this is success.
(Success to the successful thistle sifter.)