Folks, I’ve been off-line for a while working on the third book in a series. But I’d like to present a question. By background, I was interviewed recently for Open Book Toronto. The interview wasn’t very long and my responses were not particularly interesting. But it nonetheless sparked some emails through my website. One correspondent asked: “How do you know if your book is a success?” I answered the person with my point of view, but I’m curious about the writers/readers on this site. So, I ask: How do you know if your book is successful? By what do you measure it? Is it because a publisher or other gatekeeper says it is good and puts some dough into it? What if the person at the publishing house – what, even, if the publisher him/herself – is an actual moron? And what would take for you see yourself successful as a writer? Just idle Saturday afternoon thoughts, a little bread on the water. Lee
Good question. In the real world, success is tied to sales. No author ever forgets this. We may chafe under the fact that we are not successful, especially when we have great reviews, awards, and wonderful fan letters, but our continued existence as a working author is tied to sales.
I will say, however, that reader's letters are what keeps me going. They are proof that I am right and the rest of the world is just too dense to get it. :)
Stephen King once said (and I'm paraphrasing) that if you write a story, send it to a magazine (or publisher), they send you a check, you cash the check, it doesn't bounce, and you pay the light bill with it, you are a success.
I think success is determined by how you define it. My wife considers herself a successful writer for the simple reason that she's actually kept up with the journal she started.
I consider myself a successful non-fiction writer because I've been able to make a living writing non-fiction (articles, marketing content, etc).
In terms of fiction, it is a bit more dicey. I've published five or six short mystery stories and a couple in other genres. I guess that makes me a success to a degree - it is certainly nice, but I've yet to get a novel published and my gross lifetime income from fiction probably wouldn't pay for date night with my wife. So while I've had more "success" than many people writing fiction, I'm not sure I'm "successful."
I have to agree with, I.J.
Letters, emails and comments from readers definitely mean success to me. When you release a book out into the wild, you want it to be brilliant - but you're never really sure that you've succeeded until the readers get back to you - and their excitement over certain scenes or twists is such a joy to receive. Even some of the bad reviews can be rewarding (such as a recent one-star review I received on Amazon where the headline was "I threw it in the trash" Her reason? My villain was too evil and it unsettled her. Perfect. Obviously my book wasn't for her, but it was nice to see the villain doing his job.
However, with that said, and going back to I.J.'s first point, I likely won't consider myself to be a true success until the sales are as glorious as the reviews. I want my publishers to adore me and be excited for every new book, my agent to be a millionaire on her commissions of my royalties, and my readers to know that they can rely on a new book every year :)
I believe success, both from a literary point of view and a financial, is in the hands of readers. I write for myself, for the fulfillment I feel. But nothing substitutes for a positive reaction from someone who has no stake in pleasing you. I won't measure my success by book sales because there are too many variables including luck. On the other hand, sales are validation of how well we each do our job.
I think your question is a great one because there is a dichotomy in the way success is measured. I'm not sure there is a comprehensive answer.
WILD BILL has received unsolicited and public praise from the likes of Charlie Stella, Timothy Hallinan, Leighton Gage, and Mike Dennis. Stella and Hallinan have interviewed me for their blogs. To me, that's a successful book. I'm delighted.