Wow, that’s a challenging question, and one with many answers that have shifted over time.
When I first started writing, my goal was to publish commercial fiction. I started writing decades before I published anything, working on novels and short stories. Thankfully, they never saw the light of day! I attended workshops and conferences, and joined writers’ groups. I wanted to learn about the business of publishing, as well as how to improve my fiction writing skills. I read and read and read. When attending a workshop in 2006, I came up with the idea for mystery, using the themes in the book I’d been working on (families, adoption, relationships).
With this kernel of an idea, I felt that I’d surpassed a hurdle. I thought I had something that people might actually want to read! A character and a compelling social topic. Most importantly, my idea was within my grasp as a writer. I felt I could be successful.
I went to work, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter. It took years. When I had my first draft, I felt successful. When I received comments from early readers and my writing coach, I felt like I was on the right track. And, when Due Date was accepted by a publisher and published in 2012, I felt like I’d reached my goals.
But my goals for success then shifted. I decided that if at least one person I didn’t know read my book, I’d consider that a success. (Of course, it would be all the better if they liked it.) After that happened, I decided that if ten or twenty people I didn’t know read it, I’d consider that a success. And now, almost seven years after the first edition of Due Date was published, I feel like the book has been a success. I have a lovely number of happy readers on Amazon and Goodreads. I can’t help but get a lift when I think of that.
Now, my measure of success is a bit different. Naturally, I want readers to discover the Shelby McDougall series and enjoy the books. But I also want readers to think about the cultural and social issues I raise in the books. I hope that the issues are so compelling that it will get readers thinking — enough so that readers will spread the word and talk about these issues with their friends, in their book clubs, on Goodreads and Amazon, and over dinner and cups of coffee.
Who knows though? By the time the third book in the series is available, my measure of success may have shifted yet again! At that point, I’ll have to check back in!
We are thrilled to announce that Sex on Fire: Finding Embodied Intimacy After Trauma by Leah RS Braun has been chosen as an “Official Selection” in the “Inspirational/Motivational/Self-Help” category of the New Apple Book Awards for Excellence in Independent Publishing.
The New Apple Book Awards were established to honor the creative achievements of the unsung books fighting for their place within the digital publishing world.
We are pleased and excited to announce that Paper Angel Press author L. A. Jacob’s short story, “My First Demon”, has been published in the anthology, Selections.
What really happens when you take out a bully?
When Mike LeBonte is faced with a bully every year for his middle-school life, he does the only thing he can think of to solve the problem.
He summons the demon Andromalius — a demon that is meant to punish “wicked men” such as Mousey, Mike’s present nemesis.
Selections (published by The Association of Rhode Island Authors) is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
This is Part 4 of a four-part series reporting on the “Why Haven’t You Written Your Book?” survey we offered last year. You can read Part 3 here.
I would consider my book to be a success if …
The answers we received showed a clear distribution of the responses. Here is how all of the answers ranked:
- I get it finished and published.
- I sell X number of copies during the first year.
- I get X positive reviews for it on Amazon/Goodreads.
- My friends and family all buy copies of it.
Based on these results, we might conclude that writers:
- are far more interested in actually completing their book and seeing it published than selling a specific number of copies or receiving a certain number of reviews. That sense of accomplishment appears to drive many writers more than any of the other factors we measured.
- measure a great deal of their success by looking at the number of copies of their books have been sold. Based on our experience, each author has a different number in mind. Some authors are satisfied if only a few dozen copies are sold, while others measure their success in the hundreds or thousands of copies. (Of course, what author would dislike that?)
- value review feedback. It helps them to know whether they have reached an audience and also what readers responded to — both positively and negatively. While a less-than-favorable review might sting, it can often provide valuable insights.
- would like to see those close to them purchase copies of their books, but this is not the highest criteria by which they will measure the success of their work. This makes sense, as we expect our family and friends to support us in our efforts (and many of them are probably getting free copies anyway).
Many of us know people who have written — or threatened to write — books, but then those books never seem to materialize in a final form. Even after we started Paper Angel Press, and positioned it as an author-friendly platform for getting your written creations read, we still experienced the same hesitation among writers, even those with whom we had good working relationships. Why was this happening?, we wondered.
So, last fall we ran a survey with two different audiences in order to try to understand why writers don’t complete or submit their books. We also sought to understand how writers might measure the “success” of their work after it has been published.
In an effort to keep the survey as brief and accessible as possible, we offered only three statements for the respondents to complete:
- I would write my book if …
- I’m afraid to write (or submit) my book because …
- I would consider my book to be a success if …
During the course of the next few blog posts, we will share the results of this survey with you.
We hope you enjoy them and find them useful. Maybe you’ll see yourself in our results and ask yourself, “Why Haven’t You Written Your Book?”.
We are pleased and excited to announce that Paper Angel Press author L. A. Jacob’s short story, “The Raid”, has been published in the anthology, Under the 13th Star.
Based on a story told to her by her uncle, “The Raid” is a different kind of story than the fantasy she usually publishes. It is the tale of a delivery boy for the local speakeasy that his father supplies liquor to. But when he finds the Revenuers are out to raid the speakeasy, he has to face either being arrested by the police or his father’s wrath. He’s not sure which is worse.
Under the 13th Star (published by The Association of Rhode Island Authors) is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
How did it feel to see your book in print?
For me, seeing my book in print was a rush. To this day I will look at MY book on the bookshelf behind my desk, and wonder who this person J Dark is, and how they used my name to write this book that sounds so much like the one that was in my head, and is now on paper and in this book I’m looking at. It felt surreal, and a powerful validation that someone liked, actually liked how I wrote and how I told a story. It still is a warm feeling in my chest, I don’t think it will ever go away.
What did you learn along the way?
Having a book in print is a powerful thing, and being able to repeat the creative process and make a second book is more challenging than the first time. With a first book, it’s enthusiasm, excitement of the journey, and the awe at the finished product. With book 2, at least in my case, it’s more of ‘will people like it?’, ‘am I any good?’, et cetera. My worries and neurotic behaviors gang up on me, and make me question my ability to catch lightning in a bottle a second time. Will the second one be as good as the first. I hope it’s better so people have fun reading it, and worry that it won’t be, that I haven’t learned enough from the first book to do a proper job with the second. Then I tell myself to shut up and write. I have to write for me, and then share. Feedback is awesome to get, but as a beginning writer, my book is not one that will have a lot of purchases, as I am so new. Therefore, feedback is a precious thing when I can get some. Until then, I trust that the editor will tell me what needs to happen with the book and that I will catch that lightning once more and put out a good story.
How has having your book published impacted your life?
Publishing the book was a huge shot in the arm for my confidence. But financially I know it won’t change a thing really. Book sales for beginning writers is always small. If I sell any books, that’s a bonus and validation that someone enjoyed the idea of the book enough to buy it. I can only say ‘THANK YOU’ for the trust that I can make a story. It makes my life more colorful in a way. I can say I am a published author. I have a small card to hand to people. It has given me a shot of confidence, and a little bit of neuroticism was well. I want to make this my life, now that I’ve had a taste of it. So, for me, it has become more a calling, than just a hobby. I still struggle to write every day, and struggle with ideas to write. I need, and want, to write more, and write in a way that would tell a story that people enjoy reading. So while my real life hasn’t changed, the focus of my life has. I may become a fantastically successful writer, I may end up toiling all my life in literary obscurity. Either way, now I write because the stories want to be written, and it’s fun. Above all else, it’s fun to make a story, to create a world, to live a dream that flows from a brain to a computer screen, and can be shared with anyone who wants to read.
I measure success in two equally important ways: the faith a publisher has in me, and the readers’ response.
Before you can have the second you need to have the first. If a publisher believes that the stories I tell deserve to be known, that is what makes it possible for me to bring my books to the attention of readers. To put it facetiously, my first measure of success is the fact that my books didn’t go into the slush pile.
Without a good publisher who understands your needs and desires as a writer, all you have is manuscripts that may never see the light of day, worthy as they may be. It’s a wonderful thing to know that a publisher has enough faith in you to devote time, care and money to the stories you tell, and few things feel better than a beautifully produced book you can hold in your hands, keep on a shelf and show off with pride.
The other measure of success are the readers’ reviews. I have garnered a respectable constellation of little gold stars, and I won’t deny that counting them is very rewarding.
We asked our authors to share how they measure success when it comes to their writing and their books. We hope you enjoy them.
How do I measure success? With the metric system.
Seriously, success is difficult to describe, which in part is why we’re writing about it here. My own personal measure of success is not by sales or publishing, though, those are great perks of the job. My measure of success is finishing. Yes, I want people to read my stories, enjoy them and even re-read them. But, to me, that’s validation, not actual success.
Success is starting a project, and seeing it through to the end. Did I have the perseverance to finish a story and the belief that it should be finished? To paraphrase an old adage, “Nothing breeds writing like writing.” If I write, then I should write more. It doesn’t have to be a lot, it just has to keep moving forward, and towards its logical end. Without a endpoint, you’ll get the writing equivalent of Winchester House, huge reams of words that are cobbled together and sometimes dead end.
Success though is conceiving a story in whatever manner you use. Doing the writing to create the story, and finishing the story. That is what I judge myself by; Did I start a story, and most important, did I see it through to the end?
After succeeding at finishing, then other successes are editing for spelling and continuity, checking dialog and description so that it matches my inner vision. I know this sounds like a repeat of writing, and it is. There’s no ultimate success, there’s a bunch of small successes that create a snowball effect for the story. Each piece gives me a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that I completed my self-imposed task.
It isn’t always absolute fun, as there are days where I would rather avoid anything than face the day. Those are the days that finishing something as small as a 500 word section mean the most to me. I succeeded in pushing myself. I got the job, the challenge I gave myself and I finished it.
Don’t get me wrong. I love, seriously love making stories. There are just days where it sucks to sit down a make them. Those are the real successes. I can’t judge by publishing of a book, or how popular a book is. Like I said earlier, those are amazing perks OF writing. But they’re not success AT writing. Success is much simpler, and much harder to me. The thrill of seeing a book in print, is one heck of an exciting validation of my efforts and focus in writing the book.
People in general desire validation as it means they did something right. But as I said, it’s not success, it’s validation. Success is getting yourself to the end of a project, of getting yourself to write, even when you’d rather just vegetate and watch television or play your favorite app/game.
True success is you, and your goals, getting to the end together.
We asked our authors to share how they measure success when it comes to their writing and their books. We hope you enjoy them.
When I first started writing, I wrote primarily for myself. Success was getting the words out on paper, by pen or typewriter. Then I started posting stories with other people in forums and a blog. People liked my characters and their stories. People commented, which meant they read my stuff. Someone else actually liked what I was doing!
My level of success changed. It was to get published. Because of my fear, I sent out four, exactly four, query letters to different agents. All of them said no thanks.
Then Paper Angel came along. They offered to publish a book it took me a month to write and was my most recent novel (therefore, the one I was most passionate about), Homecoming. I’m working on War Mage, the actual novel, since Homecoming is more or less a prequel. I have another novel that I’ve been passionate about for the last three years that I hope to get to Paper Angel. This meant I fulfilled my dream of getting published, therefore I’m successful.
Not so much. Because I raised the bar yet again. I had goals: 20 reviews and sell 50 copies in three months, being on the best seller list, whatever that means…but then reality burst that bubble (so far).
However, people who’ve contacted me about my book say it’s a good beginning. They want more. They like the character, the world I’ve created, the setup for the next book. In fact, one of my readers said, “You’ve been writing for over 30 years; what else do you have that I don’t know about?”
What was my original measure of success? To get the words out. Not the money. Not the fame–though they would be nice. I write a story that I myself would like to read. If someone else comes along for the ride, then I have done my duty. By that, I am successful.