Tag Archives: success

Quantity of Success

Aug 07, 2014

elevator to successThere have been a whole bunch of really great articles about the capacity for success in self-publishing that exists these days, including this cool one from Yahoo! Finance yesterday. I love hearing about other self-publishing authors who are doing ridiculously well. I love seeing my fellow writers achieve amazing things. My friend Sandra Owens’s new book Crazy for Her is on the Amazon Top 10 of all books right now!  It’s a really exciting time to be a part of the publishing world, let me tell you, especially with friends who are bestsellers and shooting stars.

Meanwhile, back on earth, I’m having a completely pitiful summer of sales. Absolutely nothing is working for me. Ah, the joys of how the other half lives! And while, yes, I do get depressed about the volume of suckage at this stage of my publishing life, and yes, I am a teensy bit jealous when I start comparing myself, I also know that this is just the beginning of the beginning for me.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about publishing, one thing that I really wish wasn’t true, but sadly it is, it’s that size matters. And by size I mean quantity. I’ve heard authors like Courtney Milan and Bella Andre and any number of other bestsellers say that it takes a lot of books in publication before the magic starts to happen. There seem to be certain magic numbers for people, 5-6, 9-10. Numbers like that. I think there’s something to that.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about Billy Joel this week. Some of my coworkers went to a Billy Joel concert over the weekend and came back to the office full of rave reviews. A few desks down from me, the conversation started to fly with song titles that sparked bundles of remembered music and lyrics in my mind. That in turn brought my entire childhood pouring to the surface.

Being the research nerd that I am, I immediately had to go online and read Billy Joel’s entire life history. I learned something (obvious) that I didn’t know that kind of changed my world as a published writer. “Piano Man”, Joel’s first super hit, was released in 1973. Guess when he first started recording and making records? 1965. Now, I may not be good at math, but I can subtract to discover that it took 8 years for that first big hit to hit. That was 8 years of playing clubs, finding the right bandmates, trying things that didn’t work, writing songs, and never, ever giving up. And while the first hit came in 1973, the Billy Joel songs that stick in my heart and the ones I consider his best work didn’t come out until the late 80s. That’s at least 10 more years. That’s twenty years of hard work before Billy Joel recorded my favorite of his songs!

tire slashIt wasn’t just him either. I have this little obsession with Davie Bowie these days too. And Bowie worked and recorded and switched up bands and tried new things and failed and failed and FAILED before he finally succeeded. And boy did he succeed! So much so that he’s been in my dreams twice in the last few weeks…once as an oncologist, but that’s a long story.

The point is, there is a universal truth to every creative effort, every effort of any kind. It takes a lot of hard work to be an overnight success. YEARS of hard work. The more I learn about the publishing industry, the more I’m convinced that, really, anyone who wants to succeed at it CAN succeed, as long as they’re willing to put in the work that their individual career path needs for them to succeed.

Part of that is quantity. You have to write a lot of songs before you write “Piano Man”. You have to write a lot of books before you write the bestseller. And yes, even those people who hit the lists with their “first book” have actually written book after book after book that never saw the light of day. I started writing when I was ten. I can’t tell you how many novels I started but never finished before I finally cracked the code and finished one. And the number of novels I finished before I started publishing? Lots.

It’s two things, as far as I can see. First, it’s that old “it takes ten thousand hours of practice at something before you can master it” rule of thumb. I firmly, FIRMLY believe that to be true. Quantity of time is as important as quantity of output. Second, it’s the inescapable truth that right now in the genre fiction publishing world, series are king. Readers want ‘em, writers need to write ‘em. A series is not one book. A series isn’t even two books or three books, honestly. A series is a lot of books about the same characters and their relatives and their friends and their community. Series. Word.

So am I upset that this has been the summer of suck for my book sales? Okay, yeah, a little. Am I giving up and going home? Not on your life! I’m looking for the combination that works. I believe in my books. I know they’re good. I know all of the ones I have yet to write, have yet to even dream up are good. I just don’t know which one is “Piano Man” yet. But when I do know, oh boy, you’ll know it too!

Don’t give up. Ever.

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An Attitude of Author Success

May 01, 2014
Me with my new friend, fellow author Mary Driver-Thiel

Me with my new friend, fellow author Mary Driver-Thiel

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Chicago-North chapter of the RWA’s Spring Fling writer’s conference. Not only that, I was invited to present a workshop there on self-publishing. It was a fantastic experience! The conference itself was so well organized and the people I met and friends I got to see again were awesome. There’s nothing like attending a conference to stir the blood to write!

One of the things I noticed during this conference that was new for me was that I have managed to reach the next level. What does that mean? Well, after I presented the workshop, I had quite a few people come up to me to thank me and to ask questions. At the book-signing, I had people coming up to me asking me to autograph their books. I could tell from the way they looked at me that their perception of me was as someone who has succeeded. Or maybe that’s because at various points in the conference I had a long chat with Mary Balogh and another long chat with Courtney Milan (and her publicist, who is awesome!).

Anyhow, it made me think not only about what makes a writer successful, but what gives a struggling writer the appearance of success to those around them. One of my workshop attendees came up to me afterward and commented that I came off as so confident in my presentation, more so than the NYT Bestselling speaker from the day before. (She noted that she finds self-published authors to be much more confident in their bearing than traditionally published authors, which is a totally interesting comment to make!) I defer to my theater training, but I think it’s something else too.

Back when I was in cosmetology school, one of my teachers, Ms. Dawn, always used to tell us “fake it ‘til you make it”. She meant that even if we were faced with a head of hair in front of us that was a hot mess and we had no idea how to fix it and nothing to go on but our training, for the sake of the client, you had to act like you were the top stylist in the world and knew exactly what you needed to do to make that person gorgeous. It’s a philosophy that applies to life and that especially applies to writing. Act like the writer you want to be.

Yep, as Ms. Dawn said, fake it 'til you make it! © Iakov Filimonov | Dreamstime.com

Yep, as Ms. Dawn said, fake it ’til you make it!
© Iakov Filimonov | Dreamstime.com

Now, as I say that, I really hope you don’t want to be the writer who sticks their nose in the air and refuses to come down from their pedestal to talk to the little people. What I mean is that no matter what stage of your career you’re in, you should deport yourself like a professional. You should go out in public with a positive, encouraging attitude, as if someone will come up to you and say, “Hey, aren’t you [Famous Writer]?” You should never downplay your accomplishments. You’ve written a BOOK, dammit! And if someone asks your advice on a topic, you should be ready and eager to give them all the help they need.

I personally think this attitude of author success is most important to keep up when you’re in your writer cave, alone. Treat yourself as though you are Famous Author. How do you think the top 5% got to where they are? Through hard work, treating their writing like a job, and following processes without cutting corners. I have always striven to emulate the traditional publishing process as closely as possible in my self-publishing habits, and it’s paid off.

The other thing I would suggest to help you act like a successful author is to always jump when opportunity presents itself. Never assume that you’re too humble and lowly to give an interview or offer advice when someone is looking for it or to help out when someone has a project that requires input from other authors. Take the position that whoever is looking for help and advice wants YOU to be a part of their endeavor. You’d be amazed at how many opportunities I’ve stumbled across simply by being open and chatty and offering help when the call went out.

Oh, and one more thing. If you find yourself at writer’s conferences, as tempting as it is to hang out with your friends and sit with them at the formal dinners, sit at tables with people you don’t know! I can’t tell you how many fun conversations I had this past weekend and how many new people I met who I love, simply by striking up a conversation with the friendly face I didn’t know.

I’m convinced that success as an author is within reach of anyone who sets out with the determination to make a career for themselves. Sometimes the best first step is to act like you’ve already arrived.

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Self-Publishing Essentials – How Do We Measure Success?

Jun 26, 2013
© Cda2008 | Dreamstime.com

© Cda2008 | Dreamstime.com

And so, today we wrap up our official in-depth study of the essentials of self-publishing with the big question that lies underneath all of our efforts: How do we know if and when we’re a success? All that work, all the honing our craft and writing, the money spent hiring a professional editor and cover designer, the thought, time, and expense that goes into marketing … how do we know if that pays off?

Success is elusive, fickle, and varied. What defines one person’s success might be a whole different monster than someone else’s definition of success. The problem is, we can start to feel as though all of our blood, sweat, and tears are for naught if we make one big, subtle mistake. You guessed it, that mistake is comparing ourselves to others.

Comparing your successes to what you assume other writers successes have been is the quickest way to drive yourself absolutely crazy. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of looking at what other people are doing and assuming that they’re better than us. I’m not gonna lie, I’ve obsessively checked Amazon rankings and reviews for my fellow authors, and almost universally I’ve gone into a tailspin of depression if they have more positive reviews and/or higher rankings than I do. Continue reading

Are You a Success?

Dec 18, 2011

What is success?  How do you know when you’re successful?

I’m pretty sure that everyone thinks about these questions at some point in their life and wonders if they’re successful.  Everyone has a definition of success that they either strive for, reach, or despair that they will never reach.  But it’s a far trickier question than it looks like on the surface.

I’m a Writer.  I’m a Team Indie Writer.  I’ve seen a lot of talk recently about how to succeed as an Indie Author.  A lot of blogs and articles and tweets are filled with advice to boost your sales and rocket your books up to the top of everyone’s best-seller list.  Going in the other direction, there’s a lot of discussion out there about how to get an agent and be published traditionally.  So many people, to my great mystification, seem to be equating numbers/money with success as Writer.

To me success as a Writer has nothing whatsoever to do with sales.  Shocked?  Baffled?  Don’t believe me?  Think I’m fooling myself or saying one thing when secretly I mean another?  Nope.  For me writing is not a numbers game.  Writing is Love.  My stories are my gifts, a way to share the love inside of me with friends.  Indie Publishing for me is a way to share on a grand scale with friends who I’ve never met.

SUCCESS!!!!

So how do I define whether I’m a successful Writer or not?  By sales figures on Amazon.com?  No!  I haven’t checked my sales numbers in ages.  I measure my success as a Writer by the fact that I wrote a book I am proud of, had an editor give it the once-over so I could make it better, had a designer friend make an awesome cover, and put it up for sale.  That in and of itself is success.  I also consider myself successful as a writer because a couple of people, in person and online, have said they really enjoyed my story.  Bliss!

And that’s it.  No, seriously.  I don’t think that a pile of money or being recognized on the street could make me feel any more successful than I do.  I know you don’t believe me, but that’s part of my point: Every individual’s standard and definition of success is different.  And it is imperative that we all respect those different goals and not look down on someone because they haven’t achieved our definition of success.

The same is true for work.  Please forgive me any of my coworkers who may be reading this, but the other day when you guys were talking about how badly you wanted to be named “director” or “senior coordinator” or “vice president” I was hunkered in my cube giggling.  I don’t understand the fascination with titles.  I don’t care what you call me as long as I get my work done and as long as my boss notices my efforts and appreciates them.  I consider myself successful at my job because I accomplish so much on a daily basis.  I feel pride in that accomplishment.  I like coming to work and tackling my to-do list because it makes me feel good to know at the end of the day that I have done well.  Do I have a title?  No.  Do I have a fancy corner office?  No.  Does my boss appreciate my efforts and has she shown this in concrete ways?  Yes.  I am a success at work.

How about life?

Okay, I was raised in a small, insular society that I like to refer to as Pleasantville.  (If you haven’t seen Pleasantville with Toby McGuire and Reese Witherspoon then go out and rent it!)  I kid you not, the standard measure of success as a woman in this society is marriage and children.  Am I married?  No.  Do I have children?  No.  Do I have so much as a romantic blip on my radar?  No.  (Do I have time for a romantic blip on my radar?  Hell no!)  So am I a failure at life?  NO!

I am successful at life.  Why?  Because I’m happy.  I love my life.  I love my job, my Writing, the friends I’ve made online and in the real world.  I love writing a blog post every day.  Each comment makes me smile.  I’m a success at life because I make people smile.

This tiny person would grow up to be a SUCCESS!

You know what makes me feel like the biggest success the world has ever known?  When somebody says the following phrase to me: “I’m so glad you’re here!”  Whether it’s uttered when I show up at a cricket match just in time and have a scorebook shoved into my arms as a game is about to start, or whether it’s when I get invited to a special family birthday dinner when I’m not that person’s family, or whether it’s when I start a new job and show that I can do what needs to be done … that’s when I feel like a bucket of WIN.

But you know what was the moment of my life when I felt like the biggest success ever?  It was as I stood by the side of my Mom’s grave on a chilly April afternoon as my brothers and uncle lowered her coffin into the ground.  In that moment I knew grief so profound, sadness so deep, that nothing would ever be the same.  I felt as old as the ground under my feet.  I felt time collapse into that moment of transformation.  There was no one to catch me if I fell anymore.

And life went on.

I consider myself successful because I have gone through the worst life has to offer … and I’m still happy.  I am a success because I strive every day to take the legacy of pain and uncertainty that my Mom left me with and to make something beautiful out of it.  If you happen to buy my book I hope you notice the dedication:  “For Mom.  You always told me to dream my dreams and reach for the stars.  I did.  I always will.”  Right there.  That is my manifesto for success.  Every last word of it.  That is why I succeed.

So think about it.  Do you define success by the number of books you’ve sold?  By the money your stories make?  Is that why you write?  Are titles at work and six-figure paychecks synonymous with happiness in your world?  Do you judge your own self-importance by the number of Friends you have on Facebook or the number of people who do what you say when you tell them to?  Is your ability to carry on in the face of tragedy something you are proud of?  When your time is up will you be satisfied if you leave a legacy of wealth and fame to your heirs or if you pack a church at your funeral or if you have one stalwart friend holding your hand as you move on?

There are so many ways to answer that question.  Once you’ve answered it for yourself take a deep breath and ask if you are holding others to your standard of success in spite of what they might want.  Are you looking down on anyone because they aren’t the person you want them to be?  The time has come to get over that way of judging and to help others achieve success on their terms.