Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Measure Of Success

Lately I've been thinking about what it means to be successful. I worked many years in unassuming low- to mid-level jobs with one goal in mind: to retire by age 55. Circumstances were such that I met my goal and then some. I retired at 51. I don't have extra money to travel the world or spend frivolously, but I have enough for necessities like electricity, satellite TV and a wireless connection for the next 30+ years barring catastrophic events like major health issues or the demise of social security. I'm debt free, with even the mortgage paid off. By that measure, I'm successful. Anything else I do career-wise is gravy.

But how do you measure publishing success? We all know there are certain milestones on the way to success, but how do we know when we've arrived in Successville? Everyone's journey is different, of course, but how many of us are even headed toward the same destination?

Let me argue here that satisfaction and success are two different measures. I am happy and satisfied when I complete a manuscript, for instance, but I don't consider the act of finishing to be successful in this context. You may well feel differently -- and that's part of why there's any question about this at all.

Where on the continuum do YOU find Success? Perhaps at a point not listed here? Let us know in the comments and, if you have actual numbers in mind for the "X's" and are comfortable sharing, please do so.

Traditional Route
  • Finish a manuscript
  • Know in your heart the ms is good
  • Get an agent
  • Sell to a publishing house
    • Sell to any publisher
    • Sell to a Big 6 house
  • Get an advance
    • Get any advance
    • Get an advance over X amount
  • Get your box of ARCs
  • Get starred reviews
  • See your book on a shelf in a store
  • Sell well
  • Earn out your advance
  • Make X amount over your advance
  • Sell X number of copies
  • Make it onto a prestigious list
    • Blip on the list even briefly
    • Stay on a prestigious list more than a week
  • Sell Book 2 to a publisher
  • Sell Book 3
  • Sell Book 4  

Self-Pub Route
  • Finish a manuscript
  • Know in your heart the ms is good
  • Get the perfect cover
  • Get the formatting accepted through all the online retailers
  • Publish into the online retailers' catalogs
  • Sell a copy to someone you don't know
  • Get a review from someone you don't know
  • Earn enough in royalties to cover production expenses
  • Hit X in the rankings
    • Blip at X in the rankings even briefl
    • Stay at X in the rankings for Y amount of time
  • Make X amount of money for a single book
  • Sell X number of copies
  • Publish Book 2
  • Publish Book 3
  • Make X amount of money for your combined list
  • Sign with a major publisher based on self-pub sales

 The measures of success I use today may well change tomorrow, but for now I'd have to go with:
  • Trad Publishing - Earn out your advance
  • Self-Publishing - I'm torn between making X amount of money for a single book or combined list and selling X number of copies. I don't yet have a clue what real figures to substitute for the X's. Any ideas?


Sarah Laurenson said...

I used to have a fairly well defined, get published the traditional route, idea of success. Now? I'm not so sure.

There are so many changes happening in the world of publishing and they're happening so quickly. The line between tradiiotnal and self-pubbing are getting blurred by some of those changes.

Today, I'm measuring it by writing the book that satisfies me and I think is a good ms. That's as far ahead as I think it feasible to look. Once I've "finished" said book, then I'll take a look at what's happening out there.

I'm still thinking the agent route whenever I do think that far ahead.

And now that I'm neck deep in the world of children's lit, it looks like I'm writing an adult book. Go figure.

Riley Redgate said...

Never having finished either route to publishing, my perspective is limited. But I measure success by that second bullet - knowing in my heart the ms is good. If I can go back, read, and enjoy, I feel a deep satisfaction. And that weighs more than external praise or even accomplishment, in my humble opinion.

fairyhedgehog said...

I'm still stuck on "finish a manuscript"! When I get to "know in my heart it's good" I'll be well pleased!

Phoenix Sullivan said...

@Sarah: That's a good point -- that our measuring stick could well change depending on where we are in the process.

LOL at the adult novel after you've absorbed all the kidlit industry culture!

@Riley: I disagree. Your opinion is NOT humble. It is proudly yours and as valid as anyone's :o)

@FHH: You were making very good progress last I heard!

Jo-Ann said...

I guess that writers need to be thick skinned - or learn to be damned quickly. Receiving not-so-flattering critiques from people who have no vested interest in boosting your self-esteem is the first lesson. Rejections from publishers and agents is the next lesson. For those who eventually put something out there (either by traditional pubbing or e-sales) sales figures provide another perspective on your work.

So what is the best measure of success? At what point is a battered and bruised writer finally pleased? I guess that since the path to even producing a novel is fraught, I'd be happy to finish something that doesn't receive an instant rejection from everybody I send it to. I'm not saying I'd not be disappointed with rejection, but knowing that my work has some serit is important to me.

Publishers and agents make decisions based not just on the quality of the book, but also on the advice of the marketing department, (who believe they're in touch with the zeitgeist). This is outside your control. So if your defintion of success requires elements that you cannot influence, then you're setting yourself up for disappointment.

Quality is equal to success, in my view. But that's not to say I dont wish to retire in luxury on the proceeds of my writing!