by Steve Laube
A few years ago while talking to some editors they described an author who was never satisfied (not revealing the name of course). If this author’s latest book had sold 50,000 copies the author wondered why the publisher didn’t sell 60,000. And if it sold 60,000 why didn’t it sell 75,000? The author was constantly pushing for “more” and was incapable of celebrating any measure of success.
Recently there has been much ink spilled on whether Indie authors are better off than traditionally published counterparts. Pundits have laid claim to their own definition of successful book sales using numbers, charts, and revealed earnings. Following this dialogue can be rather exhausting.
I understand the desire to have some objective standard by which we can measure whether or not our efforts are successful. It is a natural instinct. If it is any indication, one of our most popular blog posts of all time has been “What are Average Book Sales?” with thousands of readers.
In one way this is a wise question to ask so that your expectations can be realistic.
In another way it is unwise because the cliff called “Comparison” is a precipitous one. I’ve talked to depressed authors who are wounded by numbers. I’ve talked to angry authors who are incensed by a perceived lack of effort by their publisher. I’ve talked to highly frustrated authors who wonder if it is worth it all.
Ultimately the quest to know such information is simply an attempt to define success for the individual author. If you can measure it you can define it. As long as we know what “it” is.
I think success in book publishing has at least two definitions. One is yours. The one you define for yourself and your circumstances. Another is the definition determined by others when looking at your book, either by reading it (an evaluation of content quality), looking at it (an evaluation of production quality), or by evaluating data (sales numbers or market penetration).
The general market tends to define success based on how much money the author or the book earns.
The Christian market tends to define success based on the impact of the material on someone’s life.
I’m aware that generalization is awfully simplistic and almost naive but one cannot deny the sentiment.
At the very least the Christian author would like to have both. They want their book to both contribute to their financial well-being while also being a book that changes lives.
The challenge I see is that one person’s financial well-being is different from the next. I’ve known authors who can’t make their rent payment because a royalty check is late. I’ve also known authors who forget to deposit their royalty and advance checks because they aren’t concerned about their earnings from writing. Not everyone is driven by the same financial motivation.
And yet, when it comes to “impact” and “changed lives” I suspect every Christian author’s motivations are very much in line. Any discussion of sales numbers becomes secondary to reading letters from readers who chose life over suicide, or life over abortion, or marriage over divorce, or reconciliation over stubbornness…because of a book they read.
Therefore, not to put you on the spot, but how do you measure (not define) success?