A few years ago while talking to an editor, they told the story of an author who was never satisfied (not revealing the name of course). If this author’s latest book 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 success in any form.
Note the title of this post. I’m writing about measuring success, not defining it. To measure is to “estimate or assess the extent, quality, value, or effect of (something).” To define is to “state or describe exactly the nature, scope, or meaning of.”
[For some people, this may be only a matter of semantics; but it should be seen as the difference between setting a qualitative or a quantitative criteria for success.]
When it comes to book sales, many authors have written openly of their own measurement by using numbers and charts. Some even reveal how much money they’ve made. Following these claims can cause a range of emotions from being enlightened, debilitated, or simply frustrated.
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. I tried to answer a common question in the post “What Are Average Book Sales?” But it is still only one measure.
In one way, the question “how do you measure success?” is a wise one. It helps to set realistic expectations.
In another way it is unwise because it can end up inside the dangerous game called Comparison. 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 an attempt to define success for the individual author, not measure it. I propose that one must measure before defining. If you can measure it, you can define it. As long as you know what “it” is.
If you can measure it, you can define it.
As long as you know what “it” is.
I think success in book publishing has at least two measurements.
One is yours. The one you define for yourself and your circumstances.
The other is 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 both measure and define success based on how much money the author makes or how many copies the book sells.
The Christian market tends to measure success based on the impact of the material on someone’s life. (At least we can hope that is how they measure success.)
I’m aware that the above generalization is 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 make money and be one that changes lives.
I hope you would agree that impact and changed lives are of primary importance to every writer who is a Christian. To create stories (novels) that reach hearts through the power of story. To write nonfiction that inspires, persuades, encourages, and challenges hearts and minds.
Any discussion of sales numbers should become secondary.
The letters our clients have received from readers include messages from those who chose life over suicide, life over abortion, marriage over divorce, certainty over doubt, reconciliation over stubbornness, hope over despair, a life with Christ over a life of emptiness—because of a book they read.
There is power in words, written and spoken. They can be for good or for evil. Strive for your words to be measured by good. Let them not be banal or benign, but choose the words that challenge and change the lives of those who will read them.