Measuring Success as an Indie Author

Figuring out when you’ve “made it” as an author can be tricky. Perhaps the easiest measure of success is signing a publishing deal, though in reality that’s far from indicating any lasting literary or financial success. Still, it’s a convenient benchmark.

Unless you have no interest in getting a traditional publishing deal. My goal is to make a full-time living as an author, and, in broad strokes, I’m convinced self-publishing is the best route for that. So I don’t have the convenience of a literary establishment to give legitimacy to my work.

So maybe it’s about sales numbers. But what’s enough? 100 sales per month? 1,000? 10,000? It feels totally arbitrary. There’s always going to be someone selling more than you, and as soon as you’ve sold any books at all you’re in a pretty high percentile among aspiring authors. And there’s such a smooth gradation in between that I don’t think I’d be satisfied by reaching any particular number; it would just be time to bump the number up and start again.

Same goes for income. I do have a specific target income in mind that would allow me to quit my day job and write full time, but even there, how long do I need to sustain that income before it’s justified to make the leap? And who says that means I’ve made it? If I give in and write crappy 30,000-word self-help books with SEO’d titles that will sell like hotcakes and get me there faster have I really won at writing?

Is it enough for my family to barely scrape by on my writing income, or do we have to be marginally comfortable and secure before I’m really successful? Or do I need to be able to buy nice things or rent an office or something? Past a certain point, income is just another number. No, my financial goal just marks when I get to go full-time, not whether I’m succeeding as a writer.

In the end, I have settled on two measures of success. To measure my success as a writer, I always turn back to this:

1. Am I crafting worthwhile stories and ideas that only I can put into the world?

2. Did I substantially add to my word count today?

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7 comments

  1. As an aspiring writer, this concerns me too. For me, I’ll consider it a success when I finish writing my first book. After that will be when I get published. After that, I haven’t thought it through yet. Because I haven’t reached the first milestone, thinking that much ahead will only cause fears and self doubts, wondering if you’ll be successful or if you can make a full time income out of it.

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    1. I like that. It’s certainly a situation where each person will have different goals and milestones, and it takes a lot of self-awareness to find the balance between what sets a clear direction and what makes an overwhelming distraction.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I like your first measuring stick, about crafting worthwhile stories — as it reflects that you’re creating sincere stories that you feel good about. That’s certainly a good measure of success. I keep that measure, and I also have the goal of quitting my day job and becoming a full-time writer. I haven’t worked out the specifics for that — as for as how many months in a row of earning enough from ebook sales it would take for me to have enough confidence to quit the day job. But I’m far from that happening, so I don’t have to cross that bridge just yet.

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    1. Thanks! And yes, the question of specific benchmarks for when it’s time to go full-time is a tricky one. It will vary a lot by individual case, and may even change based on where in life you are. I could totally see myself laying out specific measures now that have become irrelevant by the time I achieve them. That’s part of why I really like this measure as the fundamental focus – as long as I’m maintaining integrity and execution, the rest is just details.

      Liked by 1 person

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