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  1. #1
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    Defining Book "Success"

    Hi everyone!

    I'm new here. In fact, I just published my first book a few months ago, so I'm new to the publishing world in general... And I have question for all you who have been doing this for a lot longer than me: how do you judge if a book has been successful?

    I know "success" means different things to different people, and it can't *really* be defined in any one way that everyone can agree on. But let's put that aside for a moment, if you will. I'm not looking for one right answer - just some generalizations, ballpark figures, gut feelings... basically, whatever completely subjective criteria that you might use to try to gauge a book's progress. For example:

    "I consider a book successful when it has...

    Sold X number of copies in X amount of time
    Generated $X in profits/revenue/author-takeaway in X amount of time
    Earned X% of its break-even cost in X amount of time
    Earned X number of reviews on Amazon averaging stars
    Ranked #X on X list for X amount of time
    Gotten X number of Likes/Adds/Follows on Facebook/Goodreads/Twitter
    Some other intangible (e.g., "I saw a complete stranger reading it.")
    Something else entirely?
    Etc."

    Any takers? :-)

    I understand that the people in this group come from all different backgrounds, and I'm interested to hear what EVERYONE has to say - authors (published and indie), agents, editors, publishers, publicists, you name it. Any advice you could offer would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance for sharing your wisdom!!

    Sincerely,
    Samantha Durante
    (Author of Stitch)

    PS - Please be aware that I plan to publish a compilation of these responses on my blog as a reference for other new authors, BUT I promise to make everything anonymous. So please be candid! Thanks again!

  2. #2
    For me, it was the desire to publish it. As simple as that. Anything else is bonus.
    I am planning to make it fiscally successful, but I'm aware it will take time.
    Igor

  3. #3
    Speaks fluent Bawehrf zachariah's Avatar
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    Nobel Prize for Literature.

  4. #4
    Registered User JimF's Avatar
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    I think success comes in stages. I self published a short story as a free ebook on Smashwords and got 69 downloads 4 very positive reviews, only 1 was from a friend. To me that was a success because people enjoyed what I had written.

    Right now I am working on a much larger story that I plan to publish and charge for to determin that a success I think I will need more than just a few downloads and positive reviews.

    Jim

  5. #5
    Greymane Wilson Geiger's Avatar
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    I think just the act of getting a book published is no small feat, so that in itself could qualify as success, especially since I've not met that goal yet.

    I would define it a bit differently, though. Success to me, when it came to having a book published, would be:

    You know, I had a lot of cool, neat things typed up here initially, but then I had to be honest with myself. Sure, it's great that strangers may read it, great that others might review my work, even if they didn't love it. But if I'm honest, I have certain markers for my own personal success. Mass publication, solid reviews, and enough of an income to go full-time.

    Now, is that rational? I dunno, but who else will believe that I can be as successful if I don't believe it?

  6. #6
    We Read for Light Window Bar's Avatar
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    It all depends on what day you ask me. Mostly, I feel I succeed if I wake up each morning with a smile on my face, a kiss and a kind word for/from my wife, and the will to keep trying. But when something positive that's unexpected happens (i.e.-- a small award or honor) that puts me over the top.

    It's good to remember the adage: "If it were easy, everyone would be doing it." As long as we keep our attitudes pleasant and constructive, and as long as we see life as a path not a win/lose event, we'll be fine.

    Irish: "I eat when I'm hungry, I drink when I'm dry, and if whisky don't kill me, I'll live till I die."

  7. #7
    G.L. Lathian G.L. Lathian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wulfen View Post
    I think just the act of getting a book published is no small feat, so that in itself could qualify as success, especially since I've not met that goal yet.

    I would define it a bit differently, though. Success to me, when it came to having a book published, would be:

    You know, I had a lot of cool, neat things typed up here initially, but then I had to be honest with myself. Sure, it's great that strangers may read it, great that others might review my work, even if they didn't love it. But if I'm honest, I have certain markers for my own personal success. Mass publication, solid reviews, and enough of an income to go full-time.

    Now, is that rational? I dunno, but who else will believe that I can be as successful if I don't believe it?
    I'm in this boat. Writing and creating stories is what I love - more than anything else, so why wouldn't I want to do it full-time. Being able to create a large enough readership that I can spend days in front of the computer just typing is something that keeps me striving towards 'success'.

    For me, everything else is just an accomplishment. Real success: being able to write for the rest of my life.

  8. #8
    sf-icionado / horr-orator Andrew Leon Hudson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by My tweak of Cononomous's reply:
    Real success: being able to just write for the rest of my life.
    No shame at all in bluntly saying what you want on this point. Whatever the details might be, when I can write to the exclusion of all other concerns I'll consider myself successful. It won't take millions, of either readers or dollars (and I'd take the first over the second any day of the week), but if I could pay all my bills just by writing I'd be a happy man.
    Last edited by Andrew Leon Hudson; November 16th, 2012 at 06:26 AM.

  9. #9
    G.L. Lathian G.L. Lathian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noumenon View Post
    No shame at all in bluntly saying what you want on this point. Whatever the details might be, when I can write to the exclusion of all other concerns I'll consider myself successful. It won't take millions, of either readers or dollars (and I'd take the first over the second any day of the week), but if I could pay all my bills just by writing I'd be a happy man.
    It ain't about money! I completely agree. It's all about doing what you really want to do. For me and you and many others, it's all about the writing.

  10. #10
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    Thanks so much everyone. These are all great answers, but what I'm really looking for, though, are more quantitative benchmark figures. For example, I have no idea what a typical book sales arc looks like. How many books sold (or $ royalties, etc.) in the first 3 or 6 or 12 months is considered poor/average/good/spectacular? I've been trying to find this information online and there isn't much out there...

    So far the most helpful figures I've seen are that the average self-published book sells <250 copies (which is not super helpful, since I think the average for self-published books is weighed down by limited run vanity press books) and that most publishers will consider a book "successful" if it sells somewhere between 3,000-20,000 copies (but I'm not sure in what amount of time, and that's also a very big range). I'm wondering if people have personal experience that can shed more light on these numbers... Are they accurate/achievable? And what kind of time frame they should be achieved in if your book is doing well? Thanks for any insights you can share!

  11. #11
    Shadow's Lure (June 2011)
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    Quote Originally Posted by sdur211 View Post
    Thanks so much everyone. These are all great answers, but what I'm really looking for, though, are more quantitative benchmark figures. For example, I have no idea what a typical book sales arc looks like. How many books sold (or $ royalties, etc.) in the first 3 or 6 or 12 months is considered poor/average/good/spectacular? I've been trying to find this information online and there isn't much out there...

    So far the most helpful figures I've seen are that the average self-published book sells <250 copies (which is not super helpful, since I think the average for self-published books is weighed down by limited run vanity press books) and that most publishers will consider a book "successful" if it sells somewhere between 3,000-20,000 copies (but I'm not sure in what amount of time, and that's also a very big range). I'm wondering if people have personal experience that can shed more light on these numbers... Are they accurate/achievable? And what kind of time frame they should be achieved in if your book is doing well? Thanks for any insights you can share!
    Sdur, it sounds like you want an industry benchmark, a point at which you can reasonably impress a large publisher enough to get signed. Kat might be able to help you with that, but my gut tells me that "magic number" is fluid, depending on the publisher and how much your story appeals to them.

    Success is dependent on your goal. Some folks would be thrilled to sell ten thousand copies in a year. James Patterson is probably not one of them.

  12. #12
    Shadow's Lure (June 2011)
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    Sdur, it sounds like you want an industry benchmark, a point at which you can reasonably impress a large publisher enough to get signed. Kat might be able to help you with that, but my gut tells me that "magic number" is fluid, depending on the publisher and how much your story appeals to them.

    Success is dependent on your goal. Some folks would be thrilled to sell ten thousand copies in a year. James Patterson is probably not one of them.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Sprunk View Post
    Sdur, it sounds like you want an industry benchmark, a point at which you can reasonably impress a large publisher enough to get signed. Kat might be able to help you with that, but my gut tells me that "magic number" is fluid, depending on the publisher and how much your story appeals to them.

    Success is dependent on your goal. Some folks would be thrilled to sell ten thousand copies in a year. James Patterson is probably not one of them.
    Thanks so much, Jon. I'm not necessarily looking to get picked up by a publisher, but I guess am I looking what would considered a success from the perspective of a typical publisher (since that's the bar by which I want to judge my book as well, though as my own publisher).

    I think what I'm really getting at is that I don't know what a typical book sales arc looks like at 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, etc., and where on that spectrum is considered poor/average/good/spectacular. I am looking at my sales numbers and they definitely exceeded my expectations considering it's my first book, but I'm wondering how well I'm *really* doing from an industry-standard perspective.

    For me personally, my DREAM goal would be to be able to make a living just off writing books (which I know is very difficult), and would mean I need to sell around 60,000 copies a year, likely from a combination of multiple books, since from what I can tell this is rare to do with one book - unless you're James Patterson. :-) So now that I only have one book working towards that goal, I'm wondering how big of a chunk I can reasonably expect that book to cover. And more specifically, I'm trying to figure out if my current book has any possibilities of eventually accounting for a significant portion of that goal (if I continue marketing it heavily), or if I've already sold the majority I'm going to sell (and should limit my marketing time and just focus on getting the next one out sooner.)

  14. #14
    Creator of Worlds sullivan_riyria's Avatar
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    One of the great things about writing is there is always going to be another rung on the ladder that you'll be striving for. Set yourself small goals, and revel with the accomplishments of each. My goals went something like this:

    • Have 50 people I don't know read my books
    • Provide enough income to take a trip now and then
    • Sell enough to attract the attention of a major publisher
    • Get some foreign sales
    • Make enough so my wife can quit her day job
    • Write/sell the next book before the money from last contract runs out
    • Have enough steady income that I don't have to live "book to book"
    • Sell a million copies
    • Have a movie made
    • See someone I don't know reading my book in public


    Some I've made, some I'm still working on. Bottom line....you gotta enjoy what you are doing no matter what the income/sales because then you are always coming out ahead. Making money at writing just provides you more time/freedom to do what you love the most.

  15. #15
    KMTolan kmtolan's Avatar
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    There is no benchmark. No magic formula either.

    Kerry

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