What is success in publishing anyway?


Last week, I picked up three large boxes from the post office. The above picture shows what was in them (more than the one copy for each title shown above, obviously). Real live books! To take to Supanova.

This, for me, is part of what makes a success. I had a one-day table at Conflux. I took four boxes of books. I came back with one small box.

Success? People are reading my books.

As I said yesterday, as soon as the mid-year (northern hemisphere summer) slump hits, people start navelgazing and wondering if success has passed them by. But it really depends on how we define success. Obviously, bestseller, household name authors are successful, but there are a couple of tiers of writers underneath those that can also be called successful to a certain extent.

At this point in time, I make between a couple of hundred to a thousand dollars per month from my books. Not so much in this slow time of the year, but in March, I made very close to $1000. That is not enough to live off, obviously, but it definitely makes writing fun for me. It makes me go out and spend $4000 on a camera. It makes me not skimp on con costs, like getting a room by myself in the con hotel and not worrying about how much I spend on food while I’m there.

So yeah, I would call myself reasonably successful. I know that there will be money at the end of the month that I can choose to do stuff with. I also know that there are places where I haven’t yet gone (like, a deal from a major publishing house), but because this money keeps coming in and sales keep tallying up on my dashboard (mainly on Kobo), I feel relaxed about whether or not this will actually happen. I feel that I don’t need a big deal to prove myself, or to get some income from my writing (and seriously, have you seen the appalling advances lately?). I feel confident enough to say that I’m not interested in an ebook-only deal unless some amazing conditions come with it (that said, what is more amazing than getting 70% off each book I sell on Kobo? And I sold two while I was writing this post).

If your definition of success is mega-bestseller-dom, then you’re always going to be disappointed. Being a writer is about your body of work, not about writing the best-selling book since … [The Da Vinci code/Hunger Games/Harry Potter/Twilight]. Those best-selling books are freak occurrences. Many writers make a really decent income by selling much less.

You can’t control freak occurrences. You can’t control whether or not your work ends up on award lists, but you can keep expanding your body of work, and you will get a modest but regular income that keeps writing fun.

That is the baseline of what I call success.

Patty writes hard Science Fiction, space opera and fantasy. Her latest book is Trader’s Honour, in the space opera series The Return of the Aghyrians. If you’d like to be kept up-to-date with new releases, remember to sign up for Patty’s new release newsletter.

9 comments on “What is success in publishing anyway?

    • Yeah, they’re awesome, aren’t they? Unfortunately, the covers in the bottom row look a bit washed-out because of the reflection of the yellow wall behind it. In real life, the covers are all vibrant and bright.

  1. I liked this article very much- A good body of work is very much what success is about- on the monetary level- but to me you are a true writer in a more important sense – you write for love of it, love that the books are being read and take pleasure in spending your earning on things that make you happy. Congratulations!

    • Thank you. As a writer, you have very little control over exactly how much you will earn. I believe that if a writer keeps working at the body of work, there will be a decent enough income to keep writing fun and make it worth the effort.

      If I really wanted lots of money, I’d go and do something else. That’s not to say I don’t want to be paid or I should work for nothing, but for me, success is about a combination of being read and getting an income.

      I’m only small. I’m not all that well-known. I haven’t sold big (at least, not any novels), but I love it, and I love my payment at the end of the month.

  2. I would definitely call that successful — and congrats on that again. (I feel like I’ve said it a lot, lol, but I mean it.) I go to anime cons sometimes and eventually want to go to scifi/fantasy or writing cons when I have the money.

    Honestly though, when you don’t have to worry about extra financial stuff like that because of your self-publishing? Job well done. 😀

  3. I agree. There are many tiers of writing success. I enjoy the process of writing and the joy of seeing a new book. I also enjoy mentoring and visiting schools. And I have just heard that a kids drama company wants to put on a production of Amelia Ellicott’s Garden. How good is that.

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