Throw the dice, find a four-leafed clover, don’t forget your horseshoe … oh yeah … and the BIG secret

teehee … Now we’re either on the edge of our seats waiting for the big, top secret to success. But first …Here are some crazy business/publishing/reader facts just to make you feel like crap:

  1. Our readers: 1/3 high schoolers don’t read another book after high school. And 42% of college grads can be lumped in the same box. 80% of US families DID NOT buy or read a single book last year. 70% of American Adults haven’t set foot in a bookstore in at least 5 years.
  2. 70% of books published do not earn their advances back. (meaning 70% of all books on the market lose money for their publisher)
  3. According to R.R. Bowker, there are about 175,000 books published each year. That is an average of 479 books each day, or about 19 books every hour. (Kind of makes me feel NOT so special right now)
  4. According to Publishers Weekly, there are more than 86,300 publishing companies worldwide. Self-publishers make up the vast majority. In fact, self-publishers make up about 86,000 of that figure. There are about three or four hundred mid-sized publishers and six large publishers that are well-known. These figures give you a good idea of how difficult it can be to have a book accepted by a major publisher.
Uff … Take a seat. I know. We have these incredibly high hopes for our books and our author platforms. We’ll be the next … fill-in-the-blank.
So what’s that secret? It depends on how you define success.
As for success in my career, that’s tricky. True: I have four published books and am writing my fifth (under contract). But my numbers, by any measure of “success” aren’t successful. In fact, my sales are … not good. Honestly, I owe my career to my relentlessly supportive agent and first novel, FREEZE FRAME, that won the IRA (international reading association) Best Book for Children and Teens in 2009. This was a big deal award and I’ve been riding that out on every novel ever since. Again, though, I’m NOT a “successful” author because I simply don’t have sales … I’ve never earned royalties on any books (to date) and have never gone into a second printing on any books, not even FREEZE FRAME … I feel successful in my career, though, because I’m able to do what I love. Also, it’s a hard world to break into. Just having one novel on the shelves is a gift!
So, let’s ignore the numbers. After that ramble. What makes any writer successful?

  1. I love my job.
  2. I work hard. I sit and write. I write badly. I revise. I listen to critiques. I re-write. I stare at cursors blinking on the screen. I procrastinate. But at the end of the day, I write.
  3. I’m hungry. As opposed to “life success” … my career success hinges on this. I need to feel the hunger, the drive to write better. To come up with more interesting characters. To read and read and read and study so I can write better. Hunger is KEY to success. I don’t sit back and think a muse will come. I sit and work my tail off until at least one sentence in ten pages is worth saving.
  4. I share. So many people want to “guard” the gates. Keep secrets. I recommend agents and editors to writers. I pass along information. I try to help my writers’ group with critiques. I support libraries, teachers, and anybody who loves books. I will give a SKYPE visit to anybody who donates to my charity of choice: FIRST BOOK.ORG, instead of asking for payment.
  5. I’ve been able to write what I love. I’ve had editors and houses support my crazy ideas and back me up even when the numbers weren’t there. Lots of people work to make this happen. Lots of people take leaps of faith. I’m just lucky to have had this, time and again.

Ignore the numbers. Define “success.” And enjoy the ride because, well, it’s a tough one but worth it. Even if you get ONE SINGLE LETTER  a year from a kid who says, “Wow. I haven’t read a book in ages. I loved your book.”

One letter? Success. Big time. That’s the secret — that one letter.Image

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19 thoughts on “Throw the dice, find a four-leafed clover, don’t forget your horseshoe … oh yeah … and the BIG secret

  1. Commercial and artistic success can be different and don’t always go together. Yes, it can discouraging sometimes to look at the numbers, but small gains are important too. Here’s wishing you many more letters from readers!

  2. Heidi, thank you for this. I just had a conversation with my mom yesterday, freaking out because my ‘numbers’ aren’t where they’re to be. It’s so hard to wrap my head around defining success on a different scale. I really appreciated this, thank you so much!

    • Oh! I’m so glad I could help. It’s really hard when our jobs depend on numbers … and those numbers houses want/need aren’t being delivered by our words … Believe in yourself. And don’t open those sales letters! 🙂

  3. This is a great post, Heidi. I think loving what you do is what success is. Even if I don’t make a fortune writing books, I LOVE going to work everyday. I LOVE being an author and creating stories. That’s success to me.

  4. I love your definition of success, especially writing what you love. When I decided to start publishing my own adult romance under my own publishing press (LOL), my friends thought I was crazy. They didn’t understand that I’d written what I loved, which was not the hot-selling genre, and I wanted to share it. Having control of my work has made me feel llike I’m successful.

  5. Those are some eye-opening statistics! Thanks for the reminder that numbers aren’t everything. Loving what you do day after day means so much in the long run!

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