So you want to write and publish a successful book. Do you even know what that means to you—or to a publisher? Before you begin writing your book or publish it, it’s important to:
- Come up with a personal definition of success.
- Know what success means to you and to your book.
- Set success goals for yourself and your book.
Know Where You and Your Book Are Going
Before you begin conceiving your successful book, take some time to figure out what success means to you. This may seem like an unimportant step in the book writing and publishing process, but all goals need to be quantifiable. If you don’t know what publishing success looks like for you, you won’t be able to set a concrete goal to reach. To be able to reach your goal, you need to know what your goal is and how you are going to reach it. This is Goal Achievement 101.
You can’t become a published author—or anything else—with an “Alice Attitude.” Like Alice in Alice in Wonderland, if you “don’t much care where” you and your book are going, “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.” If, however, you have a specific destination, or goal, you will set out down a specific path. Right now, the path you want to find is the one that leads you to success authorship. So, you need to know what success as an author looks like to you. Where or what is that destination? You have to locate it to develop the roadmap and provide directions to that “place” so you can arrive there.
What’s Your Definition of a Successful Book?
Your definition of success as an author may be different from another author’s definition. For the purposes of this book, the definition of successful authorship must be the same as the one used by the publishing industry. The book publishing industry defines success in terms of book sales.
When it is all said and done, publishers don’t care if your book changed lives or inspired change, like A New Earth or On Walden Pond. They don’t care if your readers think you told the best story since The Grapes of Wrath. They care only if you sold books.
You may have your own reasons for publishing a book. For you, sales may not play into the equation at all. After publication of your book, you will define its success and yours quite differently.
For example, right now maybe you simply have something you feel compelled to say. You hope if you write and publish a book someone will read your writing, but that’s not as important as simply getting your words on paper. Just writing and publishing the book equals success for you.
Maybe you have a business or want to create one. Therefore, your goal involves creating expert status for yourself; that equates to success. You might even plan to give away more books than you sell, like my client Stephen, who gives his book away at conventions and conferences so he can attract clients and customers. Indeed, a book provides the best business card available.
Maybe you’ve always dreamed of having a best-selling book. Nothing less will do. You see yourself:
- speaking before audiences.
- doing book tours.
- teaching workshops.
- writing more best-selling books.
- having your book featured in book stores.
You want to be the next Seth Godin, Susan Cain or Wayne Dyer. This would be your description of success.
Maybe success for you means writing and publishing a series of novels on Kindle. You don’t feel the need to become a bestseller on Amazon but simply want to find a small group of fans who enjoy your work—and a small income. This positive feedback on your work would give you enormous pleasure and fulfillment.
Possibly success for you is one step up from this last example: You want to test market your series of novels on Kindle with the hope of developing an Amanda-Hocking-like readership so you get noticed by a traditional publisher. That, in fact, would mean success—a traditional contract earned by the fan base created by your self-publishing efforts.
Maybe your book represents the first step in your business plan for an empire of information products. Success for you looks like numerous products spun off from this one book, all traced back to your book. Your ultimate success depends upon initial book sales. (One book by itself, by the way, does not tend to make a nonfiction author rich.)
Some authors feel successful if they sell 100 copies of their book to friends and family. They carry the book around in their purses or their briefcases and sell a copy here or there, and that is enough for them. Maybe you fit into that category.
If your definition of success includes selling a lot of books, though, you need to judge your success by industry standards. Average sales of 500 copies per year or 3,000 in your book’s lifetime (as reported by Publisher’s Weekly) are just that—average. Average won’t cut it if you want to be above average. Average book sales aren’t going to:
- give you expert status,
- turn into a profitable business,
- land your book on the Top 100 Books list in your category at Amazon or on the New York Times Bestseller List,
- give you visibility as an author,
- help you develop a career as a speaker,
- assist you in creating a consulting or coaching business around the topic of your book,
- sell more of your existing or future products and services, or accomplish anything else you might hope to build with large exposure from your book.
Visualize and Define Your Success by Industry Standards
To become an author, especially a traditionally published author, I suggest you define success in the same way the publishing industry does. Set your sights on that level of success—more (many more) than 500 copies per year. But be specific. Pick a number.
And determine how much money you would like to make from book sales. This can be a shocking detail to consider if you have never thought about it before. A traditional publishing contract typically stipulates that the author gets paid 15 percent royalties on copies up to a certain number based on the net amount received by the publisher on sales to retailers. Ouch. That’s without the 15-20 percent you pay an agent on top of that. If you have a self-published book, say on Amazon’s CreateSpace, on Kindle or at Smashwords.com, you can earn 70 percent for each book you sell (at the midrange level but a lot less if you give your book away or discount it).
Write down your vision. It might sound like this:
“For me, nonfiction book publishing success looks like having my book picked up by a traditional publisher, receiving an advance large enough to make it possible for me to promote it well ($10,000), developing a speaking and coaching business around my book that brings in $20,000 per month, book sales of 5,000+ per year, and monthly media coverage for myself and the book. This nicely supplements my family’s income and affords me a chance to travel and meet new people as well as the opportunity to enhance my professional life. I now pay a virtual assistant for 8 hours per week to help me with a variety of tasks. I’d like my book to sell many more than 100,000 copies in its lifetime.”
Don’t just guess at the figures you use. See if you can find sales figures for books similar to the one you want to write.
With this vision and your definition of success, you can decide how you want to proceed toward successful authorship. You can see the path you need to take to become a successful author. You have also replaced the Alice Attitude with an “Author Attitude.”
Learn how to create a successful book—one that sells to publishers and to readers—by developing an AUTHOR ATTITUDE and writing a BUSINESS PLAN for a MARKETABLE BOOK. Register for the AUTHOR TRAINING 101 Home-Study Course, and go from aspiring to successful published author! This course is based on The Author Training Manual. If you like what you’ve read here, you’ll love the course.
Photo credit: An illustration of Alice in Wonderland and all the characters in the book by en:Jessie Wilcox Smith courtesy of Wikimedia (public domain)
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