We all want to know how to become more successful authors – but the main question you need to answer is: What is your definition of success?
Once you have defined that, you can then consider how to get there. But often, it takes longer than expected – and the point is to enjoy the journey, not just the destination.
In today's article, Bonnie Baguley from WildMindCreative explains why your timeline might be skewed.
It takes 10,000 hours to achieve success. At least that is the idea popularized by Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers. The reality, however, is somewhat different.
While it takes close to 10,000 hours to achieve mastery in any skill (which is really what Gladwell is suggesting) success is a different beast altogether.
Many indie authors, starting out, visualize success as a magical end-point. A final state in which everything will be perfect. We say things like “when I get the perfect book deal/ literary agent/publishing contract, then I'll be happy”. Or “when I have x number of readers, I'll have it made”.
In doing so, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. If we focus too much on the end result what happens when things don't go to plan? We wind up discouraged, disappointed and feeling like a total failure.
We ignore everything we have learnt along the way, everything we have achieved and how close we might have gotten to realizing our dreams.
While it's important to have big bold goals, it's also vital to celebrate the small wins along the way and realize that success is not an end-point but an infinite journey of highs and lows. I urge all indie authors to throw out their narrow timelines for success and embrace the following.
It's a Bumpy Ride
Becoming a successful indie author is one hell of a journey.
When you read about best-selling authors there is a tendency to believe that they have been ‘blessed' or everything magically fell into place for them. In the majority of cases, this couldn't be further from the truth.
Many of these authors have had to struggle through innumerable rejections and severe self-doubt before becoming best-sellers. Think of JK Rowling who sent her Harry Potter manuscript to 12 different publishers only to be rejected by them all.
Or Stephen King, who hurled his first draft of Carrie into the trash. Or even Dr Seuss who was heading home to burn Green Eggs and Ham, before a friend persuaded him otherwise.
Literature is filled with best-sellers who tried and failed, yet persevered.
It's a Marathon
It is said that it takes 10 years to be an overnight success. Achieving your author goals is more likely to be a long-term marathon, than a sprint.
To maintain motivation try breaking it down into achievable steps and rewarding yourself along the way.
- Finished off that difficult chapter you were struggling with?
- Nailed a tricky plot twist?
- Or set up a regular plan for book marketing?
Give yourself a pat on the back. Maintain your momentum with mini-goals and enjoy the journey.
Success is Different for Everyone
Your vision of success is unique. So, while media and society might try to sell you the cookie-cutter image of a successful author, it's important to assess what success means for you.
Ask yourself from time to time:
- What am I trying to achieve with my writing?
- Am I enjoying the journey?
- Why am I writing?
It's easy to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves with others and adopting their visions of greatness, but maybe you don't need 50,000 raving fans. Perhaps your dream is to be able to set your own hours and never work Mondays again.
Everyone's journey is different and success is meaningless if you are living someone else's dream instead of your own.
There is no End Goal
Having goals to work towards is essential for moving forward and progressing. After all, if you didn't have the goal to write and publish a book it would be unlikely to happen.
Being an author takes persistent dedication and it can help to have an ultimate aim. Yet, the reality is that your goals are stepping stones and, as you progress on your author journey, your ideas will evolve as you do.
For example, at first you might start with wanting to see your story in print, then once you have achieved that you want to publish a series, then you might have a specific sales goal to reach, then you want to see your name on the best-sellers list.
Our goals evolve as we do. Sometimes, we also find that achieving our goals is not what we envisioned. Both success and failure are threatening to self-image and the final result might be a reassessment of our aims.
More than an end-point, our goals should dictate the direction we want to head in.
Success is not age dependent
There is no finite timeline for success. In a society that glorifies youth, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we have left it too late. History disagrees.
Some of today's most successful authors didn't become best-sellers until later in life. Success is not age dependent, so stop thinking that by this stage you should have hit certain targets, or achieved specific goals.
Don't limit yourself with invisible self-created boundaries.
A Final Word
What if success is not about just achieving our goals, but everything that we learn along the way?
There is no state in which all our problems magically disappear and we have achieved everything we set out to do and to be honest, I'm relieved. Life would be terribly boring if we had nothing to strive for.
So, assess what success means to you. Set yourself goals based on the direction you want to take. Work persistently to achieve your dreams, accept the challenges, and give yourself credit for every achievement that occurs along the way.
And most importantly, enjoy the journey. Look around and soak it up, this is life in all its bumpy glory, and there's something magic about striving to share your story with the world.
Have your goals evolved since you started writing? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Bonnie Baguley is a Marketing Consultant, Writer and the Founder of WildMind Creative, Book Marketing for Authors. For more book marketing inspiration, motivation and resources head to the WildMind Creative website or follow WildMind Creative on social media via: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest.
[Desk and flower photo courtesy Plush Design and Unsplash. Fulfill your destiny image courtesy Danica Tanjutco and Unsplash. You are here image courtesy John Baker and Unsplash. Ladder image courtesy Samuel Zeller and Unsplash.]
Jane Steen says
Thanks Bonnie–that’s a great way of looking at the creative journey. I started looking back over the years in response to your question and realized that 2019 marks the tenth year since I wrote my first (still unpublished) novel. My definition of success back then was probably to finish a novel! Then it became to write enough books to have the basis of a business, then to start earning a decent amount with those books. Every stage threw out a host of new challenges, and I’ve had spectacular dry spells as well as unexpected surges forward.
I tend to set numerical goals for each year, and 2019 is no different–but a larger overall goal is emerging, that of becoming a proper business that serves its customers (the readers) better and delivers its product (the books) in a more timely manner in as many sales channels as possible. I realize I’ve been pursuing that goal all along but it’s a two steps forward, one step back journey that I find highly frustrating. Your article resonates well with my current desire to worry less about sales figures and more about creating that business.
Looking back, I can see that my most fruitful years were usually the most “unsuccessful” ones in terms of the usual markers of success (sales and profits). So I’m putting my final big ambition (becoming a six-figure author) aside this year to concentrate on less easily measurable goals.
Linda Maye Adams says
Yeah…I think way too many writers write their first novel and then have the expectation that it will turn into a best seller and make them rich. Then the get the rude awakening that no one buys their book or the agents send form letters. Those are the same people who show up on the writing message boards very bitter and giving intentionally bad advice to other writers to try to keep them where that writer is at.
Since I want to write full time, my version of success this year is to make enough money to pay for the covers. I’m going to Superstars in just a few weeks, so we’ll see the impact of that on this year.
Bonnie Lacy says
Great post. Encouraging.
Started me thinking … I started writing short stories around 2005. Before that, I journaled a lot. I published my first novel as an indie in 2015. By that time I had written over fifty short stories and six novels and some nonfiction.
I am still working toward a full-time income and this year will publish the third in a series so I can create a box set. Also another nonfiction and hopefully start an offshoot trilogy.
Yes it’s hard work, when you throw in website management and marketing, studying etc.
But thinking back to the magical moments of writing … those inspire me to keep at it. When a character appears to write his own scene. Or one repeatedly appears and leads you down a path you didn’t plan, even though you outlined or plotted things out.
Hopefully as I continue and don’t give up, publish more, the income will grow also.
Thanks for encouragement! Have a great 2019!
Sandra KucinichHorn says
In my life, I have encountered many nay-sayers. Maybe they take the stand because they themselves are too afraid to try and discourage others so they can feel better. I say, “Write ON!”
Elizabeth Monnet says
Hi Bonnie: Very helpful article. My goals evolved after I self-published my first novel A Vintage Year For Insider Trading on 2015. I was surprised at the reaction of my readers. Many friends I thought would love the book never bothered to read it. Others were shocked at how good it was. Strangers at book readings and book clubs loved it. I was invited to discuss the book on local pubic radio by a complete stranger who attended a book reading.
I’ve kept a list of everyone who loved the book. I’ve spent the last three years adding to the list. My goal for 2019 is to publish the sequel.
My readers’ favorite character is Sidney, the sheepdog who’s smarter than any human. Sidney is threatening to start his own blog. He complains constantly that I’m taking too long writing the sequel. He’s right of course. The most important lesson I’ve learned is to have fun with Sidney and my other characters and to build my readership … one reader at a time.
Elizabeth Monnet says
Sorry for the the typo. I meant “in 2015” … not “on 2015”.
LE Ellis says
Lovely post! Great reminder to accept and enjoy where you are as a writer.
Jan Rouse says
Thanks for sharing! Very encouraging! I have often said if you don’t set goals you will wander aimlessly. And as you eluded to several times, perseverence is the key. You have to enjoy the journey, you will probaby be on it for a while.
Cynthia Reyes says
Great advice shared here and keen observations too. When we are focused only on the end-point, we miss so many smaller but key successes along the way.
Edmund de Wight says
I know my main focus is on my short term goal: get the next book/story done.
I have a success dream of making enough to stop having to worry about paying bills but it’s a long term game. I realized even at the beginning that the odds are against being a success quickly except by purest luck. Even the big publishers don’t know what will make a book popular, it’s all a guessing game.
People can get lucky and lightning strikes making them overnight success but at some point, you have to realize that the overnight sensation is a rarity. Most people toil in obscurity, so if anyone finds me, I’m happy.
Will I complain if suddenly people start discovering me? Heck no! But I won’t cry either if they don’t. The fun is found by embracing my inner creative and sharing it with even a few people. I know my hardcore fans appreciate what I do, now I just have to hope the rest of the world catches up.