Becoming An Author – How Do You Spell Success?


Becoming An Author - How Do You Spell Success?Every writer has a different definition of successful authorship or a successful book.

That definition need not include the same criteria as those used by the publishing industry.

But to know for certain if your book is successful, or if you have reached your goals as an author, you must know how you define success and what criteria you must meet.

Underlying all this talk of defining success lies one primary point: You must know why you wrote your book.

What’s your purpose for becoming an author? When you fulfill that purpose, you succeed. Whatever criteria you use to determine if you have reached your goal must relate to your purpose.

The Publishing Industry Definition of Success

The publishing industry defines successful authorship, or success for a particular book, in terms of book sales. When it is all said and done, most 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 definitely don’t care if you increased your income or the number of new clients in your business. They care only if you sold books.

Here are the criteria used by traditional publishers to define success:

First a book must sell enough copies to earn back the advance paid to the author. (That advance was calculated on estimated sales.)

Second, a book must go into reprint in the first year—hopefully more than once—and in subsequent years as well. The publisher’s first print run is be based on estimated sales as well; if sales exceed this number, that likely means the advance has been met and the book has gone into the black. The publisher is now making money, and so is the author.

If you want to understand why publishers focus on these criteria and on sales, realize their purpose revolves around making money. Publishers are in the business of producing, distributing and selling books. This is their business. This is their purpose.

Your Definition of Success

Becoming An Author - How Do You Spell Success?Your definition of success is based upon your purpose.

Sales may not play into your success equation at all. For example, you simply may have something you feel compelled to write about.

Just publishing a book that gets read and impacts the lives of family and friends, as well as a few additional people, could equate to success for you.

Or maybe you have a business you want to build, or you want to create one, and you feel becoming an author will help. A book that helps you achieve expert status means success for you.

You might even plan to give away books to potential clients and people of influence in your industry rather than sell them. After all, a book is the best business card available.

Maybe your book represents the first step in your business plan. You want to create a host of information products and run an online business.

So, success for you looks like numerous products spun off from this one book.  Your ultimate success depends not upon initial book sales but sales of all the products and services in your product line.

Maybe you define success as writing and publishing a series of novels or nonfiction books on Kindle and fulfilling your dream of becoming an author. You don’t feel the need to become an Amazon bestseller but simply want to find a small group of fans that enjoy your work and, possibly, to create a small income along the way.

Success for you could equate to getting your self-published books noticed by a publisher and landing a traditional contract. After that, sales aren’t that important to you—even though you know they would be to the publisher. You just want the credibility that goes with being a traditionally published author.

On the other hand, maybe you’ve always dreamed of having a best-selling book. Nothing less will do.

You want a book that outsells all the other books in its category. And maybe you want that book to be traditionally published as well.

Meet Your Criteria

Becoming An Author - How Do You Spell Success?Whatever your definition of successful authorship, know the criteria you must meet to achieve it.

For example, if you want to write and publish a book to build your business, and you define success by the increase in your bottom-line revenue, then you need to determine how much more revenue you want your book to help you earn.

You won’t know if you’ve achieved success unless you can track your revenue after publication of the book.

If your definition of successful authorship involves expert status, then you must determine the criteria for measuring this. You could do so in the number of speaking engagements you obtain or in how much you get paid for them after release of your book, for instance.

Or you can measure it in the number of students who enroll in your classes or coaching clients you gain once your book is published.

If you just want to impact people with your work, success might be measured in emails from your readers or in the amount of press you receive. If you have a consulting or coaching business that dovetails with your book, however, you might measure this via the increased number of clients you obtain due to the release of your book.

If sales define your book’s success, obviously, you’ll need to keep good records of how many books you sell.

In all cases, you need to track your results closely. Ask new clients and customers how they heard about you or why they decided to hire you or purchase from you, for example.

Always keep your purpose in mind. If your book has helped you fulfill your purpose, you have succeeded. You don’t need a bestseller to succeed.

As an author, how do YOU define success? Please share your criteria with us in the comments!


Photo credits: Bestseller: Copyright: arcady31 / 123RF Stock Photo

Laptop: Jscreationzs |

Purpose: Copyright: andegro4ka / 123RF Stock Photo

Nina Amir
Inspiration-to-Creation Coach and author of "How to Blog a Book, Write, Publish and Promote Your Work One Post at a Time," inspires people to combine their purpose and passion so they Achieve More Inspired Results. She motivates both writers and non-writers to create publishable and published products, careers as authors and to achieve their goals and fulfill their purpose.
Nina Amir
Nina Amir


  1. I really appreciate this perspective, Nina. Not only can understanding your message lead to being better at evaluating the success of your book, it can also minimize disappointment if you’re using a definition of success that is either unrealistic or not even appropriate for your situation. Thanks so much.

  2. This post makes a great point. There can be all sorts of reasons for books to exist. Kudos to the Digital Gods of Publishing who now, thanks to ebook and print-on-demand technology, allow books to have a life outside of traditional publishing’s bottom line. The Digital Guttenberg Revolution has begun in earnest!

    • Yes, indeed! Your reason could have nothing to do with making money or sales. Simply marking “author a book” off your bucket list could be enough.